Market growth, along with cybersecurity, adapting to the digital environment and leadership development have become the key business concerns for the immediate future, according to more than 1000 senior executives in a survey by Financial Times | IE Business School Corporate Learning Alliance (

These findings come from this year’s Pulse Report, a major leadership study conducted among C-Suite executives, HR and Learning & Development professionals working across multiple business sectors in 13 countries. These cover Western Europe, the Middle East and Japan.

While the top three business priorities for 2018 were cybersecurity, the accelerating impact of digital disruption and market growth, looking further ahead senior executives foresee organisational change, adapting to external environments and using Big Data in smart, unique ways as key challenges for 2019 to 2021.

The current preoccupation with cybersecurity as the dominant business concern appears to be diminishing, though only slightly. It is still seen as major issue for the future, allied to the need for the effective and secure use of the increasing amounts of Big Data that is becoming available to organisations.

Using Big Data

This year, the survey’s results revealed a change in focus towards digital issues – including cybersecurity and the use of big data – especially since the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the EU has highlighted the responsibility that companies have for the safe and ethical use of data.


In 2018, the central priority for senior professionals is cybersecurity but, looking further ahead, survey respondents believe that using big data in smart and unique ways will become more important to organisations’ commercial wellbeing and success.


Organisational change

The survey reveals that senior professionals regard organisational change as a top priority over the next few years – with over a fifth of those questioned saying this will be a challenge in the coming three years. Overall, survey responses show that internal efforts are being considered to navigate external sea changes to ensure organisations can compete and thrive in the face of new business environment realities.


Moreover, from the results of this year’s survey, it appears that senior professionals recognise the importance of their people on the path to growth and future success. They understand that, to succeed, there is a need to attract, retain and shape qualified talent into the leaders of tomorrow.


Adapting to external environments

Senior professionals say they are unclear about what various geopolitical issues, attitudes and decisions will mean for their businesses. This view was not confined to businesses in Europe worried about the future direction of the European Union (EU) as well as the ramifications of the Trump political era.


Executives around the world were concerned about the heightened level of policy uncertainty – particularly regarding trade, financial market disruptions, tighter global financing conditions and other risks, along with increasing protectionist tendencies and slower potential growth.


Executive education

For the last three years, this annual study has also explored respondents’ attitudes to leadership development and what executive education can bring to business strategy.


“Among the key results of this year’s Corporate Learning Pulse survey were that, rather than seeking to invest in skills development for its own sake, organisations now want to prepare their leaders to meet the specific challenges facing modern business,” believes Gustaf Nordbäck, CEO of FT | IE Corporate Learning Alliance.


“We’re seeing a profound change in companies’ concerns in all areas – not just executive education,” he adds. “It’s part of senior executives’ reactions to today’s volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world.


“Those who’re leading change in this VUCA world – and influencing others to achieve this change effectively – need to embrace a mindset of continuous learning and constantly need to develop and improve their leadership skills. This is the key to organisational success today – and developing these attitudes and skills involves the whole range of executive education programmes.”


The 2018 Corporate Learning Pulse survey is the third in a series of annual surveys of C-suite executives, HR and L&D professionals. The report is available at