Julie Sweet has been named chief executive of Accenture, becoming the first female leader of the consulting giant as it expands its focus on technological and digital transformation.
Ms Sweet, who currently runs Accenture North America, will succeed David Rowland, who has served as interim chief executive since the company’s popular leader Pierre Nanterme stepped down shortly before his death in January.
Trained as a lawyer, Ms Sweet started her career at the venerable New York law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore, where she was a partner for 10 years before joining Accenture as general counsel. She will take charge of a Fortune 500 company with a market capitalisation of $130bn.
“My legal training has helped me be a quick learner,” Ms Sweet said in an interview with the Financial Times. “As leaders we really have to be continuous learners so my background has prepared me well to navigate what is now a complicated and fast-moving environment.”
Accenture began as the consulting arm of accounting giant Arthur Andersen and became a public company in 2001. During Mr Nanterme’s eight years at the helm, the firm shifted its focus to high-growth areas, including digital, cloud-computing and security-related services as well as digital advertising.
Ms Sweet, 51, played down her status as the first woman to run the organisation, although the California native has been vocal about her desire to promote gender equality and level the playing field for women.
“I am focused today on the fact that I’m the fifth chief executive of Accenture since we became a public company,” she said. “We think it is important to not focus on only one element of diversity.”
Calling Accenture a technology company at its core, Ms Sweet said the company is leading the way for gender diversity in the field. Of the company’s 500,000 employees, 43 per cent are women.
When Ms Sweet joined the consulting firm in 2010, Accenture was just embarking on a period of growth that would see it more than double its headcount and spend more than $6bn on acquisitions. The North American division she has run since 2015 is the largest within Accenture, accounting for almost 50 per cent of its global revenues.
The company, which counts 92 of the Fortune 100 companies as clients, has promised to invest heavily in training workers who face losing their jobs to automation, and has launched a national professional apprentice programme in the US that provides technology skills training.
“I’m talking to chief executives every day and the number one issue is how to bring your workforce along to match the changes in technology,” Ms Sweet said.
“It is not just about a skills gap, you cannot simply say I am just going to go hire other people . . . it is about how you can make sure that people can use the technology to unlock these opportunities.”
Outside of Accenture, Ms Sweet sits on the board of Catalyst, a non-profit organisation led by Lorraine Hariton that works with chief executives to help accelerate women into leadership positions. She also serves on the board of the TechNet Executive Council, which works to promote growth in the digital economy.
Ms Sweet will start her new role in September and Mr Rowland will become the company’s executive chairman.