Press release

10 May 2021 Dublin, IE

EY CEO Study: Irish CEOs embrace transformation and new business models ahead of global counterparts

DUBLIN, 10 MAY 2021: Irish CEOs are leading the charge globally when it comes to continued investment in transformation programmes, according to the latest global EY CEO Imperative Study 2021, with 81 per cent saying they plan to undertake a major transformation initiative over the next 12 months compared to only 61 per cent globally.

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Frank O’Keeffe

EY Ireland Managing Partner

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  • The COVID-19 pandemic has seen Irish CEOs embrace transformation at a far greater pace than their global peers - 81% say their organisation will start a new and comprehensive transformation initiative this year
  • 53 per cent of Irish CEOs forecast continued business growth over the next three years

DUBLIN, Monday 10 May 2021: Irish CEOs are leading the charge globally when it comes to continued investment in transformation programmes, according to the latest global EY CEO Imperative Study 2021, with 81 per cent saying they plan to undertake a major transformation initiative over the next 12 months compared to only 61 per cent globally.

The survey of 305 CEOs from the world’s largest companies (Forbes Global 2,000 Companies), also found that almost half (47%) of Irish CEOs (35% globally) envisage a significant change in the mix of products and services they plan to offer over the next 12 months as businesses continue to diversify and expand their service offerings to meet new customer demands. Concurrently, the same percentage of Irish respondents also said the emergence of new business models is the trend most likely to impact their business into the future.

59 per cent of global respondents said the pandemic had slowed or had no impact on transformation, in contrast Irish CEOs said the pandemic accelerated the transformation agenda, with just 16 per cent claiming it had slowed it.

These findings could go some way to account for the more positive outlook Irish CEOs share when it comes to longer term growth compared to their global counterparts. None of the Irish CEOs surveyed anticipate lower growth in the next three years compared to the past three. 53 per cent believe growth will be moderately or significantly higher and the remaining 47 per cent expect it to remain the same.

Frank O’Keeffe, EY Ireland Managing Partner, commented:

“The experience of the last 12 months has hastened the imperative to transform. 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. 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.”

Customer is King

Delving into customer considerations more closely, almost two thirds (63%) of Irish CEOs rate changing customer expectations and experiences as a top trend impacting their business in the medium term. Core among these changing expectations, and perhaps reflecting Ireland’s position at the nexus of EU and international business trends, is the accelerating move towards responsible business and stakeholder capitalism over the same period. With respect to both trends, Irish CEOs’ expectations buck the international sentiment.

Interestingly, while 91 per cent of Irish CEOs believe their highest valued customers will be attracted to their organisation because of shared purpose and values over the next five years, it was surprising to see the growing climate and sustainability imperative only arise as a top trend for 25% of Irish CEOs. This figure generally aligned with the global average.

Human Centric Approach

Interestingly, many CEOs recognise the importance and contribution of human factors to the success of their business transformation projects, with 68% of all respondents saying they have at least one transformation priority related to the importance of people, the cultivation of future talent and organisational culture.

87 per cent of Irish CEOs believe putting people (employees, customers, other stakeholders) at the centre of decision-making will be a core value driver for their future success. In addition, a staggering 91 per cent of Irish respondents believe empathy and other soft skills will come to the fore as critical management capabilities over the next five years.

Frank O’Keeffe concluded:

“While digital-led transformation incorporating fundamental changes to business and operating models has been on the CEO agenda for years, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has moved this imperative to a focus on business transformation more broadly. The past year has been trying for everyone, and CEOs have had to make tough decisions by reviewing portfolios and projects to balance the long-term growth prospects against immediate shareholder expectations. What has emerged so strongly from our research however, which is particularly heartening for the Irish market, is just how quickly Ireland’s CEOs have invested in adapting their business models and product and service offerings to meet the needs of the new environment we now see ourselves operating in.”

“It is clear Irish CEOs are starting to look beyond the balance sheet. There is a true acknowledgement that placing the needs and wants of employees and customers at the centre of all decision-making across strategy, operations, innovation, and culture, is critical to driving long term value. This, together with a more meaningful focus on purpose and values, makes for a really strong outlook as we emerge from the pandemic.”


Notes to Editors

About the survey

The global EY CEO Imperative Study 2021 was designed and developed by EYQ, an EY global think tank. EYQ generates new insights by bringing together business, the public sector and academia to challenge entrenched thinking, shift perceptions and help catalyse change.

The study findings are based on survey interviews with 305 global CEOs among the Forbes Global 2000, including 32 Ireland-based respondents. Forbes Insight conducted the fieldwork between October and December 2020.

This publication is part of the EY CEO Imperative Series, which provides critical answers and actions to help CEOs to reframe their organization’s future. For more insights in this series, visit

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