Leadership Matters

Perspectives on the key issues impacting senior leaders and their organizations
January 10, 2019

Innovation at CES 2019 Highlights Importance of Talent and Culture

By Spencer Stuart's Global CES Team

With more than 4,500 exhibitors displaying products across 2.9 million square feet — along with more than 300 conference sessions, a tsunami of new product announcements and an endless supply of networking opportunities — the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) can be overwhelming.

The new devices and advancements shown at CES 2019 were extraordinary, with jaw-dropping technology ranging from earbud translators to flying cars. Such innovation highlighted the increasing importance of having the right talent in place and an organizational culture that fosters experimentation. To help some of the attendees zero in on the issues most relevant to their business and gain insights from complementary industries and functions, Spencer Stuart annually hosts an exclusive reception for senior executives from some of the most influential companies representing technology, media, consumer, software, healthcare, automotive, private equity and digital.

We’ve seen various leadership trends emerge in our work, and these observations were reinforced by conversations at our event earlier this week and throughout CES 2019. Based on these discussions as well as thought-provoking panels featuring some of our placements, here are five key talent and culture issues that senior leaders across industries anticipate will impact their organizations this year — and beyond:

1. Making the world a better place is becoming as important as making a profit.

On the minds of many of senior leaders at CES was the new Resilience Conference. As explained by Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, the Resilience Conference was intended to showcase resilient technologies, which are produced with the aim of “keeping the world healthy, safe, warm, powered, fed and secure, even in the face of adversity.”

This aligns with recent conversations we’ve had with leaders across the consumer sector, which indicated that — along with the traditional demand to deliver shareholder value — CEOs are increasingly expected to implement business practices that incorporate a socially aware mindset. (You can read more about this trend and how CEOs are addressing it here.)

Our discussions at CES confirmed that stakeholders today want organizations, from the companies that make their mobile phones to the manufacturers of their snacks, to put greater emphasis on issues that affect society as a whole, such as: environmental impact, workplace diversity and labor practices, and global health programs. Leaders must have a genuine interest in positively shaping their company culture and improving society, and embrace these efforts as key elements in their core business strategies. Consumers have become increasingly discerning: If organizations only go halfway, or simply pay lip service to social responsibility, brand perceptions — and bottom lines — could suffer.

Spencer Stuart CES 2019 Reception

Leaders across industries and functions talking about the latest trends at our CES 2019 cocktail reception.

2. 5G is heating up the war for strategy and product management talent.

As predicted, 5G was a hot topic at CES, and the senior leaders we spoke with were excited to learn how 5G technologies will enable them to connect faster and more effectively with their employees, customers and other key stakeholders.

However, their excitement was tempered by their concerns about the cost and complexity of implementing 5G technologies, as well as issues with finding the right people — typically strategy and product marketing and product management executives — to drive their 5G initiatives. They agreed that, as 5G moves from hype to reality, there is a need to better understand use cases and to focus resources on projects that will yield the highest ROI.

5G also threatens to change the competitive landscape between wireless, wireline, cable MSOs and enterprise wireless players. As a result, we’re seeing an increasing need for strategy and product executives who can lay out a competitive roadmap with associated revenue and marketshare implications.

3. Digital advancement continues to create new leadership roles and redefine organizational cultures.

As CES always makes abundantly clear, new technologies and platforms are constantly emerging. To keep pace with innovations and disruptive technologies, many organizations have created roles that did not exist even five years ago, such as chief data officer, chief AI officer, chief innovation officer and chief growth officer. Organizations must be prepared for continuous exploration of digital trends and reassessment of talent strategies, from role definition to attraction and retention. However, talent is only part of the equation.

An organization with a command-and-control style of working, and an emphasis on risk avoidance, could be stifling the innovation necessary to remain competitive today. In response to ongoing digital disruption, we’re seeing a shift toward organizational cultures that encourage learning, collaboration and “failing fast.” Culture and leadership are inextricably linked, so organizations should not only look for leaders who have technical acumen, but also seek out those who can help support a culture that encourages innovation. (Read more about culture in The Leader’s Guide to Corporate Culture, one of HBR’s 10 Must Reads of 2019.)

4. The need – and desire – for diversity, digital expertise and innovation in the boardroom is growing rapidly.

As we saw recently with California’s new law mandating public boards include at least one woman, calls for greater diversity in the boardroom continue to grow louder, and were echoed by many of the leaders we spoke with at CES. While more progress must be made, we are seeing boards across industries increasingly recruiting not only more women, but people with new skills and perspectives. For instance, first-time directors (many of whom are younger than 50 years old) comprise 33 percent of the incoming class of S&P 500 directors. One-third of these next-gen directors have backgrounds in the tech/telecom sector, reflecting growing demand for digital expertise in the boardroom. (View our U.S. Spencer Stuart Board Index for additional governance trends).

For these burgeoning diversity efforts to succeed, boards cannot stop with recruitment. A robust, tailored onboarding program is critical — especially for first-time directors. (Here are five recommendations for enhancing your onboarding program.)

5. Next-generation sensors, cameras and AI will increase competition across all industry sectors for technology talent, with an emphasis on software.

CES saw every organization looking to reinvent itself as a technology company. The addition of sensors, cameras, cost-effective wireless connectivity and SaaS-based architectures for cars, home automation, digital health and more is creating a greater volume of data that must be stored and analyzed with better software applications and tools. Companies across all industry sectors from software and telecom to industrial, consumer and healthcare will continue to face intense competition for new talent to digitize their traditional products and services. Much of that investment in talent will be in search of top-tier software/SaaS/cloud services skills.


For the past several years that we’ve attended CES, we have seen our conversations with senior leaders shift from news of the latest advancements to discussions about what they mean for talent, leadership and organizational culture in every industry. Companies that understand the human element of digital disruption — from the growing importance of social consciousness among consumers, talent and shareholders to the definition of completely new leadership roles — will be the winners in the years ahead.