CEO Survey 2017

The focus of our CEO Survey this year was directed towards four areas: business transformation, customer expectations, finding capital/financial sourcing and cybersecurity.

This year’s survey includes CEOs from Serbia exclusively. In the previous years, our survey included both domestic CEOs and their foreign counterparts working in Serbia, rendering us a full picture of the current state of affairs.

The largest number of CEOs participating in this year’s survey were from the sectors in technology and consumer products, followed by the industrial sector and financial services. However, it is important to note that representatives of all industries, including the government, education and non-profit, took part in this study, enabling us to gain a comprehensive insight into the opinions of those standing at the helm of Serbia-based companies, public enterprises, and government institutions.

  • Consumer products & services (21,2%)
  • Technology (21,2%)
  • Industrial sector (18,2%)
  • Financial services (18,2%)
  • Professional services (9,1%)
  • Life science & healthcare (6,1%)
  • Supply chain, logistics, and transportation (3,0%)
  • Government, education and non-profit (3,0%)

Over 40% of the respondents have been CEOs for over ten years, while somewhat less than a third have occupied such positions between one and three years.

  • 1-3 years (30,3%)
  • 3-5 years (12,1%)
  • 5-10 years (15,2%)
  • Over 10 years (42,4%)

Business Transformation

Business transformation processes are complex initiatives aimed at promoting business through all the functions of an organization. Such methods help re-evaluate and prompt fundamental changes in the manner in which a particular task is conducted and integrate various dimensions of strategy, structure, processes, human resources, and technology, subsequently demanding a holistic approach.

The experiences accumulated by the participants of our survey indicate that business transformation in the Serbian market is triggered most frequently by customer demand, followed by technological change and competition.

Comparing our findings with the results of similar global surveys, we note that the Serbian market is progressively falling into step with global market trends, and that customer demand is at the top of the list of business transformation drivers. Access to the global market is becoming increasingly more straightforward, and consumers around the world are offered the possibility to acquire a large number of products that satisfy their needs, at low cost and considerable speed of delivery, regardless of geographical distance. Apart from caring for their customers, companies need to keep a vigilant eye on the activities of their competitors, striving to adjust their business activities to theirs and to outshine them possibly.

Apart from struggling to provide the best possible response to customer demand, companies must also respond to technological changes and those who choose to take a different approach run the risk of losing a step with the market very rapidly. The speed and scale of technological changes we have been observing in the global market over the past few years are central to business transformation, even when they are not directly aimed at it. Business transformation is being identified more and more frequently with digital transformation, which implies redirecting company activities and management from traditional models to technologically-oriented business modes - something that has become imperative to companies of all sizes.

What are the main triggers for business transformation in your company?

  • Customer requests (72,7%)
  • Changes in technology (57,6%)
  • Competition (42,4%)
  • Internal process and procedure change (27,3%)
  • Other (12,1%)


  • World trends
  • Economic cycles
  • Development strategy adopted. We operate as a highly specialized company and strive to keep step with future changes and requests on all bases.

When asked to identify the primary drivers of the business transformation process, the respondents referred to their management or headquarters most frequently. Responses such as R&D, customers, and their needs, and company employees were least frequent.

Who is the driver of the business transformation process in your company (i.e., HQ, top management, etc.)?

  • Management
  • HQ
  • Innovation centers sponsored by management
  • R&D (innovations)
  • Customers and their needs
  • Local and regional management
  • Top management
  • Mainly we ourselves, but if there are any global initiatives, we accept them

Judging by the responses given, the Serbian market is customer-oriented in line with world trends. At the same time, Serbian companies also need to take into account the various factors transcending territorial limitations, such as changes within the specific industries they operate in and technological change. The past few years have seen a standardization and harmonization of business practices on a global scale, and it is gratifying to note that companies doing business in the Serbian market are making efforts to harmonize their business operation with these trends. Nevertheless, the answers collected in our survey indicate that domestic competition has primacy over that on the global level, which may be the result of the volume of business conducted by companies in our market.

What market and industry trends are the most significant drivers for the business transformation process?

  • Increased competition from global competitors (33,3%)
  • Increased competition from domestic competitors (36,4%)
  • Changes within a particular industry (54,5%)
  • Technological change (51,5%)
  • Change in customer preferences (69,7%)
  • Regulatory changes/government policy (33,3%)
  • Other (0%)

When speaking about the internal drivers for business transformation, CEOs traditionally consider revenue increase to be the most significant. In the survey, they also point to increased productivity and organizational restructuring as equally important, with changes in corporate culture following close behind.

From a global perspective, we note that many companies approach the issue of business transformation with the same objective in mind – revenue growth. However, tendencies fostered by large firms are somewhat different. Namely, they are more focused on company expansion, primarily towards the Asian market which has been the focal point of attention among all significant corporations over the past years, principally because of its rapid growth and their efforts to position themselves on this market, technological innovations, cheap labor, etc.

What internal trends are the most significant business transformation drivers?

  • Revenue growth (75,8%)
  • Cost cutting (14,4%)
  • Increased productivity (63,6%)
  • Organizational restructuring (63,6%)
  • Change of corporate culture (42,4%)
  • Ownership changes (15,2%)
  • Other (3,0%)

Leadership capabilities of a company’s management team and support from senior management have been singled out as being by far the most important success factors for business transformation. Buy-in from employees and collaboration across functions within the company were also emphasized as important. Interestingly enough, based on the experiences of CEOs in Serbia, sufficient and adequate resource allocation has been ranked as the least important factor.

More extensive research at the global level shows that the support and competence of a company’s senior management are deemed to be a decisive factor for success in conducting business transformation, which is understandable since top executives of all companies play a vital role in the implementation of such projects. Employee trust, communication of objectives, collaboration across sectors, and all other factors primarily depend on the manner in which top executives approach changes.

In your opinion, what are the most important success factors for business transformation?

  • Support from senior management (63,6%)
  • Alignment with overall strategy (45,5%)
  • Buy-in from employees (57,6%)
  • Leadership capabilities of management team (75,8%)
  • Realistic transformation plan (33,3%)
  • Collaboration across functions (54,5%)
  • Sufficient and adequate resource allocation (12,1%)
  • Communication of objectives (45,5%)
  • Planning and results monitoring (39,4%)
  • Flexible and scalable IT systems (24,2%)
  • Other (0%)

As in the case of the prior questions, the opinions of the participants of our survey match global practice to a great extent. If we are to focus on factors that contribute the most to business transformation failure, global research will show us that buy-in from employees, both at the management and non-management level, has a decisive impact. Before embarking on business transformation undertakings, it is necessary to identify key individuals at all levels and select a suitable strategic approach to change to ensure that the appropriate corporate vision is communicated adequately across the organization.

CEOs in Serbia lay equal emphasis on lack of competencies and insufficient acceptance by the company’s management level employees as the most frequent reasons for business transformation failure. On the other hand, they do not think to exceed the planned budget is a decisive factor for such failure.

It is interesting to note that somewhat less than a third of the respondents have experienced the transformation strategy becoming obsolete in the process of its implementation, which says a lot about such endeavors, and probably about the agility of companies as well.

In your opinion, what are the most common reasons for business transformation failure?

  • Lack of competencies (66,7%)
  • Insufficient acceptance by company employees (management level) (66,7%)
  • Insufficient acceptance by company employees (non-management level) (54,5%)
  • Time management issues (12,1%)
  • IT issues (15,2%)
  • Infrastructure issues (12,1%)
  • Faulty strategic rationale (51,5%)
  • During the transformation process, the strategy became obsolete (30,3%)
  • Exceeds initial budget (9,1%)
  • Other (0%)

CEOs taking part in our survey believe that mergers and acquisitions, outsourcing and value-chain optimization are the most frequent focal points of business transformation. Over the past years, mergers and acquisitions have also come to the fore as the most frequent business transformation projects in all broader markets, with companies placing their focus on expanding business activities towards the Asian market.

What do you see as the latest trends in business transformation?

  • Cyber Security (33,3%)
  • M&A (42,4%)
  • Outsourcing (42,4%)
  • Enterprise-wide IT project (33,3%)
  • Cross-functional performance improvement program (21,2%)
  • Value-chain optimization (42,4%)
  • Strategy change (27,3%)
  • Enterprise-wide organizational restructuring (30,3%)
  • Other (6,1%)


  • Innovations (novel or significantly altered products), automatization and digitalization.
  • In our case, projects and ideas imposed by the market. They indeed depend on internal capabilities and resoluteness to launch new projects on the market adequately.

Customer Expectations

According to our respondents, information concerning customer expectations in the Serbian market is most often collected to an equal degree through traditional communication channels and through omnichannel.

Omnichannel has lately been central when speaking about the collection of information from customers, and vice versa. This strategic, comprehensive concept focuses on buyer/customer needs, brings down barriers between different sales and marketing channels, and creates a single integrated whole centered on the buyer and not the brand. It also implies overcoming the detachment between offline and online sales, marketing and customer services, since all channels are mutually synchronized. Customers do not only shift quickly from one sales channel to another but also use all channels simultaneously for an enhanced experience and more considerable knowledge about the product and purchasing process. Over the past years, all significant global corporations have noticeably been changing their strategies towards this paradigm given the development of technology. It is gratifying to note that companies have recognized this as a significant concept, either on their own or under the influence of their headquarters, and have made appropriate changes towards its realization.

How do you collect information about your customers’ expectations?

  • Through traditional communication channels (call center, surveys, etc.) (42,4%)
  • Through digital communication channels (web self-service, online communities, chat, etc.) (15,2%)
  • Omnichannel (42,4%)


  • In our branch of business, digital communication channel development is still not recognized as one of the drivers of growth, it must be set in motion like in consumer products.
  • Traditional NPI research on customer satisfaction once a year.

Companies operating in the Serbian market strive to respond to customer demands to a great extent, and we are pleased to note that, at least judging by our sample, there are no companies that react only upon receipt of customer complaints.

To what extent is your company responsive to customer expectations?

  • We are highly responsive (72,7%)
  • We are moderately responsive (15,2%)
  • We could be more responsive (12,1%)
  • We react only to complaints (0%)


  • The approach is still REACTIVE, although much is being done to change this and see that it turns PROACTIVE.

Judging by the answers of the CEOs taking part in our survey, the Serbian market also follows world trends. Namely, the demand for more personalized products/services have been singled out as the factor that has the most significant impact on changes in customer expectations. Customers expect information on products/services to be visible and easily accessible to them, and also expect their queries to be answered promptly. According to the latest surveys, half of the consumers will desist from purchases if they are unable to obtain prompt information enabling them to assess whether a particular product/service fits their needs.

Surprisingly, the use of new technologies for purchasing purposes is the least important factor, according to CEOs taking part in our survey. The question arises as to whether this is a consequence of the situation in our market, a characteristic of the industries our respondents come from or a reflection of consumer habits in the domestic market. It would indeed be interesting to examine this matter further.

What has the biggest influence on changes in your customers’ expectations?

  • Technology innovations (51,5%)
  • The utilization of new technologies for purchasing purposes (18,2%)
  • Local competitors (42,4%)
  • Global competitors (21,2%)
  • Demand for more personalized products/services (69,7%)
  • Other (0%)

Half of the companies operating in the Serbian market do not have an individual budget allocated exclusively for the examination of expectations/innovations that would help respond to customer requests, which is surprising considering the respondents’ assessment that demand for personalized products/services have the greatest impact on customer expectations.

Does your company have a budget allocated exclusively for expectations/innovations research with the aim to respond to customer requests?

  • Yes, we have a budget for both (33,3%)
  • Yes, we have a budget for expectations research (6,1%)
  • Yes, we have a budget for innovations (9,1%)
  • We don’t have an exclusive budget for this (51,5%)

Finding Capital / Financial Sourcing

A large number of participants in our survey ranked the readiness of banks to follow the growth of companies in the Serbian market as high or very high.

How would you rate the banks’ readiness to follow the growth of your company? (1 – very low, 5 – very high)

  • 1 – 10,7%
  • 2 – 10,7%
  • 3 – 17,9%
  • 4 – 39,3%
  • 5 – 21,4%


  • We do not use the support of banks.
  • We do not need funding.
  • We have had good operating indicators continually, a low level of indebtedness, an adequate level of corporate management and reporting, a clear development strategy.
  • We are excellent, at times it is only necessary to simplify the process. An overly large bureaucracy.

Nearly one-third of the CEOs have no particular opinion about access to external credit sources concerning their amount and credit cycle period, while about half of them rate this item as high or very high.

How would you rate the access to external credit sources with respect to the amount and the credit cycle period? (1 – very low, 5 – very high)

  • 1 – 7,7%
  • 2 – 11,5%
  • 3 – 30,8%
  • 4 – 34,6%
  • 5 – 15,4%

CEOs doing business in the Serbian market maintain that the price of loans for their company is realistic considering their credit rating and the average price of capital in the market.

How would you rate the current price of loans for your company, keeping in mind your credit rating and the average price of capital in the market?

  • High (11,1%)
  • Realistic (81,5%)
  • Low (7,4%)

When it comes to availability of alternative sources of financing for the growth of their companies, the CEOs of Serbia-based companies rated strategic investors most favorably. Funds ranked second, while initial public offerings (IPOs) received the least favorable ratings.

How would you rate the accessibility of alternative sources of financing for your company’s growth?
(1 – very low, 5 – very high)

  1 2 3 4 5
Strategic investors 22,2% 18,5% 22,2% 33,3% 3,7%
Funds 29,2% 25,0% 12,5% 20,8% 12,5%
IPOs 37,5% 12,5% 29,2% 8,3% 12,5%


  • It is challenging to establish conditions for the implementation of serious projects – we predominantly do the financing independently.
  • Our level of shares is not of current interest to funds or for IPOs.

Cyber Security

Cybersecurity is a topical issue both in Serbia and worldwide. A shift of focus from cybersecurity viewed as a technological issue to it being considered a matter of every company’s critical strategic decision is of prime interest.

In light of the ongoing business digitalization, it is believed that the time has long passed since companies could merely forward their cyber risks/threats to the IT department, which makes business operation increasingly vulnerable to the numerous threats it is facing today. Large companies have already shifted their focus significantly and do not contemplate on the issue of what “if” a threat occurs, but rather “in what way” they can react “when” such a situation occurs.

In nearly half the companies operating in the Serbian market, cybersecurity is based most frequently on the existence of a particular department/person dealing exclusively with this issue, which is, judging by current global trends, an obsolete system of managing this particular type of risk. Nevertheless, we are pleased to note that other forms of security do exist in a large number of companies, which indicates that the Serbian market is heading in the right direction.

How do you handle cybersecurity in your company?

  • Application access control (30,3%)
  • Physical access control (15,2%)
  • Network/personnel access control (27,3%)
  • Fully dedicated department/person (42,4%)
  • All of the above (36,4%)
  • Other (0%)

As mentioned above, data security is becoming a field organizations need to address strategically. As such, it needs to permeate organizations entirely, which is why keeping every link in the chain informed in a proper and timely manner is crucial.

Judging by the answers given by our respondents, companies in the Serbian market are making significant efforts to ensure that their staff is kept abreast of information security. Hence, nearly 80% of the companies have an established security awareness programme across all departments, including the management. However, the percentage of companies with no form of awareness programme is not negligible either, and amounts to nearly 15%, while one out of 10 companies has only a partially established application, designed for just some departments. Considering the ubiquitous threats and risks burdening companies on a daily basis, both in the global and local market, we see that there is much space for improvement of security mechanisms in companies operating in Serbia.

Do you have an information security awareness programme in your company?

  • Yes, across all departments (Management included) (78,1%)
  • I think so – it’s handled by our CISO (0%)
  • Only for some company departments (11,1%)
  • No (14,8%)
  • Other (0%)

Internal audits are by far the most frequent ways of conducting information security risk assessments in companies managed by our respondents.

Does your company conduct detailed and regular information security risk assessments and how?

  • Yes, internal audit (63,6%)
  • Yes, external audit (12,1%)
  • No, we have all newest systems and updates (12,1%)
  • No, we don't see the need for it since we haven't been affected so far (12,1%)


  • We have introduced the systems after a risk analysis, there is a department dealing with this and makes requests.

In half of the companies, 0-5% of the IT budget is allocated for cybersecurity.

What percentage of your company’s annual IT budget is dedicated to cybersecurity?

  • 0-5% (51,6%)
  • 5-10% (25,8%)
  • 10-15% (22,6%)
  • Over 15% (0%)

Cybersecurity threats are not encountered in business alone. State institutions and other types of organizations are also targeted quite often. Last year, some of the most striking incidents of this kind were precisely those directed against organizations such as the U.S. NSA and British National Health Service, which were targeted by different ransomware. A large number of incidents last year seem to have been linked to this type of threat, where the party under attack is subjected to a data lockdown and is then asked to pay a ransom (hence the name ransomware). Quite often, if the ransom is not paid within a certain time frame, all data is deleted. It is estimated that 6 to 10 percent of all cybersecurity-related incidents involve ransomware that attacks in the business world occur every 20 seconds, that no industrial sector is left out, and that 7 out of 10 attacks are successful. Such incidents are expected to be on the rise. The dark web and Bitcoin enable practically everyone to sell stolen data without identification, subsequently rendering no possibility to apprehend the perpetrators.

When it comes to the most frequent incidents connected to cybersecurity that have occurred in the past year in the Serbian market, viruses are the most common. However, the number of ransomware incidents is not negligible either. We note that the Serbian market is gradually leaving behind web portal and internal system hacking, as well as confidential data theft.

We are pleased to note that our domestic market is “lagging behind” the global market in this sense and hope that we will learn the lessons we need to learn and be prepared for a wave of substantial attacks liable to hit our market in the near future

What was the most significant cybersecurity incident (or near miss) in your company in the past year?

  • Viruses (68,8%)
  • Ransomware (34,4%)
  • Physical breach (6,3%)
  • Breach/hack of our public facing system (web portals) (6,3%)
  • Breach/hack of our internal systems (0%)
  • Stolen confidential data (0%)
  • Other (6,3%)

With the ubiquitous digitalization taking place all around us, the number of devices demanding higher security measures and posing as potential targets for a cyberattack is on the rise. Mobile phones, tablets, devices supporting the Internet of Things (IoT) and similar devices all have deficiencies with respect to their protectedness. New technologies, such as artificial intelligence, open new avenues for attack.

As much as 3/4 of the respondents in our survey have identified the human factor as the most significant risk factor connected to cybersecurity in their companies. One-Quarter of them believe that there is an insufficient level of informedness/awareness of such risks in our market, while a fifth see mobile devices as a potential risk for the business.

What do you see as the biggest risks in cyber security in your company?

  • Human factor or employees’ complacency (75,8%)
  • Mobile devices (18,2%)
  • Confusing compliance with cyber security (9,1%)
  • Lack of recovery plan (6,1%)
  • Not enough information/awareness (24,2%)
  • Constantly evolving risks (36,4%)
  • Other (0%)

Taking everything into account, we are happy to report that over half the CEOs participating in our survey acknowledge that the process of identifying risks in their company should be improved. Since the threat has been recognized it is necessary to work on dealing with this issue continually, as cybersecurity is an incredibly dynamic and volatile field.

Does the risk identification process in your company need improvement?

  • Yes (63,6%)
  • No (36,4%)
Stanton Chase International
Blvd. oslobodjenja 75
11000 Belgrade, Serbia
+381 11 3973 676