What’s worrying Canadian CEOs now (and what should worry them more)

Three quarters of Canadian CEOs say they fear disruption in the next three years—but many appear to be unsure about what to do

CEO alone in a boardroom looking out at the city as the sun rises

(Ezra Bailey/Getty)

When it comes to the seemingly endless talk of “disruption” in the global markets, Canadian CEOs are in agreement—75% believe that the next three years will be more critical for their industry than the last 50.

At least, those are the findings of KPMG’s 2016 Canadian CEO Outlook report. The study surveyed CEOs from around the world, comparing the beliefs of Canada’s business leaders to those of their international counterparts.

Canadian CEOs’ top three concerns were the loyalty of their customers (98%), their organization’s ability to stay on top of what’s next (92%) and the impact of global economic forces on business (92%.) Globally, CEOs were focused on the impact of global economic forces on business (88%) and that wants and needs of millennial customers (86%.)

Those numbers, according to Willy Kruh, Global Chair of Consumer Markets and National Leader of High Growth Markets at KPMG, represent a problem in the Canadian business mindset.

“From a top priority standpoint, Canadian CEOs are most concerned with customer loyalty. But when it comes to millennials, and the apparent lack of focus on that demographic, well, that’s a bit of a soapbox for me,” he explains. “Because I think millennials are a revolutionary market, and I don’t think a lot of Canadian companies understand that customer-base, or what’s coming next.”

What’s more, Kruh says that, though Canadians CEOs claim to believe in the disruptiveness of the next three years, that’s not reflected by their current mindset.

“I believe that Canada is way too insular of a country, when it comes to business,” says Kruh. “We are not playing at the global level even a small portion of what we need to be doing. The global market is growing every day, and companies that understand that are going to be the ones that come out on top.”

When it comes to the ever-expanding contemporary global marketplace, Canadian CEOs are certainly thinking about it—or, at least, worrying: 58% reported being concerned that they were not “leveraging digital means to connect with customers as effectively as possible,” while 85% reported being concerned about how relevant their product will be in the next three years.

According to Kruh, Canadian companies need to take that concern, and channel it into something he believes could help: data analytics.

“When it comes to data analytics, and what can be gained from them, I also think our CEOs are underestimating that,” Kruh explains. “They can be used to understand new customers, millennials, and what’s coming next.”

The report found that only half of Canadian CEOs are using analytics to analyze existing customers, monitor the market, or even assess how their products are being used. Only 21% report planning on investing in data and analytics (D&A) over the next three years.

“Only 40% report that they’re using D&A to find new customers, while 62% say they use it for branding and social media, but for nothing else,” explains Kruh. “I would advise Canadian companies to revisit their data analytics strategy, and to understand and use their data to a much greater extent than what they’re doing now.” In the end, Kruh believes Canadian CEOs need to be more drastic in their plans for the future. “If you truly believe that the next three years are going to be more critical than the last 50, then you’ve got to be a completely different company three years from now,” he says. “You have to be strategic about it, you have to consider every ‘what if.’ You need to innovate, you need to differentiate, and you need to understand that the Canadian economy cannot exist selling to only 35 million people.”

So, in order for Canadian companies to be successful in the coming months and years? “We need to start entering the global stage in a real way,” says Kruh.