In the brisk winter air of Davos, amidst the buzz of the World Economic Forum, a distinguished panel convened to explore an increasingly pertinent theme: the transformative impact of artificial intelligence on the roles of C-suite executives. The session drew leaders, including Valerie Beaulieu-James, chief sales and marketing officer at The Adecco Group; Matt McDonald, president of the Penta Group; and Ravin Jesuthasan, senior partner at Mercer.

The Role of AI at the Top of Companies

The conversation opened with a recognition of the ubiquity of AI discussions but quickly pivoted to underscore the session’s unique angle—the implications of AI for the highest echelons of corporate leadership. The panelists navigated through the multifaceted dimensions of this technological upheaval, dissecting its strategic, operational, and ethical impacts on the C-suite.

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“What if instead of having eight direct reports, you could have 50 direct reports?” asked corporate insights and strategy firm Penta’s McDonald. He says we might be looking at a future with flatter organizations where there are more individual contributors but where the organizing of staff, data analysis, and even coaching are all handed off to AI tools. “That could be transformative for organizations and how they’re structured,” he said.

Valerie Beaulieu-James of talent advisory and solutions company The Adecco Group brought to the forefront the concept of operational efficiency and innovation through AI. She shared illuminating insights on how AI is not just automating mundane tasks but is also becoming a crucible for innovation, driving product and service personalization to new heights. The conversation then took a deeper dive into the leadership paradigm in an AI-driven era. 

“AI means I need to reinvent my role as a leader and become much more anchored on the usual EQ [emotional quotient or intelligence], critical thinking, creativity, and innovation,” according to Beaulieu-James. “We’ve just run a survey across 2,000 leaders around the world. They’re all saying that these skills are the most in deficit in the leadership skills today.”

The Power of Digital Twins

The panel unanimously agreed on the transformative potential of advanced AI technologies. Ravin Jesuthasan of workforce benefits and transformation company Mercer explained the concept of digital twins and their game-changing role in strategic planning and risk management. 

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“In 2018, when I wrote my book with the HBR [Harvard Business Review] called Reinventing Jobs, we had a number of examples of what GE had done with embedding sensors so that they built a digital twin for every jet engine and turbine that they built,” Jesuthasan says. This allowed the company to simulate stress failures, perform preventive maintenance, and improve productivity. 

Now, these simulations are being done on entire business ecosystems. Jesuthasan says, “The CEO of Siemens was talking at CES about how they actually build a digital twin…before they even build any factories.”

As the session drew to a close, the message was clear. In the age of AI, the C-suite must lead and transform, ensuring that their organizations are not just participants but pioneers in the unfolding narrative of the digital era. 

Jesuthasan wrapped the sessions with a quote from the futurist Alvin Toffler: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who can’t read and write. It’ll be those who can’t learn, unlearn, and relearn.