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Press Release

Latest Report Explores the Manufacturing CEO Journey

See insights on how various CEOs of U.S. manufacturing organizations are addressing the increased complexity and pressures of the job

Arlington, VAJune 13, 2024 – The business complexities that today’s manufacturing leaders face challenge the previous skills for generations of leaders and has led to an evolution in the role of manufacturing CEOs. That’s one of the key findings in a new report jointly produced by Manufacturers Alliance Foundation and Egon Zehnder, a comprehensive research study exploring the learning and behavioral journeys of manufacturing’s top executives. In “The Evolution of the Manufacturing CEO: The Journey to Gain Capacity to Manage Complexity,” we found that CEOs are managing volatility and complexity and evolving in the role by uncovering new ways to balance old business polarities and by building greater leadership capacity in three important areas: self-awareness, relatability, and adaptability.

The report is based off a survey of almost 50 manufacturing CEOs, along with first-person interviews of U.S.-based mid-cap to large-cap CEOs of manufacturing companies of various industry subsets. The study explores the path to the chief executive role, the level of preparedness they felt, and how their leadership and the role itself have evolved.

“With the increase in market complexities over the past decade, CEOs have been challenged to become increasingly aware of how they make decisions,” observed Manufacturers Alliance Foundation President Stephen Gold. “The study shows how many in this generation of leaders are adapting their business and leadership qualities to meet the needs of a changing marketplace and workforce.”

As the report notes, nobody is an expert on day one of a new job, including CEOs, and despite the wealth of knowledge new leadership brings to their appointments, 75% of CEOs believe they could have been more prepared for their role. Most internal CEO appointments are planned successions, underscoring the need for organizations to have a pipeline of “ready-now” candidates and thoughtful ongoing CEO developments. Within the development, these chief executives shared board interaction, ongoing direct feedback from a variety of sources, and exposure to shareholders and investors as the top measures for role preparation.

For feedback, new CEOs rely most on board chairs, while more experienced CEOs turn to their internal leadership teams for guidance. More than 9 out of 10 CEOs in their role for 4 plus years marked their leadership team as their number once source for feedback, and 75% of those under 4 years joined them.

“Today’s CEOs navigate complexity with humanity – they are more self-reflective, authentic and empathetic, creating deeper gravity and emotional bonds with a diverse set of stakeholders,” said Matthias Bolling, who leads the machinery, industrial and technology manufacturing segment in North America for Egon Zehnder. “By adopting an integrated leadership approach, these leaders can deliver on traditional metrics while focusing on building employee-centric, connected and purpose-driven enterprise."