Great expectations: Global executives respond to business disruption

Value creation opportunities through transformation and restructuring for growth

Profound shifts in the world have created shockwaves of uncertainty. Here’s how business leaders are thinking about plans for renewal and growth.

Executives are ready to transform their companies — changing what they do and how they do it

In a recent survey, we asked more than 250 senior executives around the world to share their perspective on the overall economic outlook and the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) on future revenue. We also examined the degree of change companies are expecting in the next three years and where they stand in their transformation journey. Finally, we explored what type of actions (i.e., cost reductions and investments) they were planning to take in certain areas or functions to emerge stronger in the future. The message was clear: Executives are ready for change.


“Even before Covid-19, there was a need for businesses to fundamentally restructure to succeed in a more digital and disruptive age. The pandemic has accelerated this timeline, and now there’s a historic opportunity to reset and generate new value - especially while stakeholders are more willing than before to support a transformation program as economies emerge from the pandemic.”

Mahadeva Matt Mani,Partner, Strategy& Netherlands

The majority of business leaders are optimistic about the future and planning for growth, with a significant increase in the importance of transformation on their agenda.

  • 48% of executives plan for accelerated growth but are sceptical that today’s core will contribute sufficiently.
  • 78% expect to transform their companies in the next three years to react to fundamental changes in their markets.
  • 51% plan to develop new business and value creation models, supported by digital investments.



As businesses prepare for recovery, the majority of executives feel optimistic about a post-COVID-19 rebound. At the same time, most companies also plan to embark on significant transformations, focused on changing both the way they operate and how they create value for customers. Transformation is planned across all sectors, with some industries such as pharmaceuticals and insurance expecting the most fundamental changes.

Executives' future outlook on their companies

Source: Great expectations, 2021: Global executives respond to business disruption

Most executives are focused on building new business models and adapting the operating model to compete with new digitally enabled capabilities.

  • Unlike in previous crises, such as the Financial Crisis of 2007/08, when companies focused on cutting costs, the pandemic has accelerated the need to fundamentally transform business, with executives willing to invest in transformation.
  • Business leaders report measures to boost revenues as their top priority, such as developing new business models and revisiting the company strategy.
  • ESG has raised on the executive agenda with currently 17% of all participants putting it as a business priority.
  • Additional investments of 10-15% on average are going primarily into digitization, cybersecurity and sales to drive top-line growth.
  • Digital investments are focused on developing new products and services that can be integrated with digital business models, with the highest percentages going into IT and digital capabilities (15% additional investment) and cybersecurity (11%), as well as environmental, health and safety functions (11%).


Executives are focused on developing new business models and enabling digitization to get out of the crisis and drive future growth. Yet, investments in digitization continue to be largely focused on enabling new products and services, with expected cuts in the front office. This data suggests that many companies see the need to revisit and revise their core business strategy, not just cut costs, restructure their portfolio, or develop ad-hoc tech solutions. ESG has become part of the executive agenda with further need for companies to elevate this priority going forward.

Strategic priorities in 2021 and beyond

Strategic priorities from 2009 recession response survey

Source: Great expectations, 2021: Global executives respond to business disruption

Efficiency goals are limited – they are focused on people and business operations, while being enabled by technology.

  • Executives are planning to cut costs across functions that are not essential to their company’s future strategic positioning, while investing in areas considered crucial for success.
  • Overall, companies will reduce costs by up to 11% in selected functions, with the deepest cuts in real estate, research and development, marketing and human resources.
  • Some companies plan to implement their efficiency agenda through jobless growth. 41% of companies with a positive revenue outlook expect growth while decreasing their headcount.
  • In parallel to cuts, 96% of companies also consider transitioning their workforce into an “office of the future” setup to enable new ways of working following the crisis.


Executives need to balance competing priorities of business growth and renewal with the necessity of cutting costs. Carefully targeting cost measures where they do not harm the business while enabling future-oriented investments will be key. At the same time, cost cutting, digitization, jobless growth and new ways of working will likely put increasing stress on the workforce. Executives need to proactively manage their people's agenda and successfully lead their teams through the transformation.

Growth in some sectors may be jobless, with technology accelerating the transition to new ways of working

Source: Great expectations, 2021: Global executives respond to business disruption

What businesses can do to emerge stronger from the crisis

1. Revisit your strategic priorities

As you think about your future strategy and business model, reevaluate your value creation plan in light of recent changes to the industry and markets.

PwC works with you to explore all angles to restart the value engine and make it ready for long-term growth. From portfolio optimisation to improving your ESG strategy and maximizing shareholder return, a holistic value creation plan can deliver sustained outcomes. Read more.

2. Invest in digitization and ESG

Leverage digitization and smart ESG investments to implement a new way of working and to develop new business models, in line with your revised strategy. Keep pace with new cost benchmarks post-COVID-19 and look for areas where you can outperform.

Successful digital transformations should do more than achieve the end state – they must build both a transformation capability and organisational agility. There are four building blocks to successful transformation — designing a capability-driven strategy, aligning your workforce, leveraging advanced technologies in the front and back offices, and managing costs to become “fit for growth.” Find out more.

3. Bring your people with you

Proactively engage your workforce in the process of change and in any new ways of operating – especially in light of transitions to new methods of working.

We help clients enhance their workforce strategy, workforce experience, and work environment today, to position them for success tomorrow. Find out more.

Whether you want to improve the performance of your workforce, develop and move talent around your business, or mitigate risk, PwC’s community of solvers combine their skills to deliver a solution that’s tailored to your business and its people. Read more.

About the survey

PwC’s Strategy& conducted a global survey of senior executives regarding their business outlook and plans for renewal post-COVID-19. The American Productivity & Quality Council managed the data collection process and provided logically and statistically validated survey raw data to Strategy& - and Strategy& analyzed the survey raw data and developed key results and messages.  More than 90% of respondents, who work in 11 industrial sectors—including aerospace, automotive, consumer products, distribution and transport, electronics, financial services, healthcare, industrial products, insurance, pharmaceuticals, and retail—across North America, EMEA, and Asia Pacific, reported revenues of more than $1 billion, with 64% reporting that they have 10,000 or more employees.

Contact us

Mahadeva Matt Mani

Mahadeva Matt Mani

Partner, Strategy& Netherlands

Michael Weiss

Michael Weiss

Partner, Strategy& Germany