By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)
“I remember Susan Butler, Accenture’s first female senior executive,” began Jorge Benitez, Managing Director, North America and Chief Executive, United States at Accenture. “To be the first at something – that’s huge.”
In fact, Benitez himself has been an advocate for and a role model of diversity at the company since he joined it thirty years ago. He explained, “There weren’t a lot of people who looked like me when you looked around. We’ve made huge strides since then. And it’s important as we become leaders to pass that onto the next generation.”
“It’s night and day versus 30 years ago – diversity is part of our fabric now. Of course, we can always find room for improvement,” he said.
Leadership as Stewardship
Benitez, who was born in Cuba and came to the United States at the age of ten, attended college at the University of Florida and joined Accenture after graduating. “And I celebrated my 30th anniversary one month ago. It has gone by quickly,” he said.
Most recently, he served as COO of the company’s Products operating group which includes Automotive; Air, Freight & Travel Services; Consumer Goods & Services; Industrial Equipment; Infrastructure & Transportation Services; Life Sciences; and Retail.
On the first of this month, Benitez assumed the role of Managing Director of North America and Chief Executive for the United States. “I am excited to lead our practice in North America and look forward to growing our business. We are seeing significant demand for new capabilities such as analytics, mobility, and digital marketing,” said Benitez. “I believe Accenture is well-positioned to continue offering our people satisfying careers and help them take advantage of our internal marketplace of opportunities to leverage their talents and aspirations.”
Benitez has seen many changes throughout his three decades at Accenture. “It was a very white, male Anglo Saxon kind of picture – it’s much more diverse today, in terms of global, gender, and ethnic dimensions.”
He continued, “I’ve seen the partnership days and I’ve seen the public company days.” In fact, Benitez said one of his proudest achievements was his work generating consensus around the new compensation structure when the company’s structure changed to a public company in 2001.
“We were going from a tenure to a performance based model. The partners had to vote two-thirds in favor. The vote passed and we were able to change the company for the benefit of everyone,” Benitez continued.
“To put high performers in the leadership of the company – that’s stewardship.”
Importance of Gender Diversity
Benitez said his interest in diversity comes from his own experience. “From an ethnicity context, it’s something I’ve always been aware of. I believe that being aware of my ethnicity helps me better understand gender issues as well.”
He continued, “Once a client told me, ‘it’s very hard to climb the corporate ladder in high heels.’ It’s clear to me that we don’t necessarily think in ways we should. It’s about making people self-aware.”
“Gender diversity is a critical part of a broader diversity and inclusion program we’ve had at Accenture for some time,” he continued. “Our clients want to have people help them who represent their own workforce – we need to be relevant to our clients. This is a fundamental business issue, not just something done to fill a quota.”
And increasingly, he said, Accenture’s clients are becoming more diverse as the company strengthens relationships in local markets. He explained, “I’m helping our North America practice do more in our local markets. We have more than thirty locations in the US and Canada, and we’re revitalizing our efforts to build local relationships.”
He continued, “We’ve had the opportunity to present to new clients, and if we show up with all white men, we come across very differently from what Accenture really looks like.”
For women in particular, he said, family responsibilities can make a high performing career seem out of reach. “This career demands a great deal. We’ve got to make sure we have women leaders who are successful professionally and able to have a family and fulfill other responsibilities.”
Another challenge with building diversity in a global company like Accenture, he said, is that diversity means different things around the world. He continued, “It’s different in Japan, the UK, and the US. But even though we are on different journeys in different countries, the needs are the same. They really are.”
Benitez said Accenture does a lot in terms of diversity and inclusion, but one of the factors he’s most proud of is the hands-on approach that he and other senior leaders take toward diversity. “Every quarter, we get on the phone with people leading diversity in their groups and look at attrition and advancement numbers. We’re very focused on trying to understand where we take folks from the start.”
He continued, “It doesn’t mean we’re trying to fill quotas – but making sure our diverse individuals have the opportunity to show they are ready for advancement. This means making sure they have the right assignments, coaching, and attention.”
“I started working right after college. I finished Friday and started on Saturday.” Benitez said. “I had read all the business books, but I didn’t realize how important leadership was.” He explained, “Effective leadership makes a huge difference, when it comes to people, clients, and frankly, running our business.”
“I would have done better than I expected if I had known the meaning of leadership.”
Benitez also highlighted his involvement in a new leadership development program at Accenture, for which he serves as a sponsor. “We bring together senior managers from all over the world – there are five teams of five people each, and they work on solving a real business problem.”
He explained that he attended a strategy meeting the day before the team was presenting a proposal to one of the company’s largest clients. “I saw that the three people who had the most impact had been in the leadership development program. I just felt so good – they had been senior managers just a year ago.”
He added, “Part of me just rejoiced that this program had helped position our people and the company for success.”
In His Personal Time
Outside work, Benitez enjoys spending time with his family and time on the water – boating and fishing. “We do a lot of traveling,” he said. “My wife and her family are from Greece so we go there every year.”
Additionally, he sits on the national board of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. “Both my mom and dad passed away from forms of blood cancer. It’s a way I can contribute skills, capabilities, and frankly, some funds to give back.”