Press release

Industry 4.0 and the future of leadership

What are the skills that will be needed?

Rome, 21 June 2019 - Global business is facing a wave of disruptive influences that look set to spark the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In the age of Industry 4.0, the biggest disruptors will come from technology, which will condition all industries and lead to changes in the most part of professions.

According to Grant Thornton’s 2019 International Business Report [i] – which surveyed senior leaders in mid-market businesses around the world – the rise of the digitally connected world will be the greatest change, cited by 42% of respondents. This is followed by artificial intelligence (AI) and big data at 40%; and increasing use of automation and robotics (35%).

Future leaders will need to rebuild their business models and develop new skills in line with the use of “intelligent” tools. Machines will become spectacularly efficient and could improve human activities or replace them in some cases. Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, Internet of Things and cloud-based infrastrutture will become commonplace, forcing organizations to adapt their teams to create a more flexible and innovative culture.

According to the IBR data, current global mid-market executives believe that the most important attribute for a business leader in 2030 will be to be innovative – cited by 20% of respondents; compared to the 16% who believe this is required today. Meanwhile, 18% say being adaptive to change will be essential.

Innovation, ability to adapt and flexibility will be key to future successful strategies, but people are the critical competitive advantage for 4.0 businesses. Together with the many skills required, business leaders will need to train their teams to help them prepare them to face these new challenges and take advantage of new opportunities.

A clear and shared vision will remain key for future success of leadership, which will need to build a participating culture and try different and sometimes risky solutions. Diverse teams and inclusive cultures are vital for future business success. A study by Forbes found that inclusive teams make better business decisions 87% of the time, with diverse teams delivering 60% better results [ii]. 

With this regard, Gabriele Labombarda, Partner and IBC Director at Bernoni Grant Thornton, the Grant Thornton Italian member firm, stated: “Technology innovation, artificial intelligence applied to Big Data, automation and robotisation of business processes have become strategic assets for companies, which are crucial to remain competitive.

Given the continuous evolution that these factors impose to business processes, it is crucial that leaders are inclined to change and innovation. Curiosity and the ability to adapt are the skills that a leader cannot ignore: success will be proportional to the readiness to change and to innovation.

“Giving young talents the opportunity to make mistakes” continued Labombarda, “in pursuit of innovation, learning from mistakes in an environment that encourages them to revolutionize their settled modus operandi will be a winning strategy.

It is clear to see how Grant Thornton IBR’s data prove that the probability to deliver better and more successful results are higher in inclusive teams, having no gender, origin, age, or culture barriers, where experiences are shared and each single person’s point of view is taken into high consideration, in a collaboration and team spirit approach.”

Future leaders will have to be able to cope with two opposite forces, i.e. technology innovation on the one hand and the improvement of human skills on the other hand, identifying successful combination and promoting innovative business solutions.


[i] Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR) 2019

[ii] “Hacking Diversity with Inclusive Decision-Making”, Forbes, 2017.