CEO Prodded Accenture To Rethink Its Mission -- WSJ

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02/09/2019 | 08:47 am
Pierre Nanterme

By James R. Hagerty

As CEO of Accenture, Pierre Nanterme pushed the global consulting company to expand rapidly, acquire outside talent and rethink its mission over the past eight years. The French executive continued crisscrossing the world to run the company after being diagnosed with colon cancer in 2016.

His illness forced him to step down Jan. 11, and he died Jan. 31 at the age of 59. Accenture named David Rowland as interim chief executive.

Mr. Nanterme, who enjoyed bantering with American colleagues in his heavily accented English, was the third CEO of Accenture since 2001, when Andersen Consulting renamed itself. His two predecessors were U.S. citizens.

"I'm an anomaly," he said in a December interview with the French business magazine Challenges. "Logic would have called for an American to take the reins. But this company has a capacity to discover and develop talents, including the most improbable."

Accenture thrived in recent decades by helping companies use computer technology more effectively and then by showing them how to outsource computer-related functions to reduce costs. Those are no longer high-growth areas for consulting, so Mr. Nanterme pushed into newer realms, such as advising companies on cloud computing, analysis of data, cybersecurity, social media, mobile applications and digital marketing.

In pursuit of that goal, Accenture has spent over $6 billion on more than 100 acquisitions since Mr. Nanterme became CEO in 2011. The company now advises chief marketing officers as well as CEOs and chief technology officers. It competes in some ways with advertising agencies and offers to help clients change the way they promote and deliver products and services.

"We had gaps in our capability," and Mr. Nanterme was determined to eliminate those, said Paul Daugherty, Accenture's chief technology officer. Filling those gaps meant making some surprising hires, including nurses from the Philippines, brought in to help Accenture advise health-care companies on how to take better care of patients.

Accenture's head count has more than doubled over the past eight years to 469,000. Net profit totaled $4.06 billion in the year ended Aug. 31, up 78% from fiscal 2011.

Mr. Nanterme also prodded Accenture to hire and promote more women. He set a goal of gender parity by 2025; the firm's workforce now is about 42% female.

"Diversity makes our business stronger and more innovative and, most important, it makes the world a better place," he said two years ago.

Unable to meet all of his colleagues despite a heavy travel schedule, he sometimes appeared at meetings as a hologram.

To underscore the need for Accenture to move faster to keep pace with technological change, he often quipped, "If you're not on board, it's time for me to give you your watch." Sometimes he added, "What kind of watch do you want?" It was both a joke and a warning.

After spending much of his consulting career advising financial-services companies, he learned as CEO to talk more broadly about technology. Fortune magazine last year asked him how artificial intelligence would transform industry.

"We think it's more helpful to think of artificial intelligence as applied intelligence," he said. "The questions I receive most often are, 'Which technologies are mature enough that I can apply them now and they'll give me benefits? Which ones do I need to incubate because they're going to be prime time in maybe two years? And which are on the next horizon and not for me?' Our clients don't want to be pioneers."

Pierre Yves Raymond Nanterme was born Sept. 7, 1959, in Lyon, France. His father was a sales executive at a metallurgy company. His mother ran a clothing shop. Pierre Nanterme graduated from the ESSEC business school near Paris in 1981 and spent a year of military service in an Alpine skiing unit before joining Arthur Andersen in Lyon in 1983. He remembered a warning from his first boss: "If you sell nothing, something terrible will happen to you: nothing."

He remained at the company for 36 years, becoming a partner in 1993 and later moving into the firm's global management team.

Mr. Nanterme is survived by his wife, Sophie, a daughter, his parents, a sister and a brother.

He collected frog figurines and liked to quote Winston Churchill. His favorite celebrities included the blues guitarist Buddy Guy and the late Brazilian race-car driver Ayrton Senna. Among his preferred pastimes, he said, was shopping at Sephora cosmetics stores with his teenage daughter.

In meetings with American colleagues, he liked to toss in references to Chattanooga, Tenn., whose name sounded funnier in a French accent. At a meeting of global leaders of Accenture in October, a colleague presented him with a jersey from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Mr. Nanterme immediately put it on.

Write to James R. Hagerty at

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