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A proportion of CEOs, 62 per cent, have stated that their top priority for 2024 is growth, the highest level reached since 2014, according to a new survey by American management consultancy Gartner Inc.

The consultancy firm recently published the 2024 Gartner CEO and Senior Business Executive Survey, conducted from July to December 2023. Respondents include 416 CEOs and other senior business executives in North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, South America, the Middle East, and South Africa, across different industries, revenue and company sizes.

According to the survey, CEOs have a growth mindset for the present calendar year, a sharp improvement from the results of the previous year’s study, where 49 per cent of CEOs had said their top business priority was growth.

Gartner Vice President and Fellow David Furlonger remarked that aside from an increased focus on growth, there was also a relatively weak position for cost management, “suggesting that most CEOs and senior business executives believe the most challenging economic times are past.”

“We have entered a phase of rising business leader confidence and business strategy re-launches,” he continued.

In fact, the survey found that technology has remained a priority for business leaders, with it being chosen by 33 per cent of CEOs. Concerns over workforce have moderated, with a drop in CEOs who feel that strengthening their workforce is a priority.

More CEOs are prioritising profitability (23 per cent), while others are still holding back on big organisational and corporate changes. 16 per cent of executives want to be more vigilant with regards to cost management.

In terms of digital transformation, 34 per cent of CEOs identified artificial intelligence (AI) as the top theme of the next business transformation after digital, followed by operations efficiency at nine per cent.

AI has already had a significant impact on businesses, with it affecting the way people work, lead and hire across the world. Locally, AI experts have previously called for business leaders to reinvent their business models in order to be ready for AI adoption.

Gartner Vice President and Analyst Don Scheibenreif said that “AI is displacing digital as the keyword CEOs mention the most,” primarily due to generative AI (GenAI).

“The majority of CEOs surveyed believe that the AI breakthroughs of 2023 justified the tech sector hype. They are relying on Chief Information Officers (CIOs), Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) or Chief Digital Officers (CDOs) to unlock the value of GenAI, showing that this is a team effort when approaching these projects and not just a top-down experience,” he affirmed.

Additionally, CEOs are not being deterred by any negative prospects surrounding AI. 87 per cent of executives agreed that the benefits of AI to their business outweigh potential risks.

Furthermore, 90 per cent of CEOs stated that the idea that AI is an existential threat to humanity is “hype and exaggeration.”

Despite this, executives are still cautious about AI, not approaching it with an entirely positive outlook.

56 per cent of CEOs noted that disinformation, misinformation, and deep fakes will create operating problems. 29 per cent see constrained electricity supply and 53 per cent view general supply chain issues as a problem, primarily due to GenAI and the demand the technology creates.

Mr Scheibenreif said that CEOs need to “tolerate low-cost GenAI projects,” yet they should also “avoid the temptation to try and control GenAI’s use from the centre.” He added that the excitement and energy surrounding such technology “will be almost impossible to handle.”

“CEOs must let the hype cycle do its work for them. The trough of disillusionment in GenAI will arrive soon enough, probably before the end of 2024. CEOs should clamp down only on experiments that they believe are dangerous for the company’s reputation and allow the herd to police itself this time,” he continued.

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