Hundreds of CEOs are expecting the economy to rebound strongly after a tough 2020 that saw significant economic disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gartner surveyed 465 CEOs and senior business executives in North America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and the Pacific region from July to December 2020, gauging their views on economic recovery efforts.
According to the survey, 60% expected an economic boom while 40% predicted stagnation in 2021 and 2022. When asked whether companies would return to or exceed 2019 revenue levels this year, 35% of respondents agreed.
But many CEOs acknowledged that certain things have changed permanently due to the adjustments that were made during the height of the pandemic. Gartner asked survey respondents about priorities and potential changes in the future, the vast majority mentioned technology, with one in every five CEOs using the word "digital" in their responses.
Kristin Moyer, research vice president at Gartner, said more use of digital technology and the demand for digital channel flexibility are also within the top three anticipated shifts in customer behavior. "This suggests that continuing to improve the way customers are served digitally will be vital," she said.
The only category where CEOs said they planned on increasing their investment in 2021 was with "digital capabilities," with most citing AI and more than 30% referencing quantum computing. Blockchain and 5G were also referenced, but many CEOs expressed concerns over trade disputes between the United States and China over these technologies.
Another priority mentioned by CEOs in the survey was the increase in mergers and acquisitions. Gartner's study noted that this year's survey included less uses of terms like "sales revenue" and more use of "new markets" when describing future strategies.
"CEOs' top priorities for 2021 show confidence. Over half report growth as their primary focus and see opportunity on the other side of the crisis, followed by technology change and corporate action," said Mark Raskino, research vice president at Gartner.
"This year, all leaders will be working hard to decode what the post-pandemic world looks like and redeveloping mid- to long-range business strategy accordingly. In most cases, that will uncover a round of new structural changes to capability, location, products and business models."
As much of the world gets vaccinated against COVID-19 and some parts of life return to normal, more than 80% of CEOs said they expect some changes in behavior to stay, most notably hybrid work environments.
Many CEOs also expressed concern about consumer demand, which some expect to still be constrained even once the effects of the pandemic have subsided. For the travel industry specifically, CEOs told Gartner they expected it to stay limited both among consumers and chief financial officers doling out funds for company-related expenditures.
Nearly 40% of CEOs added that actively addressing issues of social justice and sustainability were good for their business and important for their employees. Climate change is already having noticeable effects on business, according to 45% of CEOs.