One Way To Thrive In The Digital Revolution: Appoint A Digital Leader

Toronto, ON (June 28, 2017) – Nineteen percent of the world’s top 2,500 companies have appointed an executive — commonly known as a Chief Digital Officer (CDO) — to oversee the digital transformation of their business, according to the results of a new study about the role from Strategy&, PwC’s strategy consulting business.

Though this number might seem modest, it more than tripled last year’s percentage, when only 6 percent of companies analyzed had hired such an executive. Of equal significance is the fact that 60 percent of the digital leaders identified in our most recent study have only been hired within the last two years.

Strategy&’s 2016 Chief Digital Officer Study looks at the top 2,500 public companies around the world by market capitalization to better understand how many companies have appointed a digital leader, who they are, and where the position fits into companies’ hierarchies. For the purposes of this study, the CDO is defined as that executive, no matter of the title, who has been given the task of putting into practice the digital mission of his or her company or business unit.

Not just a fad – around the world, digital leaders are here to stay

In light of the significant increase in digital leaders across industry, company size, and region, companies would do well to start believing the ‘hype’ around the new position.

  • Companies in the financial services and consumer-focused industries have the highest digital leader ratio. For instance, according to our study, 35% of insurance companies have digital leaders, and 27% of both banking and consumer products companies do as well.
  • European companies are hiring CDOs at faster rates than companies elsewhere (38% in Europe versus 23% in North America, 13% in South and Latin America, and 7% in Asia-Pacific).
  • Larger companies continue to remain ahead of the curve in appointing digital leaders. The percentage of companies with CDOs by market cap peaks at 33% for Quartile 4, then decreases to 18% for Quartile 3, 15% for Quartile 2, and 10% for Quartile 1.

Creating a unified vision for digital

“For a growing number of companies, it’s just not feasible any longer to spread out various digital efforts among separate business units,” says Pierre Peladeau, a leading digital practitioner and study co-author with Strategy&, partner with PwC France. “It may work during early stages of digitalization, but as a company moves towards a more advanced stage of digital maturity, a unified approach is needed to execute a more comprehensive digital strategy.”

Taking the helm of a holistic digital strategy means different things for different companies. While some look externally for digital leaders, others engage existing leadership and a diverse group of stakeholders to help manage the transition. For these reasons, digital executives come in various forms, with a variety of different skills in tow. While marketing and sales backed leaders dominated last year (34% and 17% respectively), this year 32% of digital leaders bring technology backgrounds to the job, up from 14%.

“One of the most daunting challenges for any digital leader is how to develop new digital applications at the same time as they’re dealing with legacy IT systems that have been vital to a company’s operation for years,” says Mathias Herzog, Strategy& co-author and partner with PwC US. “As this becomes more and more apparent, we should continue to see a growing number of executives with the technical expertise necessary to navigate a company’s multi-faceted digital assets.”

Knowing how to work within these constraints while simultaneously maintaining the operational agility needed to move digitalization efforts forward will be key for any incumbent digital leader.

“The CDO’s role, by definition, is transformational,” says Olaf Acker, co-author and Digital Services leader with PwC Strategy& Germany. “Which means anyone assuming the role has to balance the old technologies with the new, technical expertise with an understanding of internal organizational mechanisms, and a vision for a company’s future that also aligns with its longstanding mission.”

CDO Industry Breakdown

Chief Digital Officer (CDO) industry breakdown - PwC digital study

In the insurance; communications, media and entertainment; consumer products and retail; and banking industries, more than a quarter of companies have appointed a CDO. (PwC)

For more information, visit A copy of the study and breakdowns by industry, company size and geography are also available.


Strategy& examined the global top 2,500 listed companies by market capitalization as of July 1st, 2016, as defined by Bloomberg. For the purposes of this study, the CDO is defined as that executive, no matter of the title, who has been given the task of putting into practice the digital mission of his or her company or business unit. This could be a high-level member of the C-Suite; variously called the CDO, CTO, CIO, CSO or else – whose presence is critical in helping define his or her company’s overall strategic direction and bringing about its cross-functional transformation into a full digital enterprise.

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