Accenture recently embarked on a transformational journey to become a first mover in the new digital economy. In her presentation at The 2017 CFO of the Future Summit: Fueling the Growth Agenda, KC McClure, Finance Director for Communications, Media & Technology at Accenture, reflected on the company’s journey and the importance of the role that CFO David Rowland played in leading the change and creating shareholder value. She outlined how Accenture’s CFO worked alongside the CEO and Chief Strategy Officer to architect this transformation and to bring the company’s growth story to life both internally and externally.
At the time of the transformation, McClure was Managing Director of Investor Relations, and was on point to bring the external investors and analysts along on the journey, and to help them understand and embrace the new Accenture growth story. She had a bird’s eye view into the prominent role the CFO played throughout the change journey and shared that perspective in her discussion.
Accenture created four pillars to guide the transformation agenda. Rowland and McClure used these as touch points to manage change and ensure that the team stayed on track.
Accenture had a long history of reporting two types of services: consulting and outsourcing. As Accenture’s business continued to grow and new technologies emerged, the company recognized they were evolving and further differentiating themselves in the market. "We realized that our business was becoming much more sophisticated, and we actually did more than just consulting and outsourcing," McClure explains. They needed to capitalize on this diversification to maximize the value potential.
Accenture decided to further differentiate by creating Accenture Strategy, Accenture Consulting, Accenture Technology, Accenture Operations, and Accenture Digital. Rowland was instrumental in helping the company understand the unique characteristics of each business dimension. As CFO, he knew that each dimension had a unique economic profile and had to be “fit for purpose” to optimize margin and profitability. “It was clear that each of these new areas had different competitors in the market, as well as different price points, cost structures and investment strategies,” McClure explains.
Rowland led a massive change effort to ensure that everyone in the company understood this new “fit for purpose” model. His finance organization was on the front line and ready to support the transformation. They drove change on many fronts—from new internal metrics to different commercial models and investment strategies. "Our CFO was a key driver of these efforts," McClure says.
Accenture’s differentiation strategy also required them to reassess how they were investing capital. “This is probably one of the biggest changes … what it means to invest for disruption,” says McClure. They needed to invest, not only in the new service areas like digital, security, cloud and analytics, but also in talent to ensure they had the right skills and capabilities to deliver these new services. Rowland took a hard look at their capital allocation strategy to ensure they could free up capital while continuing to deliver margin expansion, one of their key shareholder value commitments. Investors had to understand Accenture’s investment strategy given it was new territory. It was imperative that Accenture articulated this shift to investors, who knew that Accenture had historically been an “asset-lite” services company with very limited debt.
A key component of the company’s investment strategy was a significant increase in ventures and acquisitions (V&A). Accenture has become a “serial acquirer,” moving from just a few acquisitions in previous years to now spending over $1.5 billion this year. Rowland had to ensure his finance team and the rest of the organization were ready to handle the wide range of challenges that came with the increase in V&A activity.
For the strategy to be successful, the team had to lean heavily on its fourth pillar and create a clear narrative for each stakeholder audience so that employees, investors and clients were on board.
After articulating a new strategy and bringing along investors, Rowland and McClure had to prove it was working and fueling growth. Of the four pillars, McClure says, “this was probably the hardest one. Figuring out the appropriate financial disclosures is uncomfortable territory for any CFO.” Rowland and McClure worked with their legal team, the controller, their auditors and their marketing group to evaluate several financial metrics to determine what they would share.
For example, Rowland and McClure had to bring the new business architecture to life and provide information around the scale and growth trajectory for the business dimensions. They also had to prove they were driving growth at an accelerated rate in each of the new service areas —digital, cloud, security and analytics. And, massive work was required internally to make sure their revenue was coded properly in SAP and reported correctly. “I can’t over-estimate the amount of time, focus and training we spent making sure we were capturing and reporting our new metrics correctly,” McClure states.
Additionally, they had to incorporate new financial insights to report the impact of inorganic growth in their results given the significant step-up in V&A activity. They increased visibility on levers of overall margin expansion to highlight how they were funding the investments they were making in the company.
If the market does not clearly understand how a strategy is linked to financial results and guidance, a company won’t maximize their shareholder value. Accenture has a very rigorous and disciplined approach to communicating the connection between strategy and results to the market. In addition to the c-suite executives, Accenture leverages over 70 leaders across many areas of the company to help bring the Accenture story and strategy to life.
Rowland and McClure worked closely with the marketing & communications team to create a clear, concise communications framework that people in the organization use to share their part of the Accenture story. “We have a clear theme document that we use every quarter. It’s one page. It’s a discipline. If you can’t get it on one page, then we are not clear on our message,” states McClure.
The theme document also informs how executives communicate internally from the top down. Rowland and other leaders use the themes outlined in the document to reinforce key strategy areas in internal communications to ensure that everything is consistent across audiences.
Reflecting back on Accenture's transformation, McClure explained that she could not overstate the importance of the role the CFO played at each juncture. Rowland was at the table in the earliest discussions with the CEO and CSO, bringing the financial insights and analysis to help architect the strategy to scale and grow in a differentiated way. He was on point to ensure the finance organization, systems and processes were ready to provide results and proof points to demonstrate the strategy was working. And, as a CFO, he works to ensure the market understands how the strategy translates to value creation for them as shareholders.
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