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tv   The David Rubenstein Show Peer to Peer Conversations  Bloomberg  October 10, 2021 2:00pm-2:31pm EDT

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david: this is my kitchen table and also my filing system. over much of the past three decades, i've been an investor. the highest calling of mankind, i've often thought, was private equity. [laughter] and then i started interviewing. i watched your interviews, so i know how to do some interviewing. [laughter] i've learned in doing my interviews how leaders make it to the top. jeff: i asked how much he wanted, he said $250k, i said fine.
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i did not negotiate and i did no due diligence. david: i have something i would like to sell. [laughter] and how they stay there. you don't feel inadequate now because you are only the second wealthiest man in the world, is that right? one of the greatest businesses is consulting. it seems everyone today is either sing -- is either using a consultant or is a consultant. the largest consulting firm in the world is accenture, with over 500,000 employees and a market cap over $200 million. i had a conversation with ceo julie sweet about why everybody uses consultants and why everybody should be a consultant. so it seems as if everybody is a consultant these days. when people are being raised, you don't say to the child, i hope you grow up and be a consultant. why does everybody want to be a consultant these days, and what are all these consultants doing? julie: david, i think we defy the label consultant, because
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sometimes consultant seems to apply that we only give advice. when you look at what accentu -- accenture does, we are different than the traditional version of a consultant. our clients look to us for two things -- relevance, how to help them be relevant today and tomorrow, like a jaguar land rover, who hired us to transform the experience of their owners. the other thing they look for is results. so not just advice, but how do things change and how do you execute? like someone who hires us for supply chain, where we digitize it and change their inventory results and their inventory turnaround. so we don't simply consult in a traditional sense. we are really about relevance and results, and that is what is driving our business. david: let's suppose i am a large corporation and i have a problem, and typically, today, when you have a problem, what you do is you call a consultant.
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they call you up and say, would you consult with me to help solve my problem? you then put in a team of people? julie: that is a great question. one of the most important things is we always start with what is the problem or the opportunity, and we are very focused on repeatable solutions that get customized by the client but not trying to be the spoke. sort of the old consulting is, "let me come in, let me bring a bunch of people and study it," but today, you can start with data. we serve 75% of the top five fortune 500s, so what we are bringing to our clients are solutions that then get customized that are based on experience, and we invest a lot. we will spend $4 billion this year in acquisitions. we will spend about a hundred million dollars in -- about $800 million in r&d. we have 7000 patents pending. all of these things are assets to help our clients achieve their goals faster than they can
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do on the room with higher quality, and that is really the test. sometimes, by the way, we say to clients "don't hire us," because either their business cases are not ambitious enough or they don't need us. david: i am a ceo, i call you up, give me a solution. how long does that normally take? six months, a year, or is it a forever solution, five or 10 years? julie: one of the most important things that has come out of covid is the need to move very quickly. i had a lot of clients post-covid who would say, "we move so fast." well, what have you changed? oftentimes, you know, they haven't changed. we don't operate, as big companies, permanently in crisis mode. when you think about how long does this solve things, a lot of it starts with the company being willing to set aggressive goals. right? so we are doing work, for
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example, with a large consumer goods company, where we said, we are going to, in 12 weeks, have a pilot to actually improve their manufacturing. and that, pre-covid, probably would have been a six-month project, not because of accenture but because of how the client worked. what we are trying to do now is work with our clients to work differently into -- differently and to work faster. david: what do you charge? do charge by the hour, the project? -- do you charge by the hour, by the project? is it a cost plus profit thing? what is the secret of your billing? julie: our preference is to either have a fixed fee or have something that shares upside or downside. and the reason for that is that we don't view ourselves as a vendor or a consultant in that we are keeping ourselves at arm's length. we believe that the best way to get success is to co-create
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solutions, have integrated teams. the advice i often will give ceo's is that our team at accenture and the clients' teams should have the exact same performance objectives, so that they are completely aligned. now, not every client is willing to work that way, but we think it's really important. so we have plenty of clients that want to build by the hour, and that is their choice, but that's not our preference. david: let's suppose somebody hires your firm, and you have a one-year consulting project. and at the end, they say, i don't like this consulting advice. i'm not going to follow it. in fact, i am not going to pay your bill. does that ever happen? julie: we are not perfect, so it may happen, but shame on us if it takes a year to figure out that our client doesn't like what we do. one of the things that we focus on a lot is working with the client day in and day out side-by-side and not throwing things over a wall to consult them.
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so unlikely that that specific scenario would happen. david: without violating confidences, can you give me an example of something where you advised somebody, and it turned out to be great for them and they were so happy that they were willing to brag about the great job you did? julie: we have lots of examples of that. [laughs] for example, we announced a partnership with shiseido. we are helping them digitize the experience of the end consumer. we are helping them redo their inventory and their systems. this is something we are both very proud of the work we are doing together. david: let's suppose you need a consultant. who do you call? do you call mckinsey or do you call one of your own people? julie: normally when we need a consultant, we call our own people. when i became ceo, i needed to put in a new operating model, and i wanted to do it faster than we had ever done in our past and any client had done to prove that you can move at scale. so six months, the biggest
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change in our history. at the time, our practice was completely sold out to do change management and new work design, and the head of my practice said, i think you should hire this small company. my leaders were like, why are we hiring a different consultant? within two weeks, the same leaders came back and said, we need kates kesler to be part of accenture and they are today. so i am grateful that they took the call because i am sure it was a little intimidating to have accenture hire someone, but , you know, the lesson for that is have humility. one of the things i think it's -- i think is really important, when we look at industry around digitization, it is those that build themselves as having all the answers but those that actually look outside that make it. david: do you have any mistakes
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you made or failures you can talk about, so people feel you are not just superhuman? julie: people ask that question as if the only challenge is at work. challenges come a lot of different packages. david: now there are a lot of ceo's who are being asked to take statements on public policy issues, voter rights or things like that. what is your posture and what is the posture of accenture? do you believe you take positions on these or you, as a ceo, should take positions or not? julie: it is about what the position is being asked about. we start with, do we have relevance, so come and then, are we willing to walk the talk? take payee quality, for example. we are one of the largest employers in the world. we are a very diverse employer. we have been systematically making sure that we have equal pay for equal jobs for seven or eight years now in terms of robust systems. and so when we were asked to sign, by president obama, a
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commitment, we felt we could sign it. we were relevant, we had experience, and we were walking the talk. we definitely look at is it relevant to our business and we -- and do we have something relevant to say? and then we have to make sure we are committed to take action, not just say somebody else should, but at our company. david: traditionally, ceo's were supposed to worry about public -- ceos were supposed to worry about -- of public companies -- their shareholders. now you have to worry about employees, your customers, your communities. do you focus on your share price and stockholders only, or do you worry about other constituents when running this company? julie: we look at our stakeholders as being our employees, client, partners, certainly shareholders but also our communities. and we have done so for a long time because we think it is good for business and what creates shareholder value.
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and we think that it is important for our shareholders that we actually take that broad view. david: let's talk about how you rose up to be the ceo. so you grew up where? julie: i grew up in tustin, california, which has a little sign and it says, "work where you must but live and shop in tustin." so southern california. david: i thought it would have a sign that says "home of julie sweet." [laughter] it doesn't say that? julie: we will have to work on that. david: you were an athlete in high school? julie: i was a speech and debate star. i was in the lions club. my dad would get in his little vw and do the circuit. and i am greatly appreciative of
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all those clubs, because they helped me earn money for college. and i was on the speech and debate team and really loved that. my parents did not love it so much, because i was apparently -- i used the skills against them, but it was definitely a great way of creating a skill that i use today. david: in other words, if you are a debate champion, you can debate your parents. julie: yes. [laughter] david: so they did like that. ok. where did you go to college? julie: i went to claremont mckenna and then i went to columbia law school. david: did your parents say that you should be a lawyer, because you're good at talking and debating and so forth? is that why you went to law school? julie: i wanted to be a lawyer since i was in eighth grade, and i remember, in my senior year of college, before i was accepted, going to columbia, one of my professors said, have you ever met a lawyer? and i said no. and he said i am not letting you sign away -- i was borrowing all this money to go to college -- i am not letting you go until you meet a lawyer. i met a lawyer and said great, i still want to go to law school.
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and i went to law school. david: so you went across the country -- and i don't know why you went to columbia. you like places that begin with a "c"? is that it? what prompted you to go from claremont to columbia? julie: maybe because i had gone to china during college, but i said, i have grown up in southern california. i should experience the east coast. i fully intended to go back to southern california, but i fell in love with new york. and so it was actually a deliberate decision that i needed to diversify my experience. david: after you graduated from columbia, you went to work at cravath, swaine, and moore. -- moore, which is large fir in new yorkm -- firm in new york that i was a junior associate at. continuing with c, cravath. why did you pick cravath? it was not a place a lot of women had become partners at. julie: it wasn't. at the time, i remember when i came back and accepted my offer,
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my women friends were saying, what have you done? my male friends were like, congratulations. it was not the selection of choice, but it is now run by a woman, by the way. i picked it because i had no intention of staying a lawyer. it was the best in the world, and i wanted to go there for two years and then go off and make my career, at the time, i thought, in asia. david: so ultimately you stayed and became a partner, the third woman partner? julie: the third corporate woman partner and ninth in the history of the firm. david: so you are a corporate partner at cravath, which is a well compensated law firm, let's say, and you are making a fair amount of money. why did you decide to leave and give up the partnership and were the people at cravath shocked? julie: i think they were surprised but i was leaving for a great role so they were very supportive. i remember being at my desk and picking up the phone when a recruiter called me about the accenture job. and it was a few months after my
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father had passed away at a very young age, at 68. i think, looking back, that is why i took a meeting, and i basically said, i am 42 years old, and i can see my future. and it would be a great future. i loved cravath. and accenture offered me something different. and i decided to take it, and i think it was the last gift of my dad, to be honest. david: so, did you think when you joined the company that a female would be part of this -- would run this giant organization, or did you think it was going to be a male-run thing? julie: when i joined the council, the average tenure of leadership was 30 years. i did not come in with the expectation that i would be ceo. and, you know, really, when we think about how do you make a change in leadership and how do you continue to foster diversity
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in your leadership, our former ceo was a great example of someone who sponsored me, saw potential, and created a new pathway that i certainly didn't have an expectation when i came into accenture. ♪
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david: you're one of the largest private employers in the united states, is that right? julie: that is right. and that is globally, of course. and last year, actually, we are really proud that we added a net 100,000 jobs last year around the globe. david: so during the period of covid, you added that many jobs? i mean, why was business so good during the covid period? julie: you know, it is really interesting. when you think about what happened in covid, sort of overnight, there was -- we all moved online. and accenture, since 2013, has been building our capabilities in digital cloud and security. so at the time of covid, we became relevant and critical for really all of the world's leading companies. when you look at this fiscal year, which we just ended, we actually had more clients who had over $100 million in bookings in the first three quarters of our fiscal year than all of last year, driven by what
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we call compressed transformation, the need to digitize all parts of the business. david: one of your competitors -- and you may not admit you have competitors -- but a company called mckinsey, you may -- you probably have heard of them, they say, we don't want to be a publicly traded company, we are a partnership, and it is easier to do this when you are not a publicly traded company. but you are a publicly traded company with a market cap of over $200 billion. what do you think about those who say they should not be publicly traded? julie: it is an interesting opinion. the markets are an important part of discipline. right? we are giving our results every quarter. and of course, we think it really attracts talent. our employee value proposition is a really strong one because of our stock, which, you know, is a huge part -- we have a pay-for-performance and culture tied to creating value for all of our stockholders. so it served us well in terms of attracting great talent. david: but you are not competing
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with private equity, i hope. you are not going to be trying to steal people from private equity to go into consulting, i hope. julie: no, private equity tries to compete with professional services and hiring a few people and acquiring a lot of professional services these days. david: that has been a growth business. you are doing this from washington, d.c. washington, d.c. is a great place. it is the capital of our country. but it is not necessarily known as a place that you run global businesses from. why are you headquartered in washington, d.c.? julie: we have not had a headquarters really since -- for 30 years, three decades at least. pre-covid, we were probably the largest organization running itself remotely. our leaders are around the world. and so the sort of de facto headquarters has always been wherever the ceo is. so, the last ceo was in paris. it was in paris, and then before
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that, it was boston, and before that, it was dallas. d.c. is a great place to be based. this is the first time in 30 years that the ceo and cfo are out of the same office. i am very fortunate to have casey mcclure here with me in d.c. david: did you go into the office or work remotely? julie: i worked remotely. one of the things that we are, you know, famous for is being very close to our clients, so our offices are not the center of our work, and because we have a distributed leadership team, i literally, even pre-covid, would go to the office and be on teams calls. and so during covid, i wanted to make sure our people felt comfortable working from home and didn't feel pressure to go into the office. david: so how do you meet your clients? you don't need them yourself so much, because you have got other people around the world, and during the covid period of time, i assume you did not meet anybody. you were just traveling from your office to your home, if that. julie: right. pre-covid, i did definitely travel a lot, and i think what
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we have all learned during covid is that connections can be built remotely. and certainly, you know -- my fun fact was i became ceo september 1, 2019 and literally six months and 11 days after becoming ceo, covid, you know, the pandemic was declared. i had a very interesting couple of first years, and i built really strong relationships by leveraging technology and really thinking about how do you build connections? i think one of the great learnings out of covid is this idea of omniconnection. i think too many people focus on remote work and hybrid work and physical location as opposed to, you know, how do you connect with people? when do you need to do it physically? you know, how to be intentional, and what's required for connection. david: how do you keep up with what is going on around the world? i mean, you have so many consultants, and do you know all the big projects? do you get reports daily or weekly or monthly about what is going on or if there are
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problems? and do you have to go out and woo the clients yourself to get the business? julie: first and foremost, i lead by example. our business is about clients. and so every quarter, i publish, for all of my managing directors, how any client meetings i have had and how many with our ecosystem partners to reinforce our business begins with understanding our clients. i call it the proximity imperative. and so i spend more than 50% of my time with clients. not just wooing them, not in a sales mode, but understanding them, building relationships, and that's really what our entire foundation at accenture is built on, is that proximity to clients. and then with respect to headway -- to how i run the business, one of the most important lessons that i think any leader has is you build a great team, and then you rely on them for what they have been asked to do. and so i don't micromanage. i really focus on, you know, who is doing what and what do i need to know and having a great team.
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david: let's suppose i go to business school, i do reasonably well there, and say, i want to be a consultant. and you interview me or somebody interviews me. what are the skills you are looking for? is it hard work, integrity, brilliance? what makes a good consultant? julie: all of those, i think, are table stakes. one of the things we really look for is, yes, we want people who work hard, who have performed well, but the most important skill that we see is the willingness to learn because the environment around us is changing. we know, from a skills perspective, skills in 2017, 30% of them are obsolete today. and so we test for learning. we ask really basic questions like, what have you learned in the last six months that wasn't in a classroom? and so learning, agility,
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curiosity are really core to our hiring philosophy. david: what do you do when you are not consulting? do you have any outside interests? julie: i took up tennis during covid, which was pretty brave at 52, and i can actually get the ball. i am not great but i can play a game. mostly i focus on my two daughters, who are 13 and about to be 15. david: have you thought about hiring a consultant for your tennis game? if you hire a consultant, that would improve your tennis can, right? julie: well, actually, most of the time i play tennis with a coach, because that way i can actually hit the ball and get a little bit better. [laughs] david: ok. if the president of united states called you and said, you are running a gigantic company . you have done a terrific job. i need some more women leaders in my government. why don't you come be secretary of something important? what would you say? julie: i would say, i am honored to be asked, but i have really important work to do in the private sector. david: ok. so you wouldn't go right now?
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julie: that is not my current aspiration. david: somebody who is watching this would say, this person has an incredible professional life. rose up to be partner at cravath. now she is ceo of this gigantic company. can you cite something that did not work out in your professional life so that people can feel you are not just a superhuman and make people feel good they can see somebody made a mistake? do you have any mistakes you've made or failures you can talk about? julie: you know, people ask that question as if the only challenge is at work. and for me, work has been a great place. i have had a lot of success, and i don't have a spectacular failure. but in my own personal life, my father died when he was 68. i had breast cancer. we had drug addiction in our family. mental health issues. and so one of the things i have learned is that challenges come in a lot of different packages. -- packages, and to have empathy for people, you know, if
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somebody is having a bad day, you don't know if that is because they have something going on at home or in their personal life. and so my challenges have not been about spectacular failures at work, but they have been challenges. and i talk about that because i think that is true for a lot of people. ♪
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