P&Q: Every industry comes with its stereotypes. When it comes to Accenture – and your industry as a whole – what are some of the biggest misconceptions that students may have?
Chanmugam: An important one for us, because we haven’t been in strategy consulting for 75 years, we are a little bit of a hidden player in strategy consulting. Our brand is not as established as our actual presence in the marketplace. When we talk to MBAs, they’ve kind of heard of Accenture or maybe Andersen Consulting, which is the predecessor name. But they think Accenture Strategy is a big systems integration and outsourcing company. And Accenture is. Accenture Strategy –and we want to emphasize to people — is a separate and connected part. On our own, we believe we are a Top 5 strategy consulting firm with 8,700 people. Yet, most people, if they had to list the Top 5 strategy consulting firms, may or may not list us. So that is something where we’re spending a lot of effort, in putting some money behind our brand, advertising a separate name (Accenture Strategy) and separate business cards. We have a separate visual identity. We have a separate CEO for Accenture Business Strategy. We have our own talent and HR processes and training (as I described).
For us, the biggest thing is that you’re joining a true strategy consulting firm that is backed by an even bigger technology and outsourcing firm that has a lot of money, which allows us to do acquisitions and hire very talented strategists — not just from campus, but also ones who have done strategy work in companies before. So we have a lot of good funding behind us and a lot expertise and depth behind us and that’s what we’re trying to bring to our clients in that different kind of strategy consulting firm for the future.
Our brand punches below the weight we actually have in the marketplace. So clients call us quite a bit, but a lot of MBAs still think there are only three strategy consulting firms. And the way we dispel that myth is talk to them about the projects we do and the clients we have and the [caliber] of people we employ. And the ones who intern with us say, ‘Wow, you have something pretty cool here.’ So we don’t get the benefit of the doubt until people really get to know us.
P&Q: What are your expectations for entry level MBAs? What are your most successful new hires doing to hit the ground running and quickly add value?
Chanmugam: I think the first is that they check their ego at the door. Yes, you’re smart and accomplished and have a well-regarded MBA. But don’t assume you know the answer to everything because you probably haven’t done strategy consulting before.
Second is that you are actively listening: understanding exactly what it is the client is looking for. Listen to what your engagement manager or engagement partner is seeking for you to do and clarifying if you’re not sure. Just very basic things, but not running off to do things without actively listening to what it is you’re being asked to do.
The third is just, ‘Hey, I need some help. I need some training. I need to learn this tool.’ You’re going to have to do some extra homework to get up to speed on something that might be related to big data or a nuance (or details) of how an industry really works. You’re going to have to do some reading at night or some extra homework to get up to speed because the client expects our MBAs, since they’re well-paid, to bring something to the table that is relevant to the project and not just be talking about theoretical stuff they learned in business school…People are very willing to help here, but you have to ask for that help.
The last part I would say is being humble and willing to roll up your sleeves and just get into the nitty-gritty. In your first project, you may not be advising the CEO on the biggest corporate strategy decision of their life. You might be doing something more mundane. But we’re testing to see if you can do that before you go to some of those other projects. So it is important to have a view towards the long-term, which is, ‘I’m going to learn all these different things — different industries and different functions and build my strengths and skills in strategy consulting and then I’m going to have more opportunity to come to those CEO and board meetings.’
P&Q: Give me an example of a student who really impressed you in the process. (i.e. What is the most creative or memorable thing someone has done to stand out and impress you? – No names, of course)
Chanmugam: We run the Accenture Strategy Innovation Challenge, that event for first-year MBA teams who get together to solve a not-for-profit case. This year, a team from Ross (The University of Michigan) won the program. And the not-for-profit was called Back on My Feet. It’s Boston-based and it basically combats homelessness. They use running and community [Getting homeless people to commit to running to prepare them for education, job training, and housing]. It’s a very difficult thing to do. So we had a Ross team that did just a great job with their presentation. Not only that, but they immersed themselves into the reality of that world. They actually did their final round presentation in sneakers. It just meant that they had absorbed the ethos of this company – which is teaching people to exercise and run (which you’d never think would be a way to help homeless people, but it actually works). That was a nice touch that showed us that they really had stepped into their clients’ shoes. So we were really impressed by that group of students, not just from the quality of the presentation, but the way they shared the passion of the client to solve that problem.
Editor’s Note: Two members of the winning Ross team are interning with Accenture Strategy this summer.
P&Q: What excites you personally about working for Accenture?
Chanmugam: I joined Accenture Strategy in 2001. It had started in the late 1990s. At that time, it was called Andersen Consulting Strategic Services. That was the first time we were going to business schools to hire top talent to do strategy work. Now, in Accenture Strategy we’re a $2 billion dollar entity with 8,700 people.
I’m here because, number one, I love the culture here. The people are collegial. They’re about solving the client’s problem. The people are really just low ego; the culture reinforces being a team.
The second reason is I feel I can look at myself in the mirror and our clients’ eyes and believe we deliver huge value — not just great ideas or beautiful PowerPoint slides, but we actually help them move the needle on the problem they’re trying to solve, whether that’s trying to decrease costs or help the customer feel happier. We often charge the percentage of benefits we generate. I feel really good that clients get huge value for the money they spend on us. And we can feel good at the end of the day.
And the third thing for me is I feel we are still the underdogs. Yes, we’re in the top five, Yes, we’re more than 8,700 people, but we’re still fighting hard to change the business. We’re still the outsider coming in and that’s energizing. When we’re pitching against other firms, we’re often the underdogs. And I like that — because I love taking down the favorite. That energizes me too. We’ve come a long way, but we’ve got a long way to go. That’s very inspiring to me and makes it extra fun to win and deliver great value to the client and surprise the client as well.