Global MBA hosts Accenture CEO Pierre Nanterme

Watch a video of the presentation.

On Tuesday, April 10th, the Global MBA welcomed Accenture CEO and ESSEC alumnus Pierre Nanterme to our campus in Paris-La Défense for a dynamic presentation about leadership in a global company. M. Nanterme started speaking about his ESSEC days by remembering three of his Professors from the Economics, Control and Finance Departments - Professor Frederic Jenny, Professor Florin Aftalion and Professor Patrice Poncet, explaining  that he still uses some of their classroom concepts while leading Accenture, a company with 250,000 employees and a turnover of 26bn$.

Accenture (whose name comes from the combining of the terms ‘accent on the future’) operates in 17 different industries, with offices in 54 countries and operations in more than 100. In just over ten years of operations, the firm has gained a market cap equal to that of HP, and according to M. Nanterme, is probably the most truly global company of its size in the world; they do not have an official headquarters, 150,000 of their 250,000 employees are in emerging markets, and as he explained, Accenture is in the business of moving ideas, not people. Accenture is in a very real sense a virtual company, with its 20 leaders located in 20 different cities around the world. In fact, when Pierre Nanterme was appointed 18 months ago to his current role as CEO, one of the first directives he received (after “don’t screw up”) was “don’t move.”  Finding ways to make Accenture operate virtually, without being tied to a central headquarters and without all of its leadership in one location, is one of the ways in which it stays agile. As he explained, you must be capable of managing a giant in a way that is flexible and nimble. A business of this size in a global economy that is as complex and ever-changing as the one we are currently experiencing must focus on “de-layering,” that is, decentralizing, removing bureaucracy, and creating simplicity from extraordinary complexity.

Leading an organization in the new world requires constant reinvention. There is always something different happening, and as he sees it, we are currently in the midst of a transformation, a messy global business revolution of a magnitude that will be recounted in the history books. Demography, he said, does not lie. There are 7 billion people in the world, and only 1 in both the US and Europe. This should be the primary indicator of a shift in global power, as economy follows population. Today the European market is short of innovation, short of talent, short of skills in math and science; even more than the shift from West to East and North to South, it is the speed of the shift and the simultaneous acceptance of new technologies that is fascinating. China is big now, and it is getting bigger and bigger… faster. When Accenture designed their strategies for Cloud computing, their ten year plan was obsolete in ten months. This climactic speed and volatility needs to be integrated into a company’s approach and the mentality of its leadership. The world is big and uncertain, and when your company operates in 100 countries, you need to ‘get it.’ Similarly, you need to accept that you will be working in ambiguity, recognizing that there is no simple answer. This ‘gray’ world is exciting, interesting, and scary, and there’s no step-by-step textbook guide to getting it right.

M. Nanterme discussed his vision of leadership, and how the role of a leader differs from that of a manager. A leader must be inspiring, they must drive people, they must be reliable, and they need to stay relevant. Leadership is not, he emphasized, another word for management. Leadership is inspiration, communication, and drive in a volatile world. For years, M. Nanterme explained, someone might have been able to run a company like Accenture as a manager. But today this kind of organization requires real leadership: someone to drive, not someone to ride. A leader inspires and mobilizes within a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) environment, whereas a manager plays by the rules, runs the day-to-day, and focuses on delivering results. Managers look to the CEO to lead them, not to do their job. They want to know where they are going and how they get there, and these are questions that have to do with vision, communication, and inspiration, not ‘management.’

What does it take to be a CEO? In his own experience, M. Nanterme has found that the key to being a successful CEO lies in a specific set of attributes. He tries things. He recognizes the need for constant adjustment. Progress is a series of sprints, of managing your trajectory through permanent reassessment, having a rolling strategy, stress-tests, asking the critical ‘what-if’ questions. In all matters of shaping and designing your organization, the principal focus should be on nimbleness, agility, and flexibility. An organization needs to be flat, even when it’s big. At Accenture, all of the Global Managers report directly to Pierre Nanterme, without in-between layers to slow them down. In fact, he stated that it is better to create gaps than to create bureaucracy. As he explains, the speed of feedback is essential to the efficiency and effectiveness of the organization, and clear delegation and decentralization are key to this approach.

Another key to successful leadership is holding on to the philosophy and values of an organization. In times of massive change, what remains constant is a company’s way of doing things, their glue or “secret sauce;” the culture and the principal values of the company are what hold the whole thing together. He is one of the people who has been at Accenture the longest, and with employee turnover and planned hires considered, Accenture will essentially be recreated from scratch in the next five years. Holding fast to a simple and clear business model is key to keeping a company culture intact with that kind of change.

M. Nanterme also discussed the concept of the extended company, based on the idea that no company in the world can be successful on its own. They need to leverage an ecosystem of partners in a network of simultaneous cooperation and competition.

Finally, his presentation boiled down to the four essential characteristics for successful leadership in the CEO role, which were:

  1. BE INSPIRATIONAL: have a clear and simple vision. Be authentic. Be a role model; you are being constantly watched. Live your corporate values.

  2. DRIVE your employees. Lead them; don’t manage them. Be on the front lines, not orchestrating things from the office. Be decisive and willing to make the tough decisions; whether it’s good or bad, you need to decide. Your employees will be counting on this, as well as your ability to take calculated risks.

  3. BE RELIABLE. Trust and honesty are key for seamless execution. Not being trusted is a problem. You need to tell the truth, even if you have an issue.

  4. BE RELEVANT. Stay informed, be global, be open, and learn, learn, learn.

Management is an art, not a science, and you have to develop yourself into the best possible artist. One of the most important keys to doing this is having mentors and coaches. He said he has had three in the last 29 years: one who brought him to leadership in his country, another who brought him to leadership in Europe and the world of financial services, and finally the CEO of Accenture, who brought him into the management fold. Some people know better than you do yourself whether or not you’ve “got it;” when these people tell you go get out of your comfort zone, spend less time thinking about whether or not to listen, and more time just saying “yes.”

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  1. Great article, can't we have the video?

  2. Absolutely! Here is the link to the video: