Incorporated in Ireland, listed in the USA, Accenture is a truly global company. It has 220,000 employees spread across the world, of which 70,000 are Indian, as befits a consulting firm that’s built its business on the twin planks of outsourcing and technology. This year, the firm added a cherry atop its globalization cake with the appointment of the Paris-based Pierre Nanterme as its CEO. Nanterme is as French as can be — he’s the recipient of the Ordre National de la Legion D’honneur, the French equivalent of a knighthood – but he sees himself as quintessentially Accenture.
“As CEO of Accenture, I am not French anymore,” he declares. “When I’m in India, I am Indian. We are a company with no physical headquarters. We operate on a virtual level, our leadership meetings are teleconferences, which is why the Board asked me to stay on in France. And I tell others to stay in their own countries. We are the only company of our size to do this and it is very cost-effective.”
Be that as it may, Accenture – formerly Andersen Consulting – does have an American history. The firm’s former CEO, the jocular Bill Green (now designated chairman) is as American as his successor is French, which actually makes for quite a contrast. Green was a very frequent visitor to the country, the one responsible for massively expanding the firm’s operations in India during his six years as CEO and Nanterme gives credit where its due, saying, “Our technology centre in India is Bill’s legacy. He made Accenture a worldwide leader in professional services. We are today a very successful company. We have to continue to build on our strengths and remain successful.”
Nanterme, 51, started his career with Accenture, right after finishing his MBA in Paris and completing his military service, and he’s seen the firm change over the years. One of the important tasks he sees before him now is to make Accenture’s top leadership more representative of the firm’s global workforce. For example, though nearly one-thirds of its workforce is based in India, Accenture doesn’t have a single Indian in its top 20. “We are still very Anglo Saxon at the top,” says Nanterme. “We have extraordinarily qualified people in India and we will bring them to the top when we are sure they will be successful. Today, they are close, but we need them to be more prepared. It is definitely going to happen in my tenure.”
Meanwhile, Nanterme expects India to remain at the core of Accenture’s technology business, which accounts for 50% of the company’s $21.6 billion annual turnover. A new wave of technology that includes cloud computing, is set to give a boost to outsourcing and productivity and Accenture hopes to ride it. “The next ten years will be different from the past ten years,” says Nanterme. “Leveraging cloud, mobility, you process things in a different way. For example, in insurance, you can access more claims through cloud, which makes a big difference in emerging markets, where the populations are large. We expect more companies from and the BRIC countries, as well as Mexico, Turkey, South Africa, Indonesia and the Middle East, to use our outsourcing services in the future.”
Since he took charge in January, Nanterme has been travelling the world meeting Accenture’s biggest clients to get an idea of what he calls “the pulse of the planet.” What’s on a global CEO’s mind these days? “They are worried about the impact of regulations that have come after the financial crisis,” he says. “They are looking for consistent feedback from government, especially in sectors like telecom and energy. Sustainability is certainly on their minds, as is globalisation. They are seeking innovative ways to bring products and services to emerging markets like India, China, Brazil.”
At the company’s technology centre in Bangalore, Nanterme conducted a meeting of Indian practice leaders and true to style, not all the participants were physically present – many were in the tele-conferencing mode. This is something the CEO is perfectly comfortable with. “It was all very smooth, very natural. The Accenture culture is the same worldwide,” he says.
However, Accenture does occasionally have a physical meeting of its 150-member global leadership team. Some years ago, the meeting was in India. This year, Nanterme has decided to hold it in the USA. What’s the criterion? “We pick a place where we feel something important is happening. Right now, a lot of things are happening in the USA,” he says.