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Putting a new accent on success

Global chief of consulting behemoth Accenture fervently believes the diversity agenda makes his company tick

By Emmet Ryan

Take one look out the window these days, and you can see why Accenture is opening its new Centre for Innovation in Dublin next July, rather than in mid-winter. For Pierre Nanterme, the consulting giant’s global chief executive, the dreary rain outside its Dublin headquarters doesn’t bother him in the slightest.

“It’s our nicest office in the world. Where we are, the view, the mood, the style,” Nanterme told The Sunday Business Post while looking out from the firm’s Grand Canal Dock office.

Originally from Lyon, the 56-year-old has been with Accenture for 32 years, having joined as a graduate. Nanterme is passionate about the blues, a voracious reader who usually reads three books at a time, and the self-described ‘ultimate fan’ of Winston Churchill, while also naming Nelson Mandela and Napoleon Bonaparte as inspirations.

It doesn’t read like the biography of a man obsessed with a digital transformation, but Nanterme sees this as the most critical part of his role at the helm of Accenture.

“Over the past three years, we have significantly transformed Accenture. Our good results are definitely linked with the changes we are making, with a massive focus on digital,” he said.

“We are embarking on a rotation of our business to what we call ‘the New’. These are digital capabilities, cloud capabilities, and security related services. If you add up the three, you are getting $10 billion which is one-third of our revenue.”

For Nanterme, this shift is about anticipating what client firms are going to need in order to remain competitive in years to come.

“The technology is available, scalable, affordable, and reliable. When you have those four at the same time, you have a wave. It changes the way organisations operate. The digital revolution is impacting the top line, you can create new business models with it,” said the Accenture global chief executive.

“It’s about transformation and changing. Our business is all about doing that to become more successful. Time without change is boring, that’s the status quo where nothing is happening. Now we have global transformations. Globalisation is still there, there’s a massive shift in the global economic environment, the political environment, and even in risk.

“There’s a technology wave on top of this global economic landscape which creates a perfect storm for businesses to transform. At Accenture we aim to be centre stage, to be the enabler of this transformation for our clients.

“For the strategy part of our business, it’s about understanding the future. This is how you shape the business. Then you look at how you transform.” 

In order to make this move to becoming a more digitally focused company, Accenture has been forced to enact a major internal transition.

“We are executing a holistic programme called Ambition 2020. We are investing more than we ever have. We have been active in making acquisitions, in the last three years we have spent $2.5 billion on acquisitions of which 70 per cent was on digital, cloud, and security businesses,” said Nanterme.

“We are growing talent. We have more than 360,000 people and we are investing $800 million in training and education on a per annum basis, which is similar to what we are spending on acquisitions.

“When you get to that size, it’s a lot of people. I’m the chief executive, I’m the father, I’m the brother, I may be the godfather, so I guess I am playing multiple roles. I’m pleased with the feedback I receive through the Glassdoor ranking, where in many countries I have been recognised by our own people. Being recognised with your own people and the trust they put with you, it’s a special encouragement.”

The scale of Accenture brings organisational challenges for Nanterme. Staff operate across every time zone and cover 19 different industries. He said the reason why he succeeded as chief executive was his ability to simplify problems.

“On balance, I’m extraordinarily structured. I always try to simplify the execution. My role is to understand the game and the complexity of the game. It’s my way of leading,” said Nanterme.

“My connection with the company is unique. I started in Lyon where I was the 15th person there, and have grown through all of these changes. I feel I have had multiple lives here, I have never been bored here. This is like my fifth life here, I feel like I know this company better than anyone else.

“For me, having started from the basic consulting up to chief executive, having the opportunity to lead the company is indeed a special thing.” 

While retirement isn’t on Nanterme’s mind, he said the top priority for his entire leadership team was to make the next wave of leaders ready to take over.

“My responsibility is to train the next generation. When we pass the baton, we want to make sure the next generation is much better than us,” he said.

“No organisation should be dependent on their leaders. The next generation coming at Accenture is absolutely superb, they will change the game and move the company to the next level of success.”

Next summer sees the opening of Accenture’s new Centre for Innovation on Hanover Quay in Dublin. The business is investing €25 million in the project, creating 200 jobs in the process. For Nanterme, having one of these facilities in Ireland is critical to the firm’s culture.

“Dublin is an important city for us. It’s where we are incorporated. We feel responsible to Ireland and I felt committed to develop our business here. We now have 1,800 people in Ireland, having been at 1,100 in 2011,” he said.

“R&D is getting more and more important. In a time of change, you need to manage three agendas at the same time. You need to manage the core of your business, you need to rotate to the new, and at the same time you need to start envisioning the new new.

“That last part is the role of research and development at Accenture. It’s examining technology and thought leadership, testing the technology that will matter in the next five years and how it will apply to our business.” 

The Dublin operation will be focused on finding these technologies and how they are going to impact the lives of people across the world in years to come.

“We have five labs so far across the world with clear priorities. Dublin will be the sixth focusing on consumer experience, the internet of things, and a lot of it will be around cognitive computing and artificial intelligence,” said Nanterme.

“We see this as a place where we can attract talent. It has great talent already, the level of commitment, education, and expertise is second to none.”

Nanterme wants Dublin to attract a broad spread of workers. The Accenture global chief executive sees the Irish headquarters as a beacon in its drive to have a diverse workforce.

“We want people from different backgrounds, from different countries, different qualifications. We want to get this spread of ideas. Diversity is embedded in the human capital of Accenture. We are operating in 120 countries. There are people from strategy backgrounds through to delivery backgrounds. I am a massive advocate of our inclusion and diversity programme,” he said.

“Ireland is where we have the highest representation of women in leadership roles, at 40 per cent. Ireland is also leading the charge in LGBT. This is true across Accenture worldwide. Our Irish operation has received many awards around being LGBT friendly, we put a lot of attention towards that.”

A focus on equality is something Nanterme sees as crucial to making his business work, with it being a key reason the business has been able to grow globally.

“The women agenda is critical to us. We have more than 130,000 women working for us. We have four women on our board of 11 independent directors, and we would prefer to have more,” said Nanterme.

“Our Chief Executive Officer - North America, who overlooks 40 per cent of our revenues, is Julie Sweet. Our teams in India and the Philippines are both led by women. The vast majority of our people are under female leadership, and I am extremely proud of this.

“Diversity is part of our culture. Gender, country, have never been part of the discussion, it’s meritocracy. You progress if you demonstrate your talent. For us, it’s a natural act.”

Accenture in numbers

$10bn: revenue from digital, cloud, and security services
$2.5bn: billion spent on acquisitions in the past three years
$800m: million spent on training staff annually
$25m: invested in new Centre for Innovation in Dublin
360,000: staff worldwide
130,000: female staff
1,800: staff in Ireland
500: staff hired by Irish operation in 2015
120: countries with offices

This content originally appeared in The Sunday Business Post on December 20, 2015. View the original article here.