The failure of companies to embrace technological advances as rapidly as customers has, up to now, led to what C3.ai CEO Tom Siebel calls a “mass extinction occasion”—the demise of companies that couldn’t catch as much as new calls for in time.

This yr’s pandemic is simply the most recent thinning of the herd. The coronavirus has compelled surviving organizations to not simply implement new expertise, however overhaul their tradition and strategy. Essentially the most stunning facet this time round, says Siebel, is that the transformation is being led by CEOs, slightly than chief expertise officers.

“I’ve been on this enterprise for 4 a long time. I used to be very curious to see CEOs at first conferences [about digital transformation] personally driving these initiatives,” Siebel informed Fortune‘s personal chief govt, Alan Murray, on Tuesday throughout a digital occasion for Fortune’s International Discussion board. “I used to be considering: Why is the CEO right here? Why is that this so essential?”

The reply, after all, was that no CEO wished his or her firm to be Toys’R’Us, Westinghouse, or Kodak—leaders of their time however now shadows of their former selves.

“We’re seeing [legacy] corporations being changed with corporations with new DNA,” Siebel added. “Amazon changed 10,000 retailers within the U.S. final yr, making use of expertise to fully disrupt retailers. Firms like Tesla are utilizing A.I. and large knowledge to disrupt the car enterprise. Airbnb is disrupting the hospitality trade. “

And: “Each mission we’re seeing succeed is pushed by the CEO,” Siebel stated. “They are going to have a chief digital officer. However each mission we’re seeing succeed is CEO pushed: Bank of America, Enel, Shell, you identify it.”

Talking of Enel: A part of the rationale why the Italian power big’s profitable shift is so notable is as a result of its extra senior executives—however not essentially older—have been much less more likely to embrace digital initiatives, in keeping with the corporate’s CEO Francesco Starace.

Enel performed a survey of digital aptitude all through the corporate and located some stunning outcomes. “There was no relationship correlation between age, intercourse, gender, nationality,” Starace stated. “There was one sturdy correlation, which was the inverse between digital capabilities and ranks throughout the firm. The extra senior you have been, the much less digital you have been. We stated, how are you going to drive digital transformation being the least digital within the firm?” So the corporate made dramatic modifications, akin to embracing cloud computing, to stave off inertia, Starace stated.

However the arrival COVID-19 didn’t afford companies the time to conduct surveys about digital aptitude. Client-facing organizations specifically have been compelled to adapt to authorities lockdowns, social distancing measures, and ever-changing insurance policies.

The businesses that have been profitable in navigating such treacherous terrain tended to be extra proactive earlier than the pandemic ever struck. Amongst them: Chipotle and WW, the previous Weight Watchers, whose CEOs additionally spoke throughout the occasion.

For its half, WW moved hundreds of its workshops absolutely on-line. Chipotle in the meantime efficiently transitioned to “digital kitchens”—a kitchen-within-a-kitchen completely serving digital prospects.

“Now everybody’s attempting to play catch up. However if you happen to have been already proactive at first, you’re forward of the sport,” stated WW CEO Mindy Grossman.

The chief added {that a} essential component of digital transformation isn’t simply effectivity, however customization. “What [customers] worth proper now are corporations they’ll belief which might be giving them issues they’ll make the most of of their lives which might be purposeful and seamless,” she stated. “[They] shall be interested in manufacturers who they really feel perceive them and provides their lives objective.”

In different phrases, serving the shopper’s wants—an idea that, come to think about it, doesn’t sound too newfangled in any respect.

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