Is AI Coming for the CEO?

Nearly half of bosses think so, according to recent surveys. Should they be worried?

To some executives, an AI-generated “digital twin” sounds ideal. This twin—a concept proposed by a major video-software company this month—could sit in on video meetings, synthesize notes, send out emails, and file expenses, along with other essential but relatively mundane tasks, leaving the human boss with time to negotiate deals, meet investors, and carry out other work best accomplished, at least for now, person-to-person.

But behind that glorious-sounding idea is a growing feeling that even CEOs aren’t immune to AI disruption. Earlier this year, the IT consulting firm AND Digital asked hundreds of US, UK, and Dutch business leaders whether AI could soon take over a CEO role—and 43% said yes. That’s on the heels of a similar survey from last year, in which 47% of senior executives said they believed AI could replace or completely automate “most” or “all” of the chief-executive role.

Experts say AI should be raising the bar for what’s expected of managers—including the big bosses. “With AI, managers should be asking themselves, ‘How can I use it to operate at the top of my license?’” says Deepali Vyas, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and global head of its FinTech, Payments, and Crypto practice. 

Most of the publicity behind AI right now touts its ability to carry out rote tasks efficiently. Recent research, however, has shown that AI is also good at many tasks associated with management, including problem-solving, communication, and information synthesis. How business leaders view AI in 2024 might be equivalent to how they viewed the World Wide Web in 1993: At the time, many saw the internet chiefly as a way to communicate; not for years did companies recognize its potential for e-commerce, data capture, and other functions, says Sharon Egilinsky, a partner with Korn Ferry’s ESG and Sustainability Solutions team. “It’s a mistake to think AI is just an efficiency tool,” she says.

No firm is turning the keys over to a HAL 9000-esque AI just yet, but experts suggest reviewing job architecture—assessing how AI might fundamentally change a given role’s expectations and responsibilities. That includes executive-level jobs, too. The answers likely won’t be one-size-fits-all, experts say, so companies should carry out rigorous testing before launching organization-wide changes.  “You don’t just roll it out and call it a day.” says Paul Fogel, sector leader in Korn Ferry’s Professional Search and Software practices.


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