Time and opportunity
Rohleder reaches the heights at Accenture
- By Evamarie C. Socha
- Oct 13, 2006
"I realized our company has a really incredible story of constantly evolving to compete and win in the marketplace," said Steve Rohleder, chief operating officer for Accenture Ltd.
For Steve Rohleder, chief operating officer of Accenture Ltd., the essence of the job is time.
"Managing the time demands of a rigorous schedule has proven to be my biggest challenge," said Rohleder, who has spent 26 years with Accenture and took the reins as COO in September 2004. "I insist on being accessible, and when you are operating in 48 countries with hundreds of offices in multiple time zones, the scheduling can be challenging."
Accenture is something of a virtual company. The Bermuda-based global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company has 110 offices worldwide. In the United States alone, Accenture has offices in more than 30 cities in 23 states, the District of Columbia and Virginia among them.
Rohleder will be recognized Oct. 25 as Industry Executive of the Year at the Government Computer News Gala. GCN is a sister publication to Washington Technology.
As COO, Rohleder's job of ensuring that all those offices run smoothly every day has had its share of surprises. The biggest one: He finds people treat him differently.
"I don't feel I've changed," he said. "I certainly want people to feel comfortable when we are talking, but there are times when you can feel the title intimidates people."
The COO slot, which Rohleder assumed from Stephan James upon his retirement, effectively made Rohleder a big fish in a bigger Accenture pond.
He came to the company in 1981 when it was the consulting division of Arthur Andersen & Co. He had been CEO of the Government Operating Group, and before that had been the group's managing partner in the United States. He had been managing partner of Accenture's U.S. Federal operating unit from 1997 to 2000.
Staying for 26 years with the same employer is not something many people do today, either by choice or circumstance. Rohleder said he has stayed because of three characteristics that first attracted him to the company, and that he said still hold true today.
"One, we do some of the most complex, challenging work in the business, and I learn something every day.
"Two, we have extremely talented people who work in high-performance teams. Day in and day out, working in that environment is very exciting," he said.
"And three, I wanted to run my own business. We have a very entrepreneurial culture that encourages you to take responsibility."
After all that time with the company, and now running all those far-flung offices, Rohleder has a perspective on Accenture he might not have had otherwise. He said he was proud to stand on the podium of the New York Stock Exchange in July to mark the fifth anniversary of Accenture becoming a publicly held company.
"I realized our company has a really incredible story of constantly evolving to compete and win in the marketplace," he said.
And competing and winning it is. Accenture posted a net revenue of $15.5 billion for the fiscal year that ended Aug. 31, 2005. Just this year, it scored two major deals from the federal government: the Defense Enterprise Accounting Management System from the Air Force in March, a five-year contract worth $79 million; and the Common Origination and Disbursement System contract extension from the Education Department, also in March, a three-year contract worth $170 million.
Despite these prizes, Accenture still faces formidable competition in the market. Rohleder said the company's biggest challenge continues to be attracting and keeping the best people possible.
"We are in the business of providing exceptional service. To deliver that service, you need exceptional people," he said. "We are constantly pushing the organization to offer our people unparalleled experiences and rewards to ensure the talent at Accenture is second to none."
The bar will continue to be set high for this company, which Rohleder, asked to describe it in one word, called "incredible."
"I have yet to see any other organization that consistently has a relentless focus on providing value to clients, developing its workforce and delivering results to its shareholders," he said. "To me, we strive to constantly be the poster child for a high-performing business."
Rohleder has the vantage point of looking at Accenture over a long time, and regardless of the competition, he is very pleased with what he sees.
"I am very blessed to be able to see many different business environments and meet with leaders from both government and industry in many different countries," he said. "I see visionary leaders with the courage to push themselves and their organizations to achieve high performance, and I see the men and women of Accenture helping them do that. ... Seeing this day in and day out is very motivational."Managing Editor Evamarie Socha can be reached at email@example.com.