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The Evolution of the Manufacturing CEO

The Journey to Gain Capacity to Manage Complexity

“No matter how much preparation for the role, you need to be in the seat to understand and experience its totality.”

In the manufacturing sector, the challenges weighing upon CEOs have been especially apparent. Ongoing trade and supply chain matters plus emerging risks around new technologies (e.g. AI) are compounding challenges across the business profile. One CEO shared “every week on multiple occasions, I now face situations that I have little to no experience in.”

Manufacturing CEOs are trying to find the balance of “doing” the job – executing operational needs – and “being” the CEO – managing relationships. 75% of CEOs believe that they could have been more prepared for the role as the complexity and ambiguity of the role make decision making more complex.

To find out how manufacturing CEOs are addressing the added complexity and pressures of the job, Manufacturers Alliance Foundation and Egon Zehnder embarked on a comprehensive study, composed of a survey and first-person interviews. 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.

Top-level findings unveil how CEOs are managing 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.

83% of surveyed CEOs say they solicit feedback from a variety of sources to ensure “I hear what I need.” This high number demonstrates that CEOs are looking inwardly, prioritizing self-awareness. Newer CEOs (less than 4 years) rely on chairpersons, partners or other family members, and external consultants at rates higher than CEOs tenured 4+ years. 83% additionally acknowledged personal reflection as another key element in self-awareness.

Both Doing and Being the CEO

How important are the following in the CEO role?

Source: Manufacturers Alliance and Egon Zehnder survey, 2024


Forward-thinking CEOs are embracing an integrated approach as employee-centric workplaces elevate the cooperation between employee engagement, organizational success, and societal impact. 

In today’s environment, CEOs name listening, communication, and adaptability to be crucial for navigating complexity. Effective leadership extends beyond traditional metrics and through their integrated leadership role, CEOs are expanding their relational capacity. One CEO told us, “Leadership is increasingly about humanity, sharing imperfections, being authentic and empathetic.” They don’t have to know all the answers but know how important it is to show commitment to the overall growth and progress of organizations at large. 

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