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Main » 2019 » June » 13 » Global Study from Egon Zehnder Reveals the Challenges Facing the First Generation of Chief Digital Officers
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Global Study from Egon Zehnder Reveals the Challenges Facing the First Generation of Chief Digital Officers

ZURICH -Tuesday 11 June 2019 [ AETOS Wire ]

    Research finds the majority of digital leaders (54%) spend more time evangelizing than actually executing their digital strategy.
    64% of CDOs believe their CEO is on top of changes in the industry, but just 40% think this is true of CFOs.
    The role could mark a new path to the corner office, with CDOs expecting CEO to be their next role.

(BUSINESS WIRE)-- A global study of the first generation of Chief Digital Officers has found that evolving company culture is proving a significant challenge, with the majority (54%) spending more time evangelizing within their business than executing their digital strategy.

Egon Zehnder, the world’s leadership consulting firm, surveyed CDOs in large companies across 20 countries globally, whose combined revenues total $1 trillion, to explore their expectations and experiences and identify the actions leaders should take to accelerate digital transformation within their organizations.

The study, CDO Decoded: The First Wave of CDOs Speaks, also shows there is still little shared understanding of the role and responsibilities of a CDO. While lines of reporting and key responsibilities vary widely, what unites this group is their pioneering status - the overwhelming majority are the first to hold this role in their organization.

“Organizations and - it turns out - CDOs themselves are still working out what it means to be the CDO,” said Lindsay Trout, Global Digital Practice Leader at Egon Zehnder. “It’s clear though that the experiences of this first generation will shape the direction businesses take in the future.”

CDOs also questioned whether a digital-only role will become obsolete over time. Rob Barger, CDO of Georgia-Pacific, said: “I should not exist in this role in five years.”

Key research findings

The challenges of culture change

    While just 10% of CDOs saw their primary role as evolving company culture, 54% said they spend more time on evangelizing than executing.
    80% of respondents found that evolving company culture was either more difficult or much more difficult than they expected. 68% also cited integration of data and breaking down silos.
    Just 25% CDOs thought their organizations were ready for digital transformation when they were first hired.
    Executive commitment and company culture were cited as the two most critical factors in achieving digital transformation by 58% and 57% of CDOs, respectively.

Who today’s CDOs are

    This is a group of pioneers - 84% are the first to hold a CDO role in their organization and 65% have been in the role for three years or less.
    CDO is a senior role - 63% report directly to the CEO.

The confidence and ambitions of CDOs

    42% of CDOs believe their next job would be a CEO role.
    50% said the scope of impact was their primary reason for taking on the CDO role.


Egon Zehnder recommends several actions to ensure the success of a CDO, including:

    Hire evangelists AND executors: If internal culture change will be required, choose a CDO capable of rallying teams and expressing a vision.
    Make sure the C-suite gets it: The CEO must ensure the C-suite, including the CFO as well as other P&L leaders, understands the CDO role and supports investment in digital transformation.
    Don’t forget about culture: Nothing happens without organizational buy-in.
    Give the CDO freedom to build a strong team: Many CDOs build teams that are a combination of new talent and expertise and legacy.
    Be willing to measure success in different ways: The CDO must have the right to develop and use their own benchmarks, even in parts of the business that they are not in charge of.

Further information

To read the full CDO Decoded report visit


About the 2019 CDO Survey

Egon Zehnder conducted in-depth surveys with 107 CDOs in 20 countries during December 2018.

About Egon Zehnder

Egon Zehnder is the world’s leadership consulting firm, sharing one goal: to transform people, organizations and the world through great leadership.

We know what great leaders can do and are passionate about delivering the best leadership solutions for our clients.

As One Firm, our more than 480 Consultants in 68 offices and 40 countries bring our individual strengths to form one powerful collaborative team.

We partner closely with public and private corporations, family-owned enterprises, and non-profit and government agencies to provide Board advisory services, CEO search and succession, executive search, executive assessment, leadership development and organizational transformation.

We offer a range of integrated services to support our leadership consulting work, such as: our investment in Zurich, Switzerland-based Sinequanon (SQN), a firm that uses AI and advanced analytics to improve workplace culture and performance, and our strategic alliance with Mobius Executive Leadership, the London and Cambridge, MA based leadership development firm, which delivers customized executive development programs at the CEO and executive levels that enable breakthroughs often described by participants as “life changing.” In addition, we have partnered with Paradox Strategies, the consulting firm co-founded by Harvard University Professor Linda Hill, to develop the Innovation Quotient (IQ), a proprietary culture diagnostic based on Hill’s research that helps clients better understand the degree to which their cultures enable – or inhibit – their ability to innovate.

We share a commitment and pride in doing work that contributes to successful careers, stronger companies and a better world.

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Jennifer Reingold
Global Head of Content
P: +1 212-519-6286

Stacy Drumtra
US Head of Marketing and Communications
P: +1 312-260-8974

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