It’s an ex­cit­ing time to be the CEO of a pri­vate com­pany, but by no means is it easy.


AC­CORD­ING TO PWC’S 21ST CEO SUR­VEY al­most three-quar­ters of pri­vate com­pany CEOs are con­cerned about the speed of tech­no­log­i­cal changes. New tech­nolo­gies and dig­i­tal sys­tems are be­ing in­tro­duced at a rate never be­fore seen, re­shap­ing the way we do busi­ness. Pri­vate com­pa­nies that cur­rently lag be­hind their pub­lic coun­ter­parts in at­tract­ing dig­i­tal tal­ent need to take note of this deficit if they want to drive in­no­va­tion, im­prove de­ci­sion mak­ing, en­hance cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ences, and cre­ate bet­ter busi­ness mod­els. More to the point, they need to take tech­nol­ogy se­ri­ously.

On av­er­age, the CEOs who re­sponded to our pri­vate com­pany sur­vey ap­pear markedly less con­cerned than pub­lic com­pany CEOs about the ac­cel­er­a­tion of tech­no­log­i­cal change, and the cy­ber threats that in­evitably come with it. Alarm­ingly, 22% of pri­vate com­pany CEOs are not con­cerned at all about cy­ber threats. As such, it’s worth ask­ing whether pri­vate com­pa­nies are tak­ing th­ese dig­i­tal dis­rup­tions as se­ri­ously as they should be, and are they act­ing quickly and strate­gi­cally to seize op­por­tu­ni­ties and re­duce risks?

Over 60% of pri­vate com­pany CEOs agreed that dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion can be dis­rup­tive to a busi­ness and lead­ers need to be pre­pared. Here are some im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tions for pri­vate com­pany lead­ers look­ing at how dig­i­tal and tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ments will shape the fu­ture of their busi­nesses.


Pri­vate com­pa­nies are just that: pri­vate. Many pre­fer to keep their busi­ness strate­gies and plans strictly con­fi­den­tial, lim­ited to a small and se­nior cir­cle

“The sur­vey shows that pri­vate com­pany CEOs are work­ing to at­tract the tal­ent they need by do­ing such things as im­prov­ing com­pen­sa­tion and ben­e­fits pack­ages, im­ple­ment­ing con­tin­u­ous learn­ing pro­grams, and mod­ern­iz­ing the work en­vi­ron­ment.”

of trusted in­di­vid­u­als. How­ever, be­ing open about your busi­ness strat­egy, specif­i­cally your plans for how tech­nol­ogy will play a role in shap­ing your busi­ness, is in­creas­ingly im­por­tant for at­tract­ing both cus­tomers and tal­ent. Like it or not, trans­parency is the norm in to­day’s busi­ness land­scape: any­one can do a quick In­ter­net search and learn all about your com­pany. By treat­ing your dig­i­tal am­bi­tions as a trade se­cret, you may look like you’re lag­ging be­hind or avoid­ing fu­ture chal­lenges. Be open about your bud­get and spend­ing on dig­i­tal soft­ware, your in­vest­ment in new ca­pa­bil­i­ties, and your spe­cific tech op­por­tu­ni­ties. Af­ter all, the lead­ers of to­mor­row want to know that they’re work­ing for a for­ward-think­ing com­pany com­mit­ted to in­no­va­tion and trans­for­ma­tion.


The sur­vey shows that pri­vate com­pany CEOs are work­ing to at­tract the tal­ent they need by do­ing such things as im­prov­ing com­pen­sa­tion and ben­e­fits pack­ages (78%), im­ple­ment­ing con­tin­u­ous learn­ing pro­grams (85%), and mod­ern­iz­ing the work en­vi­ron­ment (86%). Still, half of pri­vate com­pany CEOs say it is dif­fi­cult to at­tract dig­i­tal tal­ent. As more com­pa­nies try to re­cruit th­ese much sought-af­ter pro­fes­sion­als, the more chal­leng­ing they are to find. While col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties con­tinue to ramp up their train­ing in th­ese skills, the re­al­ity is that sup­ply doesn’t al­ways keep up with de­mand. In fact, half of pri­vate busi­ness CEOs sur­veyed say it’s some­what or very dif­fi­cult to at­tract dig­i­tal tal­ent—yet it’s cru­cial to find that tal­ent in or­der to fend off cy­ber threats and keep pace with the break­neck speed of tech­no­log­i­cal change.

The best tech tal­ent can have their pick of em­ployer. They’re look­ing to find a com­pany com­mit­ted to trans­for­ma­tion that will fol­low through on its plans to in­vest and evolve in the dig­i­tal space. Your would-be re­cruits can tell if your com­mit­ment is su­per­fi­cial or tran­si­tory—and if that’s the case, they’ll look else­where. This makes it even more im­por­tant for you to share your in­ten­tions for evolv­ing your busi­ness. It’s not just about be­ing trans­par­ent in­ter­nally with your em­ploy­ees, but ex­ter­nally with the tal­ent pool as well, by demon­strat­ing that you have a robust strat­egy that you’re ready to put into ac­tion.


At the end of the day, dig­i­tal and tech skills have to be part of every­one’s role—not just the IT depart­ment. Sourc­ing and re­cruit­ing dig­i­tal tal­ent may be a daunt­ing task. At the out­set, make sure you’re aware of your ex­ist­ing tal­ent’s strengths and lim­i­ta­tions, and how to ef­fec­tively lever­age team mem­bers with the right skills. Do you have peo­ple who are nat­u­ral users of dig­i­tal pro­grams and plat­forms, who can push the nee­dle to get oth­ers to do the same? Many busi­ness lead­ers are notic­ing po­ten­tial in their own of­fices and help­ing those with in­ter­est and abil­ity to in­crease their skills. Build­ing your dig­i­tal tal­ent from the bot­tom up is be­com­ing more im­por­tant if you want to keep your busi­ness mov­ing for­ward in all ar­eas.

This doesn’t mean that skills like prob­lem solv­ing, lead­er­ship, adapt­abil­ity, and cre­ativ­ity are no longer im­por­tant; as a mat­ter of fact, they’re nec­es­sary for dig­i­tal sys­tems to be mo­bi­lized as in­tel­li­gently and as in­no­va­tively as pos­si­ble. A dig­i­tal-first work­place is one where dif­fer­ent de­part­ments can col­lab­o­rate in nim­ble, flex­i­ble, and cross-func­tional teams. And why not give your up-and-com­ing, dig­i­tally-minded tal­ent the op­por­tu­nity to lead those trans­for­ma­tion ini­tia­tives, re­port­ing to your lead­er­ship team? It gives them a great op­por­tu­nity to show­case their value and fully en­gage with the fu­ture of your busi­ness.

Lo­cat­ing and nur­tur­ing the tal­ent you need is never an easy task, but as a pri­vate busi­ness, you may have an edge. The man­age­ment teams of pri­vate com­pa­nies tend to be small and

“For pri­vate busi­nesses that don’t ac­cept this level of trans­parency and vis­i­bil­ity, the fu­ture will be an up­hill bat­tle. But com­pa­nies that can be open about their dig­i­tal am­bi­tions will be able to com­pete, and win, for years to come.”

tight-knit, un­bur­dened by re­spon­si­bil­ity to pub­lic share­hold­ers; as a re­sult, you can of­ten move more flex­i­bly and de­ci­sively than your larger ri­vals. You can also change course with greater agility as you get a sense of which sys­tems work best for your busi­ness, and build on your suc­cess by scal­ing them quickly. Suc­cess is con­ta­gious— once your strate­gies, soft­ware, and tal­ent are in place, you can ex­e­cute with speed and ef­fi­ciency to pile up wins at an ac­cel­er­at­ing pace.

It’s time for pri­vate com­pa­nies to be trans­par­ent with their tech strate­gies: your dig­i­tal plan should be clear enough that every­one at your com­pany can ar­tic­u­late it, and it should be pub­lic-fac­ing so that the tal­ent pool can see it—and see that you’re act­ing on it. For pri­vate busi­nesses that don’t ac­cept this level of trans­parency and vis­i­bil­ity, the fu­ture will be an up­hill bat­tle. But com­pa­nies that can be open about their dig­i­tal am­bi­tions will be able to com­pete, and win, for years to come.

*Saul Plener is the Na­tional Leader for PwC’s Pri­vate Com­pany Ser­vices prac­tice in Canada. Penny Par­tridge is Chief Hu­man Re­sources Of­fi­cer at PwC Canada.

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