Reorientations of firms in China, in the pandemic era

24th Annual Global CEO Survey China Report

The COVID-19 pandemic has created an extraordinary year of challenges in 2020. Businesses are grappling with staying afloat, protecting their workforce, managing extreme supply and demand shocks and accelerating their own digital transformation.

The impact of the pandemic has prompted CEOs in China and globally to re-evaluate their decisions and reinvent their companies to mitigate disruptions to ensure sustainable growth of their business operations. PwC’s 24th Annual Global CEO Survey China report sheds light on how executives in Mainland China and Hong Kong are re-orienting their organisations in this challenging environment, managing risk and their future priorities.

Growth amid the “new normal”

Given the public health crisis worldwide, economic growth across most major territories sharply contracted in 2020. CEOs in Mainland China are cautiously optimistic in the short-term. In terms of their organisation’s prospects for revenue growth, 31% of CEOs in Mainland China are “very confident” over a 12-month timeframe (2020: 45%), while 49% feel this way for a three-year period (2020: 55%).

While firms are still dealing with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on their operations in the short-run, they are being supported by favourable policy measures that will help to boost economic activity in the medium-term. They prioritise major global economies for growth prospects, while favouring Asia Pacific for outbound investments. Their motivations to enter new markets are driven by market-specific opportunities and expansion of customer base.

Risk management in a post COVID-19 world

Chinese CEOs faced several threats to their growth prospects in 2021 on the business, economic, policy, social and environmental front. Pandemic threat overshadows concerns over trade tensions and policy uncertainty. Climate change and environmental damage also concerned 65% of China based CEOs, but only 24% have explicitly factored this threat into their risk management activities.

In our survey, CEOs were asked where their area of focus might have increased as a response to the COVID-19 crisis. Proportion of China based CEOs who increased focus in the following areas are: Reassessing organisation’s tolerance for risk (61%; Global: 52%), Preparing for systemic risk and low-probability, high-impact events (58%; Global: 46%) and Collaborating with supply chain partners to collectively manage risks (57%; Global: 44%).

Re-evaluating purpose and areas of impact

In a post-Covid world, re-evaluating purpose and having better clarity around the company value proposition that is aligned with protection of the environment, people, societies, and communities would be imperative so as not to constrain future business growth. There is a growing recognition of the importance of measuring what matters outside profits and traditional financial statements, such as innovation, workforce practices, and purpose and values.

Survey results reveal that, as an area of investment in the next three years, companies are prioritising cost efficiencies and organic growth over sustainability and ESG environmental initiatives. This is of concern as not adequately factoring in ESG into strategic investments might lead to business disruptions, economic losses and will inevitably constrain business growth in the future, as illustrated by the pandemic.

Delivering sustainable outcomes

The pandemic has reminded us that economic pursuit must be accompanied by management of resources for a sustainable future. While 38% of executives in China ranked greater income equality, good health and well-being of the workforce, and a diverse and inclusive workforce as the top three outcomes that businesses should help deliver only 31% of executives in China (Global: 35%; Hong Kong: 24%) are addressing the implications of environmental damage and climate change in the context of their business.

In terms of outcomes that should be government priorities, 40% of executives in Mainland China were of the view that “a skilled, educated and adaptable workforce” and “the good health and well-being of the workforce” should be the purview of the government. Followed by 39% of the executives in Mainland China who thought that adequate physical and digital infrastructure should be the responsibility of the government.

Actions for Chinese business leaders


Prioritise resilience, agility and preparedness over cost efficiencies to mitigate the effects of future adverse events and address vulnerabilities.


Invest in human capital training to prepare a skilled workforce with high emotional intelligence for societal and environmental well-being, organisational and economic growth.


Continue to strategically invest in sustainability and ESG actions where every decision and action is viewed through a ESG lens.

Use innovations to build capital, new products and services, and to scale positive social impacts for solving the multi-dimensional challenges confronting China and the world.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has radically impacted the world. By Q1 2021, given relatively successful containment efforts in China, the social, economic and business recovery process, while uneven, is underway with the aid of fiscal stimulus and policy support measures. The impact of the pandemic has prompted CEOs in China to re-evaluate their decisions and reinvent their companies to mitigate disruptions to ensure sustainable growth of their business operations.”

Thomas LeungManaging Partner - Markets, PwC China

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Thomas Leung

Thomas Leung

Managing Partner - Markets, PwC China

Tel: +[86] (10) 6533 2838 / +[852] 2289 8288

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