Winter 2023 Fortune/Deloitte CEO Survey


Winter 2023 Fortune/Deloitte CEO Survey

For the third year, CEOs are starting the new year on a positive note

However, a more nuanced observation of their responses suggests that this current optimism may not just be because of the season.

Key takeaways

  1. CEO optimism is on the upswing, and pessimism is down, surpassing June 2022 levels—this may suggest CEOs did not anticipate or fully account for evolving market events that have transpired over the past month.
  2. CEOs are prioritizing core business transformation and new product and market innovation with a recognition there will be a strong dependence upon acquiring the right talent and digital maturity.
  3. CEOs appear to be taking a pragmatic approach with AI. While they recognize the compelling need to invest in and more deeply understand AI, their organizations may not be fully prepared to take advantage of more emerging applications like generative AI.

Déjà vu or are better days ahead?

When comparing the findings from the most recent February 2023 Fortune/Deloitte CEO survey with prior survey findings, a distinct pattern emerges regarding CEO outlook and expectations for the year ahead. Despite exiting what they deemed a challenging year, CEOs once again expressed positive sentiments for the year ahead.

Upon initial review, we wondered: are we noticing a momentary ‘beginning of the new year’ attempt to shake the past year’s challenges? Or are things actually on a more enduring upswing? After digging deeper into the survey findings—for which 149 leading CEOs shared their predictions, perspectives, and planned approaches for addressing current challenges—we came to believe that CEOs may indeed be seeing an upturn ahead. It is worth noting that the survey was fielded before the current set of issues facing the financial markets occurred.

Entering the new year, growth expectations and optimism are on the upswing

While not up to the same levels from a year ago (65%) or Summer of 2022 (49%), heading into the new year, CEO growth expectations for their own organizations have ticked up from Fall of 2022, with 45% expecting strong or very strong growth (as compared with 34% in Fall 2022). Factoring in modest growth expectations, this proportion increases to 88% (up from 85% in Fall 2022).

Over the next 12 months, I expect my organization's growth to be:

Along the same lines, personal optimism is on the upswing (Own company: 81%; Industry: 46%, and Global economy: 12%) and pessimism is down (Own company: 5%; Industry: 12%; and Global economy: 37%), surpassing not just Fall, but also Summer 2022 levels, perhaps suggesting that optimism may have bottomed out, and pessimism peaked in Fall of 2022.


Similar but different: Gaining energy from challenges and moving from hope to optimism

Once again, we asked CEOs to describe the year behind and year ahead in one word. Upon first glance, CEOs repeatedly characterize the year behind as challenging, while again deeming the new year optimistic. This may suggest that CEOs, by their nature, tend to be optimistic in order to lead their organizations through challenges they fully expect will come in the year ahead. However, when digging deeper, we observe that the other words chosen to describe the year behind in prior surveys had a much weightier undertone, such as sad, tough, and difficult (Figures 1 and 2). The words emerging in this recent survey’s lookback suggest that while the past year may have once again been challenging, it also was transformational, strong, and resilient (figure 3). Thus, rather than wearing the CEOs down, these challenges may be propelling them forward. Similarly, in terms of the year ahead (figures 4, 5, 6), it appears that hopeful, a positive feeling, has been unseated by optimism, an expectation for a positive outcome.

On a semantic level, this change in language suggests that CEOs have shifted their mindset from “hopeful” to “optimistic” representing a much more positive outlook for the future. CEOs will undoubtedly continue to be faced with several opposing forces they’ll need to navigate. However, they will likely continue to use these challenges as a source of energy for themselves and their organizations and as motivation to continue to learn, grow, reimagine, and propel themselves forward.

This publication contains general information only and Deloitte is not, by means of this publication, rendering accounting, business, financial, investment, legal, tax, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such professional advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified professional advisor. Deloitte shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person who relies on this publication.

Explore past editions of the Fortune/Deloitte CEO Survey


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