COVID-19’s Impact on CEO Priorities
COVID-19 has significantly impacted the topics discussed in boardrooms for over a year. Before the pandemic hit, changes in the importance of CEO themes were gradual and predictable. However, the pandemic caused the ranking of some key themes to change dramatically quarter by quarter. Lockdowns, international travel restrictions, and remote work have sidelined virtually all other topics.
Less Impactful Disruptions
Despite the disruption caused by the war in Ukraine in Q1/2022, general CEO priorities were less impacted. As of Q1/2023, there are still meaningful quarterly changes in CEO priorities, but they are less drastic than the preceding three years.
Inflation and Recession Top CEO Priorities
As a result of the pandemic, inflation has become the top theme on the minds of CEOs, moving up from the #3 spot in 2019 to #1 now. Recession, which was the #10 theme in Q1/2019, is now at #6 but is coming down. During the pandemic, both topics were sidelined, but they are now back on the agenda.
Trade-Related Themes Take a Back Seat
In contrast, trade-related themes such as the US-China trade war and Brexit dominated discussions in 2019. China held the top spot, and Brexit was at #8. However, as other themes took over, both topics fell considerably in the ranking. China is now at #5, while Brexit is at #15. Despite the drop in rankings, international relations remain an essential discussion. Some commentators fear worsening relations between China and the USA could significantly affect the global economy in the coming months and years.
Sustainability, Cloud, and AI on the Rise
The world is focusing more than ever on sustainability, cloud, and AI, but these topics have not significantly increased the ranking of selected keywords since 2019. However, on a relative basis, these topics have increased in importance. For example, CEOs mentioned sustainability in 9% of earnings calls in Q1/2019, which grew to 18% in Q1/2023. AI as a keyword increased from 10% to 17% in the same period, and cloud rose from 16% to 17%. The recent hype surrounding ChatGPT gave a boost to AI.
Other Themes Continue to Hold Higher Importance
Despite the growth in the relative importance of sustainability, cloud, and AI, other themes such as inflation or supply chain continue to have higher priority on the global CEO agenda.
In conclusion, COVID-19 has disrupted CEO priorities, making inflation and recession the top themes. While trade-related themes have fallen in the rankings, international relations remain essential. Additionally, sustainability, cloud, and AI are becoming more critical, but other themes continue to take precedence.