Fast decision making, tech transformation key to businesses surviving pandemic

Westpac

Business leaders in the Asia Pacific believe fast decision making and digital transformation have been key to surviving and thriving during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new research by Westpac and the Economist Intelligence Unit.

The new report “The Asia Pacific CEO Survey: Business leaders chart the road ahead” also found concerns around supply chain security will see more manufacturing brought back to Australia and that many businesses have already started doing this.

Although some chief executives had experience of managing during previous public health crises, the severity of the covid-19 pandemic was unprecedented.

Many pointed to the fact they have taken actions to stabilise their operations out of necessity, but in the process, have initiated changes that promise future benefits-some unanticipated-in terms of efficiency and team cohesion.

The report suggests that chief executives did not delay in readying their businesses for what comes next. For example, 67% of those surveyed had developed a post-crisis business plan by mid-2020, and 43% had already begun implementing it.

Most of these leaders believe they’ve risen to the challenge of leadership through the crisis. The report details some of the main actions they have been taking and how their own leadership styles have been evolving.

Westpac Institutional Bank CEO Anthony Miller said: “Operating models have changed, embracing accelerated digitisation and remote workforces. Leadership styles also have shifted as CEOs recognised the need to boost communication with employees and make decisions much faster.”

Other key findings from the research included:

  • Leadership styles are evolving by necessity. For example, a vast majority of chief executives (80%) say they’ve reduced the time they now take to reach decisions. Around three-quarters (76%) have changed how they communicate with staff. Most expect to travel substantially less in the future; CEOs we interviewed now think there is less of a need for it, partly thanks to digital technology.
  • Supply chains are being adapted. Over two-thirds (67%) of businesses in the survey have experienced some disruption to their supply chains during the crisis. More than half (57%) of CEOs say this has led their firms to begin moving at least some of their supply and/or manufacturing onshore.
  • No more delay on digital. The crisis has served to accelerate companies’ digital transformation efforts. Over half the surveyed CEOs (54%) say that some or all their digital transformation initiatives have been fast-tracked rather than frozen or suspended, even while most have put other investment on the back burner.
  • CEOs plan workforce change to build resilience. With the aim of building greater workforce flexibility, 42% of respondents expect their firms to hire more contract workers in the future. A permanent increase in working from home is also on the cards for 76% of respondents’ firms, with hybrid office and home arrangements likely becoming the norm for many employees.

Mr Miller said: “While the full effects of the pandemic play out, a new spirit of agility, adaptability and a resounding sense of resilience can be identified among many organisations and their leaders. I have personally been struck by the resilience and adaptability of many business leaders.”

“I think many individuals and organisations have discovered levels of resilience, agility and strength they didn’t know they had.”

About the research: The analysis in the report is based on a survey of 113 CEOs conducted in July and August 2020. One-quarter (25%) of the respondents are based in China, one-fifth (20%) are based in Indonesia, and the balance are divided equally between Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Singapore.

Their companies are distributed across a wide range of industries, with the largest representation from consumer goods (14%), construction and real estate (11%), and financial services (10%). Just over half of the respondents lead large businesses, with annual revenue of over US$250m; the rest lead businesses earning between US$10m and US$250m.

Additional insights were obtained from in-depth interviews with CEOs and other experts on business and economic challenges in Asia Pacific.

For the full report: https://www.westpac.com.au/ceosurvey

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