Q&A with New Zealand Country Managing Director Justin Gray about the biggest lessons of his career, the skills it takes to succeed at Accenture and why he’s excited for the future.
You’ve been with Accenture 19 years – what keeps you at Accenture?
Two things. The standout answer is the people. I’m inspired every time I hang out with Accenture people because they’re motivated, intelligent, funny and respectful. We do really hard stuff and we have a fun time doing it. That’s the most important thing.
The second thing is in the 19 years I’ve had what I describe as a concurrent career. I’ve had a whole lot of interesting jobs but with the one employer. I’ve worked in three different countries, a dozen different industries, I’ve worked in different cities around the world with different people and clients and I’ve loved the ability to be able to grow and develop and take risks in my career but having the safety of doing that all in one great company.
What’s a mistake you made early in your career?
A mistake I made and I’ve seen others make is when transitioning from being a student or other careers that embrace competitive tendencies inside a cohort of people – taking that competitive attitude with you. Within Accenture, being competitive with your peers is something that will see you fail. You’ve got to realise very quickly that it’s collaboration that’s key in Accenture. It’s helping other people and seeing your team succeed. Luckily enough I learned that early on but I certainly saw myself making that mistake and didn’t understanding the importance of that immediately.
What’s the toughest part about being in charge?
I certainly feel there’s a sense of responsibility to make sure we not only deliver for our clients but deliver for our people. The single thing that I focus on getting right first every day is culture. I feel that if that’s right and people bring their whole selves to work every day, are inspired to be their best and collaborate, we’re going to do great things. So it’s a passion and a concern that we have the right culture. It’s a responsibility to our people to build that culture and to give them a compelling career proposition on the back of that.
What are you most proud of in your career?
I’m probably most proud of the people I’ve worked with in my career who have developed into exceptional leaders in their own right. I’ve been around long enough to see graduates go all the way from their first day at Accenture to being managing directors and I’ve played a small part of that I hope. I’m enormously proud to see the success of the people I’ve worked with over the years.
Whom do you admire most career-wise?
Two things I’d say. Firstly, from an Accenture perspective I’ve always had leaders above me who inspire me. And even though it’s changed over the years I’ve always had somebody above me who I want to emulate and be like.
From a broader perspective – I’ve worked a lot in the public sector and there are really talented people who have dedicated their lives to making a difference in the public sector. For example, people working in social services or with vulnerable children. It’s those people who have dedicated their entire careers to their passion, public value and improving the lives of other people that I admire.
What are the three skills that you think are most important to succeed at Accenture?
The first I would say is collaboration. There’s no better definition of team sport than working at a place like Accenture where you can’t go alone – you need a talented set of colleagues to share a passion for a vision to get something done.
The second thing is you need to be able to self-reflect. I think we need to be self-aware, understand not only what you’re doing and why you’re doing it but how you’re doing it. Constantly looking at yourself and how you can improve and how you can continue to learn.
The third thing is remaining curious. We’re in an era where the future of work is changing and we all know that. We know that technology, AI and robotics will fundamentally change how we work over the next decade. And although it’s simple and it’s broad it’s so important to remain curious. If you remain curious, ask questions and want to learn - regardless of the disruption we face, that is what will keep us going.
You said a couple of years ago that the thing that keeps you awake at night is seizing opportunities presented in this fast changing technology era. Is that still the same?
Well, yes, the pace of change keeps me awake at night but not because I’m worried but because I’m excited. Because actually, what that means is there is a world of possibility and opportunity out there and we’ve just got to be curious and innovative and inventive enough to see it. I feel like we can absolutely do that. My team will tell you I’m not short of ideas and passion, it’s just a matter of how we organise ourselves to take advantage of it.
Is there something you can tell us about yourself that not many people know?
Most people don’t know that I’m half Sri Lankan. My Dad’s Sri Lankan. I don’t exactly have the complexion that suggests I’m 50 per cent Sri Lankan!
Any recent books that you would recommend reading?
Two books – one I’ve read and one I’ve ordered.
The one that I’ve read that I think everyone should read is called Deep Work. The premise of the book is that we live in a world where we are trained to distract ourselves. We’re trained to answer an email, reply to a text message, we’re trained to flick on to the news website. And we’ve lost the ability to focus and be mindful in a work context and do deep work. And when we can actually focus ourselves and do that deep work, we do our best work. So that’s worth reading.
The other one I’d say is a book on Artificial Intelligence written by our Chief Technology Officer Paul Daugherty called Human + Machine. I haven’t read it yet but I’ve heard good things. A big challenge we face globally is how technology is going to change how we work. And we need to understand it.