What Accenture Strategy Seeks In MBAs

INSEAD MBA students assigned to work on the Accenture Strategy-World Economic Forum Digital Transformation Initiative at the WEF meeting in Davos

INSEAD MBA students assigned to work on the Accenture Strategy-World Economic Forum Digital Transformation Initiative at the WEF meeting in Davos

A strong brand can be a mixed blessing. It opens doors and conveys expertise and dependability. But it doesn’t always reflect a firm’s full capabilities or long-term trajectory. Accenture is a case in point.

If you polled MBAs about Accenture, many would probably label it as an IT consulting firm that handles system migrations or security. That’s no surprise — Accenture owns this space. Within the Accenture umbrella, you’ll also find Accenture Strategy, a booming high-end strategy consulting firm. By the numbers, the firm employs 8,700 strategy professionals, manages over 1,700 clients, and generates $2 billion a year in revenue. That ranks it among the world’s largest strategy consulting firms.

However, it is Accenture Strategy’s futurist mindset that sets it apart from all other strategy consulting firms.

FIRM SEEKING AN ‘ENTREPRENEURIAL DISRUPTOR MINDSET’

For one, the firm targets a different type of MBA — one with an “entrepreneurial disruptor mindset,” says Ravi Chanmugam, senior managing director for Accenture Strategy in North America. Chanmugam views Accenture Strategy as a disruptive force in the marketplace. To upend the status quo, the firm is looking for forward thinkers who aren’t afraid to tackle issues with few precedents. “They don’t have to be a techie or a coder,” Chanmugam says. “We already have 300,000 of those people at Accenture. At Accenture Strategy, we want people who have that curiosity about (things like), ‘What will driverless cars do to the property and casualty industry?’ Or, ‘How could you make money off of telemedicine?’ We’re looking for that intellectual curiosity and passion for that intersection (between traditional business issues and digital technology issues).”

To Chanmugam, a Harvard MBA who worked as a McKinsey consultant and an entrepreneur before joining Accenture Strategy, the strategy consulting model is ripe for disruption. And he clicks off a few key requirements for strategy consulting firms in the coming years. “It’s going to require scale, which means you need to be in every country, every industry, and every functional area of expertise. It’s going to require a lot of intellectual property in the form of data, assets, and tools and maybe even pre-baked products and solutions.” Chfanmugam observes, too, that clients are starting to ask for more than just stuffed spreadsheets and pretty PowerPoints.

“They want something that actually works — and to show them how it actually works. That’s a very different thing. It’s starting to move into execution, more about prototyping and piloting. It’s moving away from the theory of how it will work to ‘How will it actually work?’”

TAPPING INTO RESOURCES AND EXPERTISE OF A 375,000-PERSON FIRM

Ravi Chanmugam

Ravi Chanmugam

With its versatility and size, Accenture Strategy is poised to capitalize on these increasing client demands. In terms of scale, Accenture Strategy consultants can tap into a network of 375,000 people in 120 countries who work in everything from data analytics, digital marketing and web development to software engineering, project management, and R&D. Within Accenture Strategy, MBAs can work in 13 different focused industries, including digital media, energy, life sciences, banking, health, and public service. “You’re joining a true strategy consulting firm that is backed by an even bigger technology and outsourcing firm,” Chanmugam adds. More than that, they’re joining a culture that’s aggressively looking ahead and embracing change.

“We’re not being disrupted,” Chanmugam emphasizes. “That’s where we live.”

Accenture Strategy isn’t shy about making investments to grow and transform their business. Over the past three years, it has acquired consulting firms specializing in competitiveness, digital retail strategy, and upstream oil and gas. MBAs are also a major part of the equation. In 2016, Accenture Strategy will add 250 MBAs globally, including a 10% increase in North America. This summer, they also accepted 175 first-year interns, with 70%-80% expected to receive offers by the end of summer.

For many MBA interns, an Accenture Strategy internship is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make an impact. Interns who participate in the joint Accenture-World Economic Forum Digital Transformation Initiative, for example, head to Davos, Switzerland for the WEF meeting. Similarly, interns can also take part in pro bono Accenture Development Partnerships. As examples, a Wharton intern will train Syrian refugees on entrepreneurship in Turkey; similarly, a Darden intern will be leaving for Ghana later this summer to join an effort to improve drinking water quality.

BRAND JUST BEGINNING TO CATCH UP TO FIRM’S INDUSTRY AND GLOBAL REACH

Accenture Strategy information session on Digital Strategy for London Business School MBA students hosted at its London offices

Accenture Strategy information session on Digital Strategy for London Business School MBA students hosted at its London offices

It is this sense of mission, coupled with being part of a collegial team that’s revolutionizing strategy consulting, that still inspires Chanmugam after 15 years at Accenture Strategy. While he admits Accenture Strategy punches below its weight in the market, the firm’s deep resources, disruptive mindset, and high ceiling are certain to reshape the industry for years to come. And that spells opportunity for ambitious MBAs.

“We’re still fighting hard to change the business,” Chanmugam says. “We’re still the outsider coming in and that’s energizing. …We’ve come a long way, but we’ve got a long way to go. That’s very inspiring to me.”

Recently, Poets&Quants sat down with Chanmugam to learn more about Accenture Strategy’s MBA hiring. Wondering how you stand out from other candidates interviewing for the same internship? Want to learn about some of Accenture Strategy’s most exciting projects? Looking to learn more about the firm’s educational partnership with INSEAD? Check out our Q&A with Chanmugam to find the answers.

P&Q: What do you look for in a resume and background that many candidates might not consider?

Chanmugam: We’re building a strategy consulting firm for the 21st century. There is a history and legacy of great strategy consulting firms over the last 50-60 years. We think the market is changing, so we’re trying to build a different kind of strategy consulting firm.

So we’re looking for some people who are, first and foremost, entrepreneurial. They want to work for someone who is trying to disrupt strategy consulting, do it differently, think about it differently, and approach it from a different mindset. (They want to) grow something that is a top five firm into a top three firm. So we’re attacking from the outside of the mainstream strategy consulting — looking for that entrepreneurial disruptor mindset.

Second, we’re positioning ourselves around the intersection of traditional business issues with digital technology issues. So we’re looking for someone who has curiosity and passion for how IT, technology, and digital are going to change the way businesses interact with customers and how they’ll change how businesses run themselves. They don’t have to be a techie or a coder — we already have 300,000 of those people at Accenture. At Accenture Strategy, we want people who have that curiosity about (things like), ‘What will driverless cars do to the property and casualty industry?’ Or, ‘How could you make money off of telemedicine?’

We’re looking for that intellectual curiosity and passion for that intersection.
And the third thing we’re looking for is more cultural, which is that we think of ourselves as a practical, humble, non-hierarchical, and very collegial culture.  We’re less about pure pedigree (what school do you go to?) and more about, ‘Are you able to roll up your sleeves and get things done?’