How to Build the Next Generation of Global Leaders

Also read: Accenture, global diversity, leaders

Usually, the “L” in CLO stands for learning, as in “chief learning officer.” But at Accenture (No. 22 in The 2010 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity® list), the “L” stands for “leadership.” DiversityInc’s Sam Ali recently caught up with Adrian Lajtha, Accenture’s chief leadership officer based in London, during one of his visits to New York. Prior to being named CLO in 2007, Lajtha, 52, was Accenture’s group chief executive of financial services, overseeing the company’s operating group that serves clients in the banking, capital markets and insurance industries. Lajtha talked to DiversityInc about what’s new in diversity and inclusion, the company’s global leadership initiatives and how he spends his downtime in London with his wife and five daughters.

DiversityInc: Not every company has a chief leadership officer. Could you describe your job?

Lajtha: It’s a strange title. It was a role that had existed before, so I’m not the first incumbent. There were two before me. When I … told my daughters I was chief leadership officer, it was not a title they had heard before. Now, they’ll ring me up and say, “We want to speak to the chief of leadership, sir.” But it’s actually an appropriate title because I look after four things across the company. I run all of leadership development and succession planning. That’s the thing that most goes with the title. I run what we call human-capital strategy, which is all about thinking about the future of the company through the lens of art, our talent, our leadership, our culture. I’m responsible for all of our programs around inclusion and diversity. And then, I’m responsible for all of our activities in the area of corporate citizenship. It’s interesting because they are all in the process of change. I’ve been doing it now for 2.5 years and if I had written a job description of what I wanted to do in this company before I finally retire, this would have been the job.

Listen to Part I:

DiversityInc: We know the world is changing extremely fast. What are the implications for leadership at Accenture going forward?

Lajtha: I’ve always had passion around inclusion and diversity, even when I was a regular soldier. And I look at our achievements to date, I look at the balance we have, and I look at how we’re doing in the advancement and promotion of women, our ethnic minorities, and our broadest sense of diversity, and I take great pride in it. And yet as you know when one looks at this subject, you’re never, ever done. It is a glorious, relentless thing year after year. We’re on a march toward a different world. We’re not there yet, we all know. Accenture has really lit many fires around that with the progress we’ve made with the diversity of the organization as a whole. We need to be able to raise our game still further around that next generation of leaders who are going to lead this company five years from now.

DiversityInc: As CLO of a global company, can you tell us about Accenture’s approach to leadership?

Lajtha: We are delighted with the geographic diversity of our leadership group. Ten years ago, we were made up largely of white, male Americans and maybe Anglo-Saxons—we may have attracted a few Brits. If you look at the diversity now, we’ve done a lot to advance the cause on that. Yet, when we look to that world as we see it five years from now, so much of the growth around the economic market is going to be in the emerging markets. We need to have an even larger proportion of our leadership who are relevant, who understand this culture, who are drawn from those cultures, making decisions globally for a company like ours. We are really proud of the stakes already in the ground, but the best is yet to come.

Listen to Part II:

DiversityInc: Can you share an example?

Lajtha: Let’s take India, as a place. It’s an extraordinary place. Eight years ago, India was maybe 1,000 people at Accenture. By the end of this year, it will be somewhere close to 50,000. So that is an extraordinary phenomenon. In China today, we have about 4,000.

Now, that brings up two questions: Does the talent exist to get those people on board? And do we have the leadership in place to receive those people when they come on board and to develop them, nurture them, enable them to grow? So mobility is now a big part of what we’re actually doing. Person A, we want you to go and lead and help the team on the ground in India, grow this area of business for the next three years. You’ll help the growth of that critical market, and what an experience you’ll get for yourself as a global leader. And when you come back to the U.K. … you can bring that insight, cultural experience, leadership-development experience to your own journey. The long-term future in places like China and India is going to be with businesses that are led by Indians and Chinese nationals. So, we have launched high-potential programs in markets like China, India, Russia, Mexico and Korea … to identify that group of people who we think are going to be the leaders five years from now. We believe these are the people we can wrap our arms around … and we will actually try to fast-forward their readiness. So rather than waiting or keeping our fingers crossed, we are intervening and saying we need to proactively go in there and grow those leaders.

DiversityInc: In what way?

Lajtha: If you want a real insight into diversity in terms of the new world, then come to India. Five years ago, when we first started to look [at India] through this human-capital lens, we were worried. We felt we had a good culture. We have six very clearly defined core values in this place. We thought those were at least pervasive. Actually, when we asked people, they weren’t even sure they could name them. And we thought, “This is a real problem.” We rely on that being part of the glue that keeps us all together.

Today, if you want to touch and feel [the true culture of Accenture], go to Bangalore and see the people who are over there. And do those guys know the core values? You bet they do. They know them probably better, honestly, than your average professional.

DiversityInc: How difficult is it to export diversity and inclusion overseas where women or LGBTs may not have the same rights?

Lajtha: We have an ability to sort of slightly defy gravity on this. We have a responsibility to do it. We are for sure a global company and we are made up of this amazing number of people, more and more of whom are going to be coming from more and more of those different strategic areas around the world. So, if we’re going to have 50,000 people in India and if we’re going to be a company that shares the same core values here in the United States as we do in India, then why on earth wouldn’t we want to have the same set of principles and values that extends to this passionate belief in how inclusion and diversity play out across our people in India?

DiversityInc: When you’re not traveling around the world, how do you unwind?

Lajtha: I have five daughters. The oldest two are 23 and 21, then I have a 12-year-old and I have one who is almost 20 months and I have one who is almost 5 months. If you just think about that for a moment, then you know exactly what I do when I’m not working. I’m a 20-plus-year veteran at diaper changing, which has served me very well. When I get back home [to London] from New York, I will get back just in time for the babies to be waking up. I want to spend a disproportionate amount of my time with them, whether it’s being a taxi driver for the older ones or lying on the floor with the younger ones or being out and about with them.

This article will appear in the March 2010 issue of DiversityInc magazine.


1 Comment

  • Anonymous

    This has been an interesting and inspiring article for me. I joined Accenture 7 years back as a Programmer and in course of these years I have become a Manager. I too have a vision of being able to serve Accenture from a capacity of an able leadership role. By base office being India, I am in the United States for several years now serving different clients. However the part of the article whic says that the future days would involve more of the emerging markets, I get more thrilled and inspired to be a part of Accenture. I am looking forward for similar articles and inspiring leadership, so that one day I can also represent Accenture in the same capacity. Thanks for such a nice article.

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