Millennials see the rapid rate of technological and digital advancement to be the biggest challenge facing them as future business leaders - ahead of political, economic and environmental concerns - a global study has revealed.  

Respondents also clearly saw the innovative and positive mastery of technology as a key business driver and the mark of a successful business leader. Almost a quarter (24 per cent) considered Tesla/SpaceX Founder Elon Musk as the world’s most effective business leader, followed by Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson (10 per cent). 

The study examined the views of hundreds of recent graduates from the CEMS Masters in International Management programme, who are likely to be business leaders of the future. The majority were aged between 24 to 27, from 32 countries, with 78 per cent now employed by multinational companies. 

The rapid rate of technological and digital advancement came out as the biggest perceived challenge facing 21st century global business leaders (68%), followed by shifts in world economic and political powers (60%) and environmental challenges such as global warming and energy consumption (59%). 

Florian Smeritschnig, who graduated from the CEMS programme in 2014 and subsequently secured a role with management consultancy McKinsey, said: “The increasingly rapid rate of technological and digital advancement means that 21st century business leaders will need to reinvent their companies at much faster pace than their predecessors and innovate to stay ahead of the curve. 

“Changes in technology and new markets have the power to create completely new business and operating models (potentially improving the value proposition to the customer and/or reducing costs of the offering drastically), meaning leaders will have to work even harder to keep up with competitors.”  

Earlier in the year international management consultancy ATKearney, a CEMS corporate partner, worked with CEMS students from the University of St Gallen on a business project looking at the impact of digital disruption on the future of retail. Frederic Fernandez, Senior manager of the consumer goods and retail practice at ATKearney commented: 

“These days, digital enhancement is at the core of any business model. If everybody agrees that the digital revolution is changing the way we are doing business, very few leaders today understand fully the scale of this change. Leaders need to react quickly and constantly reinvent themselves as they often work far too slowly, with a piecemeal approach, losing ground to competitors and doing far too little too late. 

“Every business needs to ask itself how it can innovate digitally at every stage of the chain. Can they become quicker? Can they target customers better? Can they target them with better products?  

“The Consumer and Retail industry will change more over the next 20 years than over the past 200 years. We have never lived in such exciting time. It is at times like these that we will recognise the true leaders and innovators.” 

Roland Siegers, Executive Director of CEMS, said: “It is clear that keeping up with the rate of digital advancement - for example automation, harnessing big data, emerging technologies and cyber security – will pose significant challenges for future leaders, including our own graduates, and will add a whole new layer of complexity as they try to stay ahead of competitors and innovate. 

“At the same time our graduates regard the most effective business leaders in the world to be technology innovators such as Elon Musk and Richard Branson –figures who are successful because they are able to harness rapid technological change and use it for social good, rather than seeing it as a hurdle.  

“At CEMS we believe that this is a unique period in world history, which requires exceptional leaders, who can overcome major political, economic and environmental challenges. The focus for our international education is to ensure that future leaders can use technological, economic and political change to their advantage, to lead effectively, and importantly look beyond profit maximisation towards creating long term value for an interconnected society.”