The CEO Journey: Becoming The Executive Who Can See What Lies Ahead In 2018

Dec 29, 2017 1 Min Read


Times and conditions change so rapidly that we must keep our aim constantly focused on the future.

– Walt Disney

Whether you’re managing a start-up, family business or public-listed company, we’re living in highly turbulent times.

There is even an acronym coined to describe this situation – VUCA – for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous times or conditions. It has become a buzzword.

Like it or not, we’re in a world of constant and rapid change.

Just a decade ago, the iPhone was launched. And within a few short years we saw the death of BlackBerry, the Nokia phone and the Palm electronic organiser.

And it sent Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and Dell reeling too. Slowly, digital photography came into the picture as well, and it caused the ultimate collapse of the once-great Kodak.

In more recent years, we’ve seen the emergence and rapid rise of data-driven companies like Airbnb, Uber, and our own homegrown Grab.

These and other similar companies have become known as “disruptors” – they changed the whole market dynamics.

Airbnb is the largest accommodation provider yet they own no hotels. Can boutique hotels still thrive?

Similarly, Grab and Uber own very few vehicles of their own, yet they are now the largest “taxi providers”.

Some former taxi drivers are now Grab drivers. How will conventional taxi companies respond?

Adding on to all the free sharing and texting mobile apps like WhatsApp, and you see telecommunications service providers struggling to maintain their Average Revenue Per Unit, also known as ARPU, which is a key measure of business and financial performance.

Think about what electric and autonomous cars will do in the near future.

How will oil companies and manufacturers be affected?

All things digital

The digital economy has been making waves in recent years too.

Traditional media companies are flogging content online and offering all kinds of deals to attract subscribers to their new online platforms – hoping to balance or recoup the steady readership/viewership and revenue declines of their traditional media like television (TV) and newspapers.

So many of us are now getting our news from our mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets or even the less prevalent laptops.

Such trends are also caused by the YouTube habit and the convenience of making short videos and sharing on our social media channels.

It’s just so easy that even my 77-year-old aunty is on Facebook! Everyone is producing content that it has even led to the ‘fake news’ phenomenon.

The ‘new oil’ industry

Now comes Big Data and suddenly we have a whole industry called Data Analytics and a new era – moving from information technology to data technology.

Smart phones and the internet have made data abundant, ubiquitous and far more valuable.

Whether you are going for a run, watching TV, roaming in a shopping mall, or just sitting in heavy traffic, virtually every activity creates a digital trace.

This means there are more “raw materials” for the data analysis “factories”. Indeed, many have termed data as the new crude oil!

There’s also the burgeoning of e-commerce which has recently made Amazon the top company on Wall Street and allowed Jeff Bezos to rival (if not overtake) Bill Gates as the richest person in the world.

Starbucks plus Alibaba roastery experience

Just three weeks ago in Shanghai, China, Starbucks opened their second and only international reserve roastery outlet in collaboration with Alibaba.

At 30,000 square feet, it is the largest Starbucks outlet in the world.

The American coffeehouse chain has collaborated with Alibaba for its first-of-its-kind store that will provide an enhanced customer experience by adding virtual and augmented reality (AR) to its menu.

Alibaba and Starbucks are leveraging advanced technology to offer customers a thoroughly interactive in-store experience. It allows customers to use their mobile devices within the roastery to receive new-age AR experiences.

This is possible through the custom-designed roastery digital web-app platform or on Alibaba’s Taobao app. That’s innovation in the retail scene for you.

This merger of online and offline shopping is dubbed the ‘new retail’ by Alibaba and is expected to offer more efficient, flexible and fulfilling shopping experience to its customers.

As if all this is not enough, there is artificial intelligence, machine learning and Industry 4.0 too! Not to mention fintech, cryptocurrencies, blockchain technology, etc.

Rise of the millennials

In this VUCA and digital landscape, the chief executive officer (CEO) has to grapple and navigate the team and the business in the data age.

Yes, the world is changing fast. Competition and customer demands are constantly changing.

The workforce is changing too. By 2023, 70% of the world’s workforce will be the hotly-debated Millennials. Yet, many CEOs have not really changed their mindsets and paradigms.

Going into 2018, CEOs need to learn to see around corners if they haven’t already.

In Malaysia, many CEOs of family-run businesses and public-listed companies need to change their mindsets, beliefs and approach.

They need to have the courage to disrupt what’s ahead of them before their competitors do.

There is an urgent call for major shifts in their leadership, communication and collaborative styles.

Strategic thinkers see the new and different world and understand that old ways of thinking are no longer useful.

As author Ayn Rand aptly wrote: “You can ignore reality, but you cannot ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.”

The many hats of a CEO

More importantly, leaders need to bring change to their people and the organisation.

But, it has to start from the top, with the CEO being the Chief Empowerment Officer, Chief Education Officer, Chief Engagement Officer, or Change Execution Officer.

Change has to be led from the top, sometimes at board level, and driven throughout the organisation.

It’s not an easy task, but you can rebirth your company that might otherwise suffer from mediocrity, or worse, irrelevance.

You can still build greatness into your business.

In fact, with all these developments, the playing field is more level now so smaller players stand a fighting chance to take on the global giants – only if they embrace change well, and embrace it now.

Your next action steps

If you’re ready, your question would be, “How do we go about doing this?” I recommend a four-step process:

  1. A candid audit and review.
  2. Deciding and setting clear company priorities.
  3. Team alignment and culture.
  4. Preparing a talent plan, including your own personal development plan.

Here’s a brief outline of the process and some coaching questions to guide you.

1) Do a candid review or post-mortem on 2017

Good CEOs are constantly observing and taking away lessons from their team’s wins and losses.

As brutally honest as possible, ask yourself:

What were the company’s three biggest accomplishments this year?

How can we capitalise on the strengths that led to those successes?

What were the company’s three biggest failures/misses this year?

What were the root causes, and how can we address them next year?

For even more insight, discuss these questions with your executive leadership team and record the top answers.

2) Decide and clarify priorities for 2018

Where do you want to be by the end of 2018? From where you are now, what are the top two or three priorities? Depending on the size of your organisation, what are the next two or three?

It seems obvious but you should not have more than half a dozen priorities. If everything is a priority, then nothing is.

What gaps need to be filled to achieve what we want by the end of 2018? What’s our theme for the year?

Make sure each priority is articulated as SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound) goal statements.

Discuss them with your leadership team and your board. You must be able to defend why those are the priorities.

3) Check your team alignment, talent capabilities and your corporate culture

Human capital in your organisation is so vital it would be foolish not to take an active role in evaluating and growing it. Ask yourself:

Do we have the right leadership team in place? If not, why not?

What strategic hires might we need to make in 2018?

Have we defined the company’s leadership competencies? Are these still relevant or do they need to be updated?

Is the entire team aligned with the above priorities? What conditions must be present to achieve total alignment?

In the absence of rules and oversight, a company’s culture and how its employees operate determine its success. When did we last review our corporate culture?

4) Preparing for your own personal development

Besides a talent plan, what’s your plan for your own personal development?

Many CEOs arrive at the position without much preparation for the specific demands of their new role. What do you need to do to stay on top of the game?

The best CEOs I know are committed to continuous improvement of their own leadership and management skills. I recommend:

Reflecting on your personal successes and failures as CEO last year.

Privately asking each of your board members for two areas in which you could improve.

Consider writing down books to read, people to meet with, groups to join, and events/conferences to attend.

Concluding thoughts

I can tell you from personal experience that covering these areas now will pay great dividends in the coming year.

Make it an awesome and trailblazing 2018!


Having spent 22 years in leading multinational companies, Peter Lam has been a highly sought-after business and executive coach for the past 15 years. He would love to hear your thoughts and can be contacted at or on LinkedIn.


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