Being a CFO means sometimes respectfully disagreeing with your boss. In fact, that’s part of being a strategic business partner to the CEO, according to Accenture CEO and chair Julie Sweet.
“We are in this together, always,” Sweet said of CFO KC McClure during Fortune’s virtual CFO Collaborative session in partnership with Workday on October 27. The execs spoke candidly about their working relationship in the C-suite at the multinational professional services company. “As my partner, it’s really critical that KC is a business leader first, just like I look to my general counsel as a business leader first with legal expertise. But also a leader that epitomizes our values,” Sweet said.
“You need to have mutual respect for each other,” McClure said. “That enables you to have very candid conversations. Julie feels very comfortable with me as I do with her. It just so happens that we have some fun along the way, and we really like working with each other.” However, that doesn’t mean they always share the same point of view.
“I wouldn’t do this in front of our 624,000 people, but one of the things KC and I are super comfortable doing with our broader leadership team is—not always agreeing,” Sweet said. The execs could work things out privately but deliberately chose not to, she said. The company is moving at a “super-fast pace,” working to meet strategic priorities, sometimes in less than 12 months, Sweet explained. “That only works if your leadership team is willing to have the hard conversations,” she said. “One of the things that KC and I agreed to from the very beginning is that we’re gonna set that tone.”
“I think we’ve all been in meetings where it’s silent,” McClure explained. “You’re talking, you’re trying to decide something pretty important, and nobody says anything. Julie and I have such a wonderful relationship that I’ll weigh in and ask a question or say, here’s a different way of looking at that. It kind of opens up the floor for others to feel comfortable to do [the same].”
Sweet became Accenture’s chief executive in September 2019 and chair in September 2021. She joined the company in 2010, previously serving in roles including CEO of Accenture’s business in North America. McClure has been with Accenture for more than 30 years. Before her appointment as CFO in January 2019, she served in a number of financial leadership roles, such as senior managing director of business and commercial finance.
“For any CEO and CFO to do their jobs, you have to have alignment on your long-term strategy,” McClure said. “My job is working with [Julie] to make sure that I’m keeping track of how we’re doing against our strategy and making difficult choices in alignment with Julie on our priorities.”
“One of our leadership essentials is caring for our people personally and professionally,” Sweet said. “The CFO job is very broad. It starts with the business, but also making sure that everything we do matches our values.”
Regarding the broad role, tech is increasingly under the CFO’s purview. “The role of data and technology is dramatically different than it was 10 years ago,” McClure said. “We’re 95% in the cloud.” And that advanced tech came in handy for the finance chief when Sweet wanted to make extensive changes, she said.
“When Julie became CEO, in her first six months, what she wanted to do was reorganize our entire company, and do the biggest transformation we’ve ever done in the history of Accenture,” McClure explained. All of the changes, including revising reporting segments, and filings, happened mid-year, McClure said. “We did that because we were on the cloud,” she said. McClure was so certain the technology was sound that “the weekend it went live, I didn’t even worry,” she noted.
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