Irish CEOs more likely to embrace transformation, says EY

10 May 2021

Image: © Colin Fearing/

While CEOs in Ireland are more optimistic about transformation than their global counterparts, they may be less certain about remote working in a post-Covid world.

A new survey suggests that the vast majority of Irish CEOs plan to undertake a major transformation initiative over the next year.

The new EY CEO Imperative Study 2021, which surveyed more than 300 CEOs globally, found that 81pc of Irish leaders are planning to transform their business in the next 12 months, compared to 61pc globally.

The survey also found that 47pc of Irish CEOs predict a significant change in their product or service offering over the next year to meet customer demands, compared to just 35pc of CEOs globally.

‘If businesses are to survive and grow in the post-Covid world, CEOs will need to move quickly to adopt new business models’

Irish CEOs had a positive outlook when it came to business growth, with 53pc expecting growth to be moderately or significantly higher in the next three years compared to the last three years.

Additionally, business leaders in Ireland are leading the charge when it comes to security, with almost 70pc of Irish CEOs ranking cybersecurity as the area most in need of C-level attention, compared to just 37pc of global CEOs.

This appears to be in line with a PwC survey earlier this year, which found that 90pc of Irish business leaders are worried about cyberthreats, up from 78pc last year.

Managing partner at EY Ireland, Frank O’Keeffe, said the experience of the last 12 months has hastened the need to transform businesses.

“It’s really encouraging to see that Irish CEOs are ready to embrace this new agenda and in fact, when asked about the key characteristics of the most effective CEOs, number one on the list with Irish respondents was the ability to drive a transformative mindset across the company,” he said.

“If businesses are to survive and grow in the post-Covid world, CEOs will need to move quickly to adopt new business models better suited to the new environment, and from what we have seen, Irish business leaders are already ahead of the curve so far.”

However, while Irish CEOs are embracing transformation, they are not as open to a permanent remote working structure as their global counterparts.

‘The base assumption of where and how we work is no longer what it was’

Just 16pc of Irish CEOs expect the shift to remote and hybrid working to outlast the pandemic, compared to almost 40pc of CEOs globally. This follows a KPMG survey in March which found that only 17pc of global leaders are looking to downsize their office space as a result of the pandemic.

Given how well society has adapted to new working models over the last year, the EY report stated that it would be “somewhat unrealistic” for Irish organisations not to factor this into future plans.

Jackie Gilmore, a partner in people advisory services at EY Ireland, echoed this sentiment. “Irish CEOs should be factoring the shift of new and remote ways of working into future people strategies,” she said.

“The base assumption of where and how we work is no longer what it was. CEOs in Ireland need to adapt their people plans to support this or risk being caught without the relevant policies, procedures, infrastructure and leadership in place to support such a work model when the challenge arises.”

Another disconnect comes in the form of sustainability. While the vast majority (94pc) of Irish CEOs agree or strongly agree that business should play a critical role in addressing societal challenges such the climate crisis, only 25pc feel that climate and sustainability is the trend having the greatest impact on their business.

Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic