Kathleen O'Reilly: Executive Spotlight
By Sophie Helmers
Kathleen O’Reilly is a senior managing director at Accenture, and leads the company’s business in its Northeast region, a role she undertook late last year. A graduate of Princeton University, O’Reilly is an accomplished 20-year veteran at Accenture, and has served in a variety of senior leadership roles, mostly focused on helping clients within the Communications, Media & Technology (CMT) practice achieve higher performance through profitable growth, accelerated innovation, organizational agility and operational excellence. Last week, Business Today had the pleasure of speaking with her about her work at Accenture, goals, views on mentorship and experience as a woman in the consulting industry.
Accenture is a leading global professional services company, providing a broad range of services and solutions in strategy, consulting, digital, technology and operations. In her current role, O’Reilly’s top priorities are to bring innovation to clients, attract top talent and strengthen the company’s impact in its local communities.
Commitment to development and corporate citizenship
O’Reilly emphasized the importance that Accenture places on developing their people and corporate citizenship. As she puts it, “We are a people-centric business. So, we are always looking at ways to make Accenture an even better place to work for our people.” As an example of this commitment, the company recently announced that it will invest $1.4 billion in training in the U.S. to ensure its people have leading-edge capabilities to serve its clients. Accenture is also committed to its local communities – the company has equipped more than 1.7 million people with the skills to get a job or build a business through its Skills to Succeed initiative. Its goal is to reach 3 million people with these skills by 2020.
Innovation investment in the U.S.
Clearly very proud of Accenture and its work with clients, O’Reilly shared her vision of the Northeast region and how she is managing it. She emphasized that Accenture operates, “at the intersection of business and technology.” As such, her main goal is bringing innovation to, “harness disruption and change for clients.” The company’s Northeast region is home to one of its several innovation hubs across the country in New York City. She continued that in these hubs, "we bring together all the various pieces, from technology to strategy to some of our most leading edge digital capabilities, all in one place to solve some of our clients’ most daunting complex challenges.”
The Northeast is home to a variety of capabilities that helps Accenture innovate with its clients. The first example is the Fjord Design Studio in New York City, which serves as a place where clients can invent, create and deliver disruptive digital solutions. At the Studio, clients can get hands-on with and apply leading technologies to solve critical business challenges in an innovative workspace equipped with all the tools needed to build and test prototypes in an agile manner. Another example is the Content Studio – also in New York City – which supports new, collaborative models for delivering branded content, and offers clients full multimedia production, including a state-of-the-art TV and video post-production facility.
Views on mentorship
O’Reilly jumped on the opportunity to speak about mentorship, something she was clearly quite passionate about, “both personally and professionally.” She continued, saying, "Mentors are critical because they provide perspective that helps you think differently at any given moment in your journey. Good mentors push you into new areas where you might not see yourself, and provide constructive feedback that you need to hear. They help you become an even better you, whether that’s personally or professionally.” O’Reilly also made it clear that mentorship must be an unconditional relationship and that a mentor must be completely focused on the success of their mentee, because mentorship entails, “stewardship, to leave people better than you found them.”
O’Reilly stated that she has had mentors and continues to have them, and simply, “would not be successful without them.” She also has benefitted from her unerring willingness to, “embrace change, disrupt myself, change my thinking, stay relevant and on the forefront of whatever it is that I am doing, and be curious.”
O’Reilly insisted that, “From an Accenture perspective, there really hasn’t been anything other than a positive focus on gender. I’ve been a beneficiary of Accenture’s stewardship around gender equality, and I also strive to be a leader in my sphere of influence. Our commitment to inclusion and diversity is unwavering, and we believe it makes us smarter, more competitive and more innovative – and is a key part of what makes Accenture a great place to work.”
O’Reilly provided three pieces of advice for students looking to break into a career in consulting, “Be relevant, be good at serving in teams, and be comfortable around change.” She insisted that an aspiring consultant needs to be relevant because, “consulting is about helping our clients embrace the opportunities that come with change and disruption.” She also counseled that students must be, “good at serving in teams, understanding the impact they can have on teams, being collaborative, and knowing how to bring out the best in others.” She emphasized the importance of comfort around change because, “Consulting operates in the world of change and what is being disrupted. You must be able to operate in that ambiguity and bring a disciplined approach to solving ambiguous problems.”