3 Transformative CEOs and How They Are Tackling Uncertain Times in 2023

2023 is set to be a year of change. With terms like recession, rising interest rates and cost of living crisis swirling around for months, business leaders are being put through their paces.

According to the KPMG 2022 CEO Outlook, 86 percent of leaders expect a recession to hit over the next year, with 71 percent anticipating that it will impact company earnings by up to 10 percent.

But the stats aren’t entirely doom and gloom, KPMG also reports that senior executives feel “confident about the resilience of the economy over the next 6 months.” And that 71 percent of leaders surveyed feel more confident about the global economy’s growth over the next three years.

As many companies are still trying to come to grips with the challenges faced since 2020, an emerging breed of leaders is proving that it’s possible to survive and thrive in times of crisis. Looking at these CEOs provides a blueprint on how to navigate challenges and reveals a common thread – the ability to expect change and embrace transformation.

These transformative leaders are not only cool and calm under pressure, but they recognise that while change might not always be positive or easy, it is in fact inescapable. Try as some leaders might, you cannot outrun the march of progress.

Even before the pandemic digital transformation was a topic on every CEO’s agenda. Whether it was cloud migration, the use of A.I. or virtual offices, the push to digitise was a major theme for almost every business leader. But to fully embrace transformation, companies must be willing to go beyond simple digitalisation.

SONY is one company at the forefront of transformation. Led by CEO Kenichiro Yoshida, SONY is steadfast in their mission to anticipate future changes, seeking out new markets, products and innovative changes within the business to ensure they stay relevant and competitive.

Yoshida explained to Deloitte how the company is looking to the future of streaming, specifically in music.

“We are trying to become the most artist- and songwriter-friendly music company, rather than the largest one. We are now providing a digital platform to inform them how much they’re gaining from the platforms in almost real-time.” Adding, “Gen Z is spending a huge amount of time on TikTok. Some artists are going online directly through TikTok before receiving help from major record labels. This trend could be an opportunity for artists, and we need to change our business with that in mind.”

Beyond music streaming, the Japanese multinational company is also looking at providing direct-to-consumer services that deliver content. Something Yoshida describes as creating “communities of interest,” it’s a strategy that will see SONY learning directly from their users. This approach not only takes into consideration the needs of SONY and their partners, but also utilises the trends of users to inform future strategy and goals.

Rosalind Brewer the CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance provides another great example of transformative leadership in action. As only the second black female to be named the permanent CEO of a Fortune 500 company, Brewer is focused on turning the multi-billion-dollar pharmacy chain into a destination healthcare company. Since Brewer took over as CEO in 2021, WBA has acquired stakes in a number of healthcare companies, including VillageMD.

In an interview with healthevolution.com, Brewer explained her vision for the company, stating, “we have a unique opportunity to be that physical destination and bring [customers] care in a very personal way.”

For Rosalind Brewer, the COVID-19 pandemic presented an opportunity to “rephrase” how organisations worked. In an op-ed piece for the Economist, she wrote about the ability of upheaval to inspire change and re-energise teams. For the self-proclaimed optimist, culture is at the centre of this change and is what ultimately drives performance.

“In 2023, I predict that the most effective leaders will connect to their team members not only in a traditional, intellectual, IQ-based way, but also on a more evolved, empathetic EQ level. Team members will insist their voices are heard and will expect their company’s values to mirror their own.”

According to Deloitte, culture can provide a significant barrier to an organisation’s transformational readiness.

“Low cultural readiness typically takes the form of bureaucratic, reactive, and risk-averse ways of working that are at odds with the collaborative, proactive learning mindset needed for ambitious transformation.”

Jason English the CEO of CG Tech has proven himself to be a transformational leader, codifying his culture-led approach to transformation in something he refers to as the Oros Effect.

For the 45-year-old English, the ability to transfer your vision, values and purpose (your Oros, named after a popular South African squash drink) into those working around you, is of utmost importance. But the question for English became how to effectively transfer his Oros throughout the organisation without watering it down.

Since taking over his first company, Prommac, in 2012, English has taken a transformative approach to leadership that has helped him successfully scale businesses and invest in the technologies needed to power future opportunities. In 2018 he became the Chief Ecosystem Officer of CG Tech, an investment holding company with interests in a range of traditional industries.

Under the direction of English and Chairman Niall Carroll, CG Tech has been building a portfolio of innovative companies that work together across an ecosystem that shares a collective vision and purpose for the future. It’s a blueprint that values the sustainability of the many, over the success of the few.

In his upcoming book, The Oros Effect, Jason English describes the group’s ability to ride out the pandemic and emerge stronger, something not many businesses were able to achieve.

“The CG Tech Oros has always been about taking care of those in our ecosystem, and the pandemic didn’t change that. The tough decisions COVID-19 forced us to make were not reactive to fear or made too quickly because of these unexpected times. They were put through the filter of how we can align all decisions with our Oros,” writes English.

The result? 5 out of 6 companies within the CG Tech group broke their historical performance figures in just about every metric measured in 2022.

In 2023, Jason English is once again using Oros to see the CG Tech group power through economic challenges, aligning purposes, visions and values to ensure the group’s future success.

Transformative leaders are proof that challenges can be good for business. Those willing to face crisis head-on and those who understand the necessity of aligning in a common direction, look set to lead through the challenges of 2023 and beyond.

Photo Caption: Kenichiro Yoshida, Rosalind Brewer and Jason English are three transformative CEOs making an impact during uncertain times.