Accenture Goes with a Veteran

Says the giant consultant's newly named CEO William Green: We need to be relevant to our clients, and what's relevant changes

Accenture is emphasizing continuity over change. On Apr. 8, the world's largest consulting firm named as its new CEO William D. Green, a 26-year Accenture veteran and its current chief operating officer. Green, 50, will take over on Sept. 1 from Joe W. Forehand, who'll stay on as chairman of the $12 billion firm while relinquishing his chief exec slot.

Green was widely seen as Forehand's favorite as a successor. "He's the most logical choice," says Jess Sheer, executive editor of Consulting News. "If you look at the top four people, his background is the most stellar. Because he's the logical candidate, you would expect things would continue in the same direction." Green, a native of the Boston area, attended Dean College and holds a bachelor of science in economics and an MBA from Babson College. He joined Accenture (ACN ) in 1977 and became a partner in 1986.

Before becoming COO, Green was group chief executive of Accenture's Communications & High Tech operating group from 1999 to 2003. Under his leadership, the group grew to become the firm's largest business unit, with 2003 net revenues of $3.3 billion. BusinessWeek Computers Editor Spencer E. Ante spoke with Green in his first, exclusive interview as CEO-designate. Here are edited excerpts from their conversation:

Q: Were you surprised?


I was hopeful, but I wasn't surprised. We have had the succession planning process for some time. I couldn't be more pleased to have been chosen.... It's a company I have a lot of passion for. It's going to be challenging. We have a great future ahead of us, and I feel really good about it.

Q: Is this a life-long dream?


My life-long dream was to be part of the leadership team that drove our business. To take the CEO role is a special privilege for me.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish?


I'll spend the transition time listening. I'll spend time talking with [Accenture employees] in our locations around the world. We are fortunate that we see signs of economic recovery. We have our strategy exactly right. We need to continue to evolve and take advantage of opportunities in the market After the September transition, I'll take a more active role in the day-to-day direction.

Q: What new strategies or tactics or initiatives are you considering?


Innovation has become much more important on the CEO agenda. We'll focus on taking our deep industry skills and go through the next generation of innovation [developing] the new solution sets our clients will embrace over the next two to three years.

Q: How will you work with Joe Forehand?


I've worked with Joe very closely for the past 11 years. We know each other like brothers. We believe this construct is going to give us real power in the market. Joe will continue to represent us with our clients. I would describe it as classic Accenture. Most importantly, our partners think this is an excellent idea. We need to get our content right and our messages right. Having two heads is better than one.

Q: What will be your biggest challenge?


Internally, there's a very real challenge on how you energize and motivate your workforce. We're going to be spending a lot of time on the skills and career paths of our workforce, our 90,000 men and women. Externally, we've learned that having a strategy that is flexible and responsive is important. We need to be relevant to our clients, and what's relevant changes.

Q: When Accenture went public in 2001, execs exchanged their partner equity for shares in the publicly traded company. Some analysts say they're concerned that each year, 10% of [Accenture] stock comes unlocked for the partners, and that many top folks will leave after cashing out their stock. Is that a concern of yours, and will you do anything about it?


What's a concern of ours is having the best possible leadership. Yes, that's something I need to spend some attention on. It's something I need to be conscious of. But I'm pretty relaxed about it. People are here because they want to be here.

Q: You've held a lot of jobs but don't seem to have worked much in the outsourcing business. Accenture is increasingly focused on outsourcing. Do you think you have the know-how and skills to expand that business?


Some of our early outsourcing engagements I was personally involved with. This is a space I have worked closely on for a long time -- in our high-tech and communications business. I see it as an important element in our future.

Q: Who are your heroes or role models?


My laboratory is Accenture. I have always studied the Accenture leaders, both past and present. Working with Joe has had a big impact on my development. Steve James, who I have a co-COO role with now, has been an important person in helping me shape my thinking.

Q: Is there anyone outside of Accenture you look up to?


No, there isn't.

[Editors Note: After the interview was over, Green thought this answer over some more, and added: "There are too many people to mention."]

Q: What do you do to relax?


I snowboard and ski every weekend in the winter. In the summer, I' m a wind-sailer and a fisher. My daughter is a [ski] instructor. My son is freestyle skier. We're a very outdoor family. Then we head for the beaches. Joe takes credit for being the golfer. My life is two things: It's the firm and the family.

Edited by Douglas Harbrecht

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