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EMEIA board priorities 2024

In today’s demanding economic and geopolitical environment, boards have a critical advisory role as they focus on long-term success.

In brief

  • Boards will need to help their companies navigate a wide range of economic, geopolitical and regulatory challenges during 2024.
  • With generative AI set to have a transformative impact on business models, boards should understand the opportunities and risks that the technologies present.
  • In 2024, boards will remain focused on talent, specifically considering how to boost attraction and retention, and support DE&I. 

Continuing the trend of the past few difficult years, 2024 is likely to continue to present significant challenges to boards across Europe, the Middle East, India and Africa (EMEIA). Economic conditions remain highly uncertain, with global growth set to remain sluggish this year. Meanwhile, geopolitical tensions continue to rise and could heighten further following the series of elections that is about to sweep the world. Supply chains are still under severe pressure, testing the resilience of businesses, while the regulatory environment continues to evolve at pace.

In the board’s role as strategic advisors, they are helping their companies to navigate all these challenges – and more. At the same time, they are acutely conscious that technological advances are continuing to rapidly redefine how we live and work. The biggest tech story of the past year has been the explosion of interest in generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) technologies that are likely to transform business models by dramatically enhancing the productivity of teams and driving innovation. Most companies are still in the early stages of exploring how they can deploy these technologies, but their boards will be working with them to understand the risks and opportunities associated with GenAI.

While many companies have set ambitious net-zero targets, they are finding it difficult to turn their ambitions into action. The transition to a more sustainable business model is a complex endeavor, but boards can lead the way by working with management teams to identify initiatives that will have maximum impact, creating value for the business.

The ongoing skills shortage continues to be an obstacle for businesses, making talent a major board priority in 2024. To liaise effectively with management on people-related matters, as well as all their other priorities, boards will need the right information at their fingertips, the skill to ask the right questions, and the ability to draw on both their own expertise and the expertise of external advisors.

The research highlighted the following as specific areas of focus for boards in 2024:

  • The impact of AI on business strategy
  • Talent imperative: attraction, retention and DE&I
  • Economic conditions and the regulatory agenda
  • Strategic investment for ESG transformation
  • Resilient and sustainable supply chains
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Chapter 1

The impact of AI on business strategy

Rapidly evolving technologies are ushering in a new era of opportunity and risk for companies.

The past 12 months have brought an explosion of interest in AI technologies, driven by the mass availability of new GenAI tools. These large language models (LLMs) are easy to use and can produce text, image, video and musical content with suitable prompts.


Many businesses were already using general purpose AI tools to automate processes and detect patterns and trends in data. Now they are exploring how they can deploy GenAI at scale to operate more efficiently and deliver innovative products and services. Bloomberg Intelligence has predicted that the GenAI market will grow to $1.3 trillion by 2032, up from $40 billion a decade previously.1


To embrace the opportunities presented by AI technologies, organizations will need to ensure they have the right technology skills and an inquisitive, open-minded culture. AI systems will only operate effectively if they have access to high-quality data, are integrated with existing systems, and are used ethically by trained individuals. To generate real value for the business, it is essential that AI systems are applied to appropriate use cases as part of an overall cultural commitment to innovation. 


While boards should understand the opportunities associated with AI technologies, they must also be aware of the risks. These risks include bias, breach of copyright, privacy threats and hallucination (where an AI system presents false or misleading information as fact). The rise of GenAI is fueling a surge in increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks, with bad actors using GenAI tools to craft personalized phishing emails, create ”deepfake” videos and gain unauthorized access to personal devices.


Additionally, companies need to monitor the key regulatory and legal developments relating to the use of AI systems in the jurisdictions where they operate. In the EU, for example, the use of AI will soon be regulated by the AI Act, with AI systems deemed “high risk” required to be registered in an EU database. 

Tbilisi in autumn day, Georgia

Chapter 2

Talent imperative: attraction, retention and DE&I

In an era of skills shortages, companies must be proactive about hiring, retaining and developing a diverse workforce.

In the EU, more than 75% of companies are struggling to find professionals with the necessary skills to fill jobs, according to Eurostat.2 Meanwhile, the 2023 EY Workplace Reimagined Survey showed that the challenging macro environment is not preventing dissatisfied people from leaving roles.3 More than a third (34%) of employees said they were willing to change jobs within the next 12 months, with pay being their primary concern.

To address their skills gaps, companies are investing in strategic workforce planning and training, including reskilling and upskilling. They are also rethinking how they attract and retain their people and exploring opportunities to tap a broader talent pool, including neurodivergent and other underrepresented communities. As a result of the economic slowdown, some employers have cut their diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) budgets, but this is likely to put them at a disadvantage when competing for talent.


To address skills gaps, companies must invest in strategic workforce planning and training.


Over the past year, there has been a push by some organizations to encourage a “return to the office.” Typically, they are concerned that team productivity and collaboration may be declining due to hybrid and remote-working practices. Yet, returning to the office is counter to the expectations and preferences of many knowledge workers. The 2023 EY Workplace Reimagined Survey found that less than 20% of workers across all sectors wanted to work full-time in the office. What’s more, while hybrid work was generally favored over fully remote-working practices, half of employees preferred to work in the office no more than one day per week.

GenAI potentially enables companies to restructure their workforce. Nevertheless, companies should be sensitive to possible workforce anxiety around the use of GenAI. Similarly, there is a risk that GenAI tools could worsen existing workplace inequalities if the people who benefit from them most already belong to the most privileged demographic groups. To make effective use of GenAI tools, employees need training on how to deploy them and to understand the risks they pose. 

Podcast: Andrew Hobbs on priorities for EMEIA boards

Listen to Andrew Hobbs, EY EMEIA Center for Board Matters Leader, discuss where to focus for long-term success.


Photograph taken before sunrise on the Tradeston Bridge, a footbridge, over the River Clyde in Glasgow, Scotland

Chapter 3

Economic conditions and the regulatory agenda

Geopolitical and economic uncertainties will weigh on businesses in 2024.

Nearly half of respondents (45%) to the latest EY Global Board Risk Survey saw geopolitical events as a potentially severe threat to their business over the next 12 months, while 43% were very concerned by the prospect of regulatory changes and 40% saw unfavorable economic conditions as a serious risk.4

Arguably economic conditions have declined further since the survey was published in July 2023. Global growth is set to remain sluggish in 2024 and some key economies — including the eurozone and the UK — are on the brink of recession. In its latest World Economic Outlook Update, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts global growth of 3.1% in 2024, the same as for 2023, and only marginally higher growth of 3.2% in 2025.5

In this slow-growth environment, businesses are battling with some significant economic headwinds. Inflation is a particular pressure since it is driving up costs and squeezing margins. Additionally, high interest rates are making debt more expensive for businesses to obtain and driving up their cost of capital, which may constrain M&A activity.

In response to this context, businesses are making cost savings and prioritizing cash flow. Over a quarter of respondents to the 2023 EY DNA of the CFO report said that the challenging market environment was increasing pressure on finance leaders to drive cost-efficiencies and hit short-term earnings targets. What’s more, 90% of finance leaders were planning to reduce or pause spending in areas ranging from marketing to people development, despite some of these areas being long-term business priorities.6 The board can play a vital role here by challenging short-termism and working with management to balance near-term needs with longer-term strategic aims.

2023 EY DNA of the CFO survey
Of finance leaders plan to reduce or pause spending, including long-term business priorities.

Geopolitical risk will continue to heavily influence regulatory agendas and drive trade restrictions that promote domestic manufacturing. Policy-makers will increasingly have national security goals front of mind when introducing new trade and industrial policies. This is likely to result in subsidies and other incentives being made available to businesses in critical sectors — for example, microchip producers, renewable energy providers and electric vehicle makers.

Notably, 2024 will be a year of elections, with 54% of the global population going to the polls, representing 60% of global GDP.7 This will generate regulatory and policy uncertainty in the short and medium term and could result in some significant shifts by policymakers.

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Chapter 4

Strategic investment for sustainability transformation

Companies should seize the opportunity to generate value, both today and into the future.

The world is in the midst of transitioning to a low-carbon economy, with key markets such as the EU, Japan, the UK and the US all targeting net zero by 2050. More than 11,000 companies globally have also made net zero or similar commitments.8 Nevertheless, progress on sustainability is beginning to slow just when action should accelerate if the world is to significantly reduce the threat of climate change by meeting the 1.5°C goal set out in the Paris Agreement.9


Today’s challenging economic climate is a major reason why companies are scaling back their sustainability transformation. In fact, the 2023 EY DNA of CFO report showed that while sustainability programs are rated the most important long-term priorities for organizations, they are most likely to be cut or paused to hit short-term earnings targets.


Yet companies could be missing a huge value creation opportunity by not investing in decarbonization at this critical juncture. The 2023 EY Sustainable Value Study found that when companies act on climate change, they benefit from above-expected returns in financial, customer and employee value, as well as societal and planetary value.10


Progress may also be stalling because early sustainability initiatives that focused on “low-hanging fruit” have come to an end and companies don’t know where they should be focusing their efforts next beyond regulatory compliance. In many cases, they are struggling with the sheer complexity involved with bringing about largescale sustainability transformation, uniting different business functions behind the goal, and setting a compelling vision for the future.


A successful net-zero transformation requires a holistic effort from right across the business. The EY Europe Long-Term Value and Corporate Governance Survey 2023 highlighted that effective board oversight is critical for driving sustainability from targets to concrete outcomes.11 The board can lead the way by helping the company to translate climate goals into robust business cases through bold investment decisions. To ensure the company is pulling the right value levers, the board should demand to see costed investment options that accelerate sustainability in the context of the overall business strategy.


To bring about sustainability transformation, the company needs to identify and implement programs that transform its business model through its operations and supply chain, as well as its products and services. It makes sense to aim for maximum impact in the most material areas to begin with and assess initiatives based on their potential to create value for the business. This is likely to demand strategic investment in some critical areas, such as technological innovation and research and development.


The company also needs to consider how it will hold itself to account for its progress against its targets — which can be achieved through robust financial planning, reporting and assurance processes, as well as through its operating model and governance.

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Chapter 5

Resilient and sustainable supply chains

Ongoing disruption, regulatory developments and the changing expectations of customers are driving a holistic shift in supply chain strategy.

Supply chain disruption has been a persistent concern for companies over the past four years due to Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine. The recent outbreak of conflict in the Middle East has piled further pressure on supply chains, with shipping in the Red Sea disrupted by attacks from Yemeni-based military group Houthi. Ships that would normally have traveled through the Red Sea and Suez Canal are now re-routing around the Cape of Good Hope, increasing travel time as well as freight costs.

To add to the disruption, the Panama Canal – which serves as a critical link between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans — has been affected by a serious drought that has hampered its lock system. As a result, the number of ships able to pass through the canal each day has fallen significantly. Supply chain disruption will therefore remain a prominent concern for boards during 2024.

Other developments are also testing the resilience of supply chains. Companies are under pressure to adopt a more sustainable approach to their operations in response to customer expectations and regulation such as the EU’s proposed Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive. The rise of the circular economy will also demand that companies rethink their supply chains so that they become circular, rather than linear, minimizing waste and incorporating the recycling and reuse of products and raw materials.

Traditionally, supply chains were designed according to the three key principles of time, cost and quality. These principles remain crucial – not least cost, since rising prices are putting pressure on companies’ margins. Nevertheless, companies are responding to geopolitical and regulatory events, as well as changing customer expectations, by adopting a more holistic supply chain strategy.

Specifically, companies are looking to improve the agility and resilience of their supply chains, so they become enablers of their business models, rather than simply cost centers. This is particularly important in the digital age, when more sales are made online, and consumers expect their goods to be shipped and delivered quickly. 


Technology can optimize the performance of supply chains and drive down costs.


Technology can play a key role in improving the performance of supply chains, while driving down costs. Today companies can already capitalize on innovations, such as robots that undertake picking in warehouses and control tower solutions that automatically collect and analyze data from across the supply chain. In the future, they will increasingly use AI-enabled “intermediary tech” to ensure their products are sent directly from warehouses to consumers. They may also use self-driving vehicles to make deliveries. 

The following EY professionals contributed to this article: Catriona Campbell (chapter 1); Renaud Chalmin (chapter 2); Martijn de Jong (overall); Marco Duso (chapter 4); Alessandro Faini (chapter 3 & 5); Gerard Gallagher (chapter 4); Richard Jackson (chapter 1); Famke Krumbmüller (chapter 3 & 5); Dr Eva-Marie Muller-Stuler (chapter 1); Hanne Christine Thornam (chapter 4); Hendrik N. Walter (chapter 5). 


In 2024, EMEIA companies face ongoing geopolitical and economic challenges. To effectively lead their companies, boards need to balance short-term concerns with long-term strategy. However, boards can only succeed if they have access to the right information, the skill to ask the right questions, and the ability to draw on both their own expertise and the expertise of external advisors.

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