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For CEOs, are the days of sidelining global challenges numbered?

The 2019 EY CEO Imperative Study reveals that investors and boards expect CEOs to respond to humanity’s greatest challenges - it’s the new growth imperative. But how?

To date, most CEOs have chosen to remain on the sidelines of efforts to solve global challenges, even as markets around the world continue to be disrupted by a diverse slate of issues, including protectionist economic policies, technology backlashes and climate-driven natural disasters.

The EY CEO Imperative Study shows that CEOs can no longer rely on the old excuses for inaction on challenges such as these. Nor must they ask permission to be at the forefront of solutions—it’s an expectation and a new growth imperative.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, our survey of the CEOs, board directors and institutional investors of the world’s largest corporations finds that:

  • Institutional investors are not a brake to corporate action on global challenges. They endorse the corporate investments needed to make progress on these issues and will increasingly factor the corporate response to global challenges into their investment decisions.

  • Board directors also support engagement—even more than investors.

  • Global CEOs see more growth opportunities than risks in acting on global challenges.

  • The next ten years will see significant advances in the public-private partnerships, reporting standards and cross-industry collaboration needed to address global challenges.

These are the some of the key findings of the EY CEO Imperative Study, a survey of the CEOs, board directors and institutional investors from the world’s largest companies and firms. To understand the perspectives on the corporate role in addressing global challenges among these three key constituencies, EYQ conducted a global survey of:

  • CEOs and independent board directors of companies on the Forbes Global 2000 and the Forbes Largest Private Company lists

  • Institutional Investors—both asset owners and asset managers—with at least US$100b in assets under management

In this article, we explore the insights from the survey data showing that investors and board directors expect corporate action on global challenges to ensure long-term growth and seize new opportunities. EYQ data is enriched with personal points of view on these issues from global CEOs, investors and board directors gleaned through in-depth interviews. Finally, the study offers an action agenda for starting and accelerating your company’s engagement with global challenges.


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