Julie Sweet became the CEO of global consulting firm Accenture’s North American business in June 2015, after serving as Accenture’s General Counsel. On Friday Accenture announced plans to open 10 “innovation centres” in the US and to invest $US1.4 billion in training over the next four years in an effort that it says will create 15,000 highly-skilled new jobs in the US.
Business Insider caught up with Sweet to learn more about the announcement and to get her thoughts on the current business environment during a period of sweeping political change.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity
Business Insider: What do you envision for what these innovation hubs will be and who will be working in them?
Julie Sweet: Innovation hubs are going to be in cities focused on the industries and clients of that city. So in Houston it’s focused on our industrial companies, particularly the energy sector, robotics, and automation.
So you walk in, there’s a drone flying, because we’re demonstrating how you can do predictive maintenance using drones to monitor big manufacturing facilities. You go over to another screen, and you see the same screen that a supervisor sees in our connected mines where we have predictive analytics. They use weather date, time of day, and they look at the employees and they can predict who is likely to have an accident. Because in the mining industry there are a very high number of accidents. Which is obviously terrible for the employees, but also shuts down the operations.
We have a lot of clients across industries who are actually pretty bullish because they see a president and a congress, same party, who do have a pro-growth agenda.
So you come in here, you have the accenture team and the client team working on how we are going to take the drone — and then you go next door and there’s a room that has all of our technical professionals. And you build a prototype you design something, you scale it and the client goes off and you help them implement it. And you’re back three months later to tweak it. So it is the idea of continuous innovation.
BI: Obviously some of your clients are tapped into the global market and the climate in 2017 is different than it’s been. What are they telling you, what do they want from you in response to greater uncertainty in the world, with things like Brexit, Trump, and less stability than six months ago?
JS: In some ways there is less stability but the volatility has gone up and down. Especially for our global clients. Europe was in the tank and the US was doing well, it kind of goes up and down. So in general, we have found that our clients are pretty steady as she goes. Because they don’t react to ups and down and they don’t expect growth because we have been living in a very low growth environment. So what they talk to us about isn’t the concerns about the uncertainty. They’re much more worried about their industries being seriously disrupted. Half of the S&P 500 doesn’t exist that was in place in 2000. And they have seen the disruption that’s happening in industries around them. So what we find that clients are much more focused on is ‘Help me understand where is the industry going and what kind of a new business model do I need to have to compete?’
On the environment in the US, we have a lot of clients across industries who are actually pretty bullish because they see a president and a congress, same party, who do have a pro-growth agenda. And growth means policies for competitiveness and policies for investment. There is sort of a sense of for the last few years it’s like ‘OK, we’re going to grow, but not because of the economy.’ There’s now some optimism that some policies may be passed that make us more competitive and allow for more investment and that therefore will get growth.
BI: What kinds of policies would that be?
JS: It’s the same ones, it’s tax, it’s deregulation.
BI: Deregulation of?
JS: Pretty much every industry we serve feel like they are way over-regulated.
BI: Are there any specific areas?
JS: Financial services. Not just Dodd-Frank but some of the stuff around enforcement, false claims act. Things that sort of said ‘Look your enforcement is so harsh, why would we take the risks?’
In the energies fields, the number of regulations around manufacturing, around drilling. When I talk to our clients — and I’m also a member of the Business Roundtable — it’s just the numbers of regulations. And the agenda for CEOs has not changed.
Pretty much every industry we serve feel like they are way over-regulated.
A lot of what we talk about is about people. You can’t get the growth without the skills. And the growth is going to come from the digital economy. And we have a major skills problem: 500,000 new jobs last year that required computer science degrees, 40,000 new graduates.
We did some research with Girls Who Code. We framed the issue not so much as a gender equality or women should get better jobs, but a competitiveness one. Computer science degrees for women are declining, they were higher in 1975 than they are today. So from a competitive point of view, half the population is not participating.
This skills gap is a big topic of conversation. And how do we up-skill, how do we find the skills, and many companies including our own are working on the pipeline, whether it’s girls who code or investing in universities. You can have great policies but you have to have people.
BI: Does this mean Accenture’s head count is going to rise by 15K?
JS: Yes, these are new jobs. It’s not attrition. We’re going up 30 per cent.
BI: Some companies have been criticised for job announcements that are being called recycled news. Is this announcement a new announcement? How much of this announcement is in response to President Trump wanting new jobs?
JS: It is not a response to President Trump wants new jobs. Now, don’t get me wrong, President trump wants new jobs. Every state we operate wants new jobs, where we are opening these. There is a great pro-job growth environment right now. We have been here for five decades, we are a huge job engine, so in this kind of environment we are going to tell everyone we are growing jobs. It is a good business right now for any company who is creating jobs to talk about jobs.
That’s a great benefit for us, so why wouldn’t we talk about the jobs? But we are trying to position ourselves with our clients as we are the innovation partner. We’re the company that’s really making investment. We want the brand of accenture to be innovation. So if you are planning on opening ten innovation hubs over the next four years, this is good business to tell people we are serious about innovation. This is part of a strategy. So this past year in December we reorganized the US around regions and it was the first step in really making ourselves more local because this is where we think the business is going. And believe me that was planned long before president Trump. This is part of our strategy and where we think the wave is.