How AI will change your role as an CEO and how to prepare for it

03 Dec 2020

How AI will change your role as an CEO and how to prepare for it

When a technology can change everything, the most important leader in any organisation faces multiple and fundamental challenges, as our AI report explains.

There is now little argument that AI is already demonstrating its potential to utterly transform business in almost every dimension. The question is perhaps not ‘what will artificial intelligence change?’, but rather more ‘what won’t it change?’.

But with such massive opportunities (and threats) becoming clearer, what should the Board, and more specifically its CEO, be knowing, thinking and doing right now, before they become victims of more nimble rivals?

In the report, Artificial Intelligence for Boards - Gearing up for the Future of Business, we describe how AI will affect the company board, role by role, individually and collectively. We also provide guidance on how to manage the change.

Our insights and recommendations are drawn from our partners, The appliedAI Initiative, Europe’s largest non-profit initiative for the application of artificial intelligence technology. Their deep insights are complemented by a series of in-depth interviews with C-level executives, including CEOs, who have experience in applying AI to real-life businesses.


Artificial Intelligence for Boards - Gearing up for the Future of Business

How CEOs and Boards can prepare for the coming AI revolution.

Download now

Too important a job for delegation

It cannot be repeated enough just how fundamental the challenge of AI is to the roles and responsibilities of CEOs. It truly changes everything.

As Markus Trost, Partner in the Technology Practice at Odgers Berndtson Germany, underlines, “AI is not something the CEO can delegate at the strategic or leadership level. It is simply not ‘just another tool’.”

So, our report identifies five key areas where a CEO will need to pay particular attention. Each one triggers some specific challenges, and each has the potential for misunderstanding and misconception that could undermine the whole corporate effort.

  •  Do I know enough about AI to lead credibly, and how will this new paradigm impact on my board leadership team and their responsibilities?
  •  Am I open and willing to challenge existing business structures and models to remain competitive in the light of new rivals?
  •  Are our values and ethics prepared and robust enough to cope with the issues and dilemmas thrown up by AI?
  •  How do we organise ourselves for AI in a man-machine world?
  •  Exactly what kind of transformation will be required when AI offers so many fundamental challenges for the way we work?
“The job of the CEO is to demystify AI, to create acceptance, reduce fears and start a real transformation.” Stefan Vilsmeier, CEO brainlab

Convincing leadership creates meaningful change

If the behavior and priorities demonstrated by the CEO sets the tone for the entire company, AI brings the nature, authenticity and effectiveness of that leadership front and centre.

As Silvia Eggenweiler, Partner in Odgers Berndtson Technology Practice, explains further, “If you are asking people to make massive changes, being timid and unconvinced yourself will spread doubt about the worth of the whole project. Fake equals failure.”

Of course, for all their importance and influence as beacons of transformation, AI is clearly not a one-person leadership mission. CEOs also carry primary responsibility for the composition and mode of interaction of their leadership teams. This is another formidable challenge as CEOs attempt to orchestrate a cast of senior leaders who are themselves on a learning journey.

Next steps to AI?

AI is here to stay and will continue to increase in importance. Some have compared it to China’s entering the world economy, twenty years ago. All CEOs and their Boards need to adjust, embracing AI’s opportunities and managing its risks.

When setting out to lead your company during the AI journey, we have concluded there are seven key imperatives that will move you along the AI journey.

To find out more about these, and other aspects of the leadership challenges of AI for the CEO and other Board members, please download the report.

Of course, we’re always happy to discuss your talent and leadership requirements in the light of the report. Just get in touch.



Authors of the study

Markus Trost is Partner at Odgers Berndtson’s Global Tech Practice. He handles senior executive search assigments in tech companies and leadership positions with focus on technology and innovation. Markus holds a Master Degree in Industrial Engineering from KIT and a postgraduate education from Harvard Business School, INSEAD and IMD.

Emanuel Pfister is Principal at Odgers Berndtson. Prior to joining Odgers Berndtson in 2014, he gained his first experiences in executive research during his studies and moved 2010 to a well-known Consultancy where he was responsible for executive search projects in the industry and automotive sectors. After completing a technical apprenticeship in Switzerland, Emanuel studied Politics, Sociology and Modern German Literature. He holds an M.A. from the Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich.

Dr. Philipp Gerbert is Future Shaper of UnternehmerTUM and Director at appliedAI. Previous activities include many years as Senior Partner and Lead of Digital Strategy at BCG, Fellow for AI in Business at the BCG Henderson Institute, as well as a Partner at the McKenna Group in Silicon Valley. He holds a PhD in Physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Dr. Philipp Hartmann serves appliedAI as Director of AI Strategy. Prior to joining appliedAI, he spent four years at McKinsey & Company as a strategy consultant. Philipp holds a PhD from Technical University of Munich where he investigated factors of competitive advantage in Artificial Intelligence.

Dr. Andreas Liebl is Managing Director at UnternehmerTUM as well as appliedAI. Before joining UnternehmerTUM, he worked for McKinsey & Company for five years and completed his PhD at the Entrepreneurship Research Institute at the Technical University of Munich. He currently serves as an expert in the Global Partnership on AI (GPAI) advising on innovation and commercialization of AI.