Boyden released a groundbreaking new senior executive survey of consumer/retail executives’ views on AI and the tech revolution’s impact on the sector.

Less than half (48%) of U.S. consumer & retail industry C-suite and other high-level executives feel qualified to implement AI and technology solutions at their companies, compared to 90% of UK executives and 94% of Chinese and Swiss executives who believe they are prepared, according to a new survey released today by Boyden, a premier talent and leadership advisory firm.

The report, titled Boyden Senior Executive Survey: AI and the Consumer & Retail Revolution, explores the global challenges, areas of opportunity, skills necessary and the path forward for companies and senior management to compete amidst tech and AI innovations.

“Most consumer and retail companies are in the throes of a massive evolution through AI and technology,” said Cornelia Tänzler, Global Leader of Boyden’s Consumer & Retail Practice and a Managing Partner of Boyden Switzerland. “The changes include their overall strategy, how they package, track and ship goods, how they engage with customers, and how they lead and hire for the future.”

“With the power of AI, Chief Technology Officers and executives who are tech savvy and analytical are going to increasingly have the influence to shape organizations in consumer and retail,” added Doug Ehrenkranz, Americas Leader of Boyden’s Consumer & Retail Practice and a Managing Partner of Boyden United States.

The survey includes robust data from 200 industry executives—50 US, 50 UK, 50 Swiss and 50 China-based—including CEOs, COOs, CDOs, CIOs and other senior executives. Additional key findings include:

Knowledge and Skill Sets

  • Executives in China claim to be much more informed of industry changes than leaders in other countries, with 86% of Chinese executives purporting to be very well informed, compared to only 60% in the UK, and 54% in each of the US and Switzerland. 
  • Nine in 10 males feel qualified to implement technology and AI at their companies, while just two-thirds (65%) of female execs feel prepared. 
  • To navigate AI and related transformations, US executives believe analytical and critical skills will be particularly important (66% rated them “very important”), while UK execs emphasize strategic acumen; Swiss industry execs see math and statistics skills as important (60%) and those in China consider technical understanding and the ability to innovate important (58% for each skill).

“In embracing digital change, companies are rethinking the way they engage with consumers, customers and partners, and changing the ways they operate from the inside out,” said Rustin Richburg, Senior Vice President, US People at Walmart. “As with any large change, keeping their people engaged and involved will only help accelerate successful change.”

“In an age of AI and tremendous transformation, a Chief Information Officer or Chief Digital Officer’s strategy, vision and creative skills to lead a company’s rapid evolvement and the ability of this executive to influence other C-level executives are critical," explains Lorenz Gan, Chief Information Officer at New Era Cap and former Director of Technology Programs at Burberry. 

AI Privacy, Safety and Economic Opportunity

  • Most executives believe the greater inclusion of robotics and AI in the consumer and retail industries will have a positive impact on the safety and security of consumer information (76% US, 100% in the UK, China and Switzerland) and on the global economy (76% US, 92% UK, 100% China and Switzerland).
  • However, 46% of Swiss execs, 40% UK and 38% in the US reported being “very concerned” that the growth of AI will not be properly managed and could threaten privacy and/or personal freedoms. Strikingly only 6% of China-based execs expressed a similar level of concern. 

“AI is a powerful tool, trend and force to be harnessed across so many disciplines. It continues to make the global pace of change faster and the need for talent to be agile even more important,” explains Anastasia Falconio, Chief People Officer, Kids II, manufacturer of Baby Einstein and Comfort & Harmony and other brands. “As with all change, it is critical we instill curiosity within the workforce on ways to engage and embrace AI vs. fear it.”