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Ready to Lead the Future of Manufacturing?

Insights from CEOs on Succession and the Leadership Essentials Needed to Manage Complexity

What does it take to be a manufacturing CEO today?

With the extreme complexity and ambiguity of the present, it’s no wonder that CEOs tell us constantly that leading a company is like navigating a Rubik's cube. As one CEO said: “Every week on multiple occasions, I now face situations that I have little to no experience in.” 

Because of this, CEOs know they must keep growing and transforming themselves to foster the collaboration and innovation that their organizations depend on. No CEO can be an island of authority unto themselves. They need to keep evolving and adapting to respond to the world around them. Or, as one CEO succinctly put it: “We absolutely can’t have a big CEO anymore.”  

In the manufacturing sector, the challenges weighing upon CEOs have been especially apparent: from ongoing trade and supply chain matters to factory floor concerns and trade union issues. And then there are other emerging risks, around new technologies, in particular, as well as the many expectations of environmental, social, and governance matters, not to mention the changing landscapes of diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

On top of it all, CEOs today are beholden to a growing number of “louder” and often more polarizing voices of stakeholders vying for their attention and increasingly compounding the complexity of their decision-making.

To uncover how manufacturing CEOs are tackling these complexities, Egon Zehnder and the Manufacturers Alliance Foundation conducted a comprehensive study, blending surveys and first-person interviews. Our findings shed light on the evolving role of CEOs, their preparedness for the challenges ahead, and the strategies they employ to lead effectively


CEOs often praise their appointment process while rating the preparation as merely average.

CEOs often feel adequately prepared but acknowledge the unique challenges of the role, including building a relationship with the board and managing the demanding time and pace of the role. Succession planning emerges as a critical factor, highlighting the need for ready-now candidates and ongoing CEO development.

Manufacturing CEOs are increasingly seeking feedback from various sources, with newer CEOs relying more on-board chairs and experienced CEOs consulting their senior leadership teams.

CEOs actively seek feedback from various sources, prioritizing self-awareness and continuous learning.

CEOs recognize the correlation between their personal development and growth and organizational growth and transformation.

They prioritize self-awareness, adaptability, and relational intelligence alongside traditional metrics for decision-making. Human-centered leadership approaches, emphasizing empathy and authenticity, emerge as channels for navigating complexity and fostering collaborative cultures.

How does your CEO succession process stack up?

Find out what CEOs said could have prepared them better, who they rely on for feedback and what matters most to them within their organizations.

Download the full report now to learn what strategies have worked for other organizations.

Get in touch with our consultants for expert guidance on succession planning.

Manufacturers Alliance Foundation is the 501(c)(3) partner of Manufacturers Alliance. The Alliance Foundation provides educational opportunities for the manufacturing community and its stakeholders through insights, events, and tools for today’s most critical business decisions. The Alliance Foundation focuses on talent, technology, digital transformation, and competitiveness. Learn more about the Alliance Foundation

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