Business

The world's top businesses do these 4 things to thrive in turbulent times

Graph with numbers and figures for business. Delivering growth in turbulent times is no easy feat — but some businesses are pulling ahead of the pack and setting an example for the rest.

Delivering growth in turbulent times is no easy feat — but some businesses are pulling ahead of the pack and setting an example for the rest. Image: Shutterstock

Simon Freakley
Chief Executive Officer, AlixPartners
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Horizon Scan: Nita Farahany

  • Global risks are growing, threatening the growth trajectories of businesses worldwide unable to cope with a changing world.
  • But some businesses are thriving and pulling ahead of their competitors.
  • Here are 4 key ways the world's top businesses deliver growth, whatever comes their way.

A CEO's number one concern is invariably how to sustain or accelerate their company’s growth.

Growth is how we drive long-term value for shareholders, create more opportunities for employees and increase investment for the communities in which we live and work. For public companies, shareholders’ judgments on future growth are communicated to us in real time via the share price.

The opposite is also true. Flat prospects for the future mean that your company cannot compete for the best talent, cannot invest in the latest technologies and risks losing customers to more dynamic competitors. Powerful network effects in certain (primarily digital) markets have demonstrated the importance of gaining early market share.

Growth can be a harsh and unrelenting master. Over-indexing on quarter-over-quarter growth can lead to short-term thinking and cutting of corners. When executive compensation is tied to near-term share price triggers, these pressures can become intense and often personal.

Bending to these short-term pressures, though, is almost always at odds with driving the kind of growth that will deliver sustainable shareholder value over the longer term. And, in a rapidly changing world, that goal is now tougher than ever.

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Growth challenges in a turbulent world

In today's ever-more-complicated climate, delivering sustainable growth is becoming more of a challenge. Risks are growing, from supply chain disruptions caused by geopolitical tensions to economic uncertainty and the rise in misinformation. Other factors like aging populations and the necessities of the global fight against climate change could also prove a drag on growth.

Looking ahead, many macroeconomic and political factors may make driving growth more challenging. While the prospects for global economic growth in 2024 appear to be stabilizing, many economists question whether long-term trends will return to pre-pandemic levels. While interest rates may come down somewhat this year, the cost of capital seems likely to remain higher for longer, and a return to zero interest rates is unlikely in the absence of a major economic crisis.

One wildcard remains the impact of AI, which could drive productivity (and growth along with it) at a dramatic pace. Almost half of CEOs in AlixPartners’ annual Disruption Index said that they are “extremely optimistic” about the impact of generative AI on their business, and investing in automation, AI and robotics is the biggest opportunity they identify in the year ahead.

4 ways growth superstars deliver results

How do best-in-class companies drive sustainable growth? A group of superstar companies identified in the AlixPartners Disruption Index (about 8% of the sample) that are growing both revenues and profits could provide clues.

In troubled times, executives are tempted to cut their way to profitability. But this group of companies is investing in growth at both their top- and bottom-lines. They see the world very similarly to their competitors — if anything they are more likely to say they are being disrupted. But they are leaning into the opportunities that it creates. Think, for example, of Meta’s 2023 “Year of Efficiency,” which has produced both aggressive cost reductions and impressive increases to both revenues and profits.

Superstar companies are doing four key things differently from the rest:

1. They embrace the challenge and opportunity of new business models.

In the next year, 63% expect their business models will change significantly due to disruptive forces; and they are four times more likely to expect a total business model change.

2. They are investing in the future of their workforce.

Because this group is growing fast, it needs to hire. But companies in this contingent are also learning machines. Compared to others, they are more likely to provide leadership development programmes, offer networking and professional development opportunities and invest in training for growth. A lot of that development is driven by technology.

3. They make data-driven decisions.

The executives who lead growth-and-profits exemplars stand apart for their unblinkered focus on the facts and relentless determination to act on them. They are data-driven. More than half say they are fully exploiting the advantages data gives them in sales, customer experience, operations and supply chain — much higher than their slower-growing competitors.

4. They are acting now.

Asked which leadership skills are most important to respond to disruption, they are more likely to say that execution and follow-through are critical. Asked about their personal strengths, they are significantly more likely to take pride in how well they execute and say that their biggest strengths are energy and willpower.

Growth has always been important, enabling companies to thrive, innovate and create value for a broad array of stakeholders. A more disrupted world means that growth strategies that were successful in the past may not be fit for purpose in the future.

Those companies that find the opportunities in disruption and move to action, now, will be the superstars of the future.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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