Leadership Matters

Perspectives on the key issues impacting senior leaders and their organizations
January 24, 2024

5 Leadership Trends from CES 2024

Surprise, surprise: AI was front and center at CES 2024 in Las Vegas. In the year or so since ChatGPT was released, artificial intelligence — long talked-about but still more about the future than the present — has finally burst into the societal mainstream. It was certainly on display as we worked our way around the floor at CES: an AI-enhanced cars, toothbrushes, tractors, personal assistants and so much more.

Glitz and gadgets are par for the course at CES, whatever the trends of the day are. But what does it all mean for technology leaders as they navigate the upcoming year? Below, we look at five leadership trends that stood out.

1. Prepare yourself for an AI-centric world.

AI was expected to be the Big Thing at CES this year, just as we had seen virtual reality, blockchain, autonomy, the cloud and other technologies stand out in the past. Yet there was a sense, both being on the showroom floor and in conversation with leaders, that AI was on a whole other plane in terms of impact — perhaps the biggest shape-shifting trend we had truly seen in years. For one thing, AI isn’t new; it’s been part of the public consciousness since at least the 1980s (and yes, several of us will say long before that.) But the combination of chip capabilities, large language models (LLMs) and the consumer-focused nature of ChatGPT and other similar products have taken things to a new level.

Leaders today must be prepared for a future where AI is increasingly integrated into all aspects of business — both in the way organizations operate and in how they interact with customers and meet their needs. They must also understand AI’s potential benefits and risks, and boards in particular need policies and procedures in place to govern its use.

In terms of talent, leadership needs to signal its commitment to retaining and reskilling its cherished workforce as AI becomes a part of everyday life. A more nuanced approach may in fact be most effective in the long term. Rather than trying to figure out how every role might be impacted by AI — which is how digital transformation was approached, resulting in slower uptake and less-than-full transformations in many industries — organizations will need to fundamentally rebuild, from the ground-up, their job descriptions and roles to build an AI-enhanced workforce org structure, and succession model.

2. Go-to-market is all about experience.

It was striking in Las Vegas how experiential marketing and customer engagement was at the core of nearly every single organization — from the most technical components, such as those that drive the artwork on Las Vegas’s stunning new Sphere, to the endless array of solutions presented in booths by Samsung, LG, Mercedes-Benz, Amazon, Intel, Zoox and others, to the seemingly endless new ideas in home convenience, agtech and healthtech. It suggested that all leaders today, regardless of sector, have to do more than explain the technical details of their offering, but also serve as visionary storytellers who bring their products to life. The most memorable keynotes from the event brought this to light, starting with Siemens’s Roland Busch, L’Oreal’s Nicolas Hieronimus, SnapChat’s Evan Spiegel and Walmart’s Doug McMillon, to name a few.

3. Steady, agile leaders navigate a complicated environment.

The geographical make-up of the star companies at CES 2024 offered an interesting glimpse at the tech world today. Other than a few exceptions (particularly computer chip manufacturing), the most prominent booths belonged to companies headquartered outside the United States. It points to the importance of leaders who can successfully lead in large buying markets well away from corporate HQ or the need for multiple HQs. And it favors leaders who can navigate a complex geopolitical and macroeconomic environment and a world contending with multiple military actions, supply chain complications/risks (from trade tariffs to shipping lanes to limited raw materials) and upcoming elections.

Do your top two to four layers of management have the ability to navigate this complexity? Are they great systems thinkers who can connect the various dots among business, geopolitical, social and other factors? Can they activate the teams around and below them to confront complexity together?

4. Regulation is top of mind for leaders.

Sessions and informal discussions at CES showed a greater focus on regulatory topics. More government leaders were wandering the halls—and there was even a track of sessions called “Conversation with a Commissioner,” featuring presentations with leaders such as Federal Trade Commission chairwoman Rebecca Slaughter, Food and Drug Administration commissioner Robert Califf, and Federal Communications Commission commissioners Brendan Carr and Anna Gomez, discussing (not surprisingly) themes like AI, cybersecurity, accessibility, spectrum and net neutrality. Meanwhile, many legal teams were also floating around, seeking to understand the very technologies they’ll have to negotiate for their ecosystems.

Just as understanding and engaging in digital transformation is touching every single role and function in business today, regulations has become a topic that every board and leadership team needs to broadly understand and address as they guide their companies forward.

5. Cross-brand collaborations are in style.

Everyone’s talking about their ecosystem of partners. This is hardly a new trend, but it certainly felt more prominent at CES 2024 than in past years: heavily promoted cross-brand collaborations, white labeling, and a general idea of “Did you know this product you love is possible because of this partnership?” Perhaps this goes back to the experiential trend noted above: The goal for leaders these days seems as much about capturing hearts and minds as it is about wowing people with the latest technology. Ultimately, traditional strategies may no longer differentiate companies — and might even open the door to being disrupted. Creating thinking and smart risk-taking are critical for helping organizations thrive.