CEO to CEO Podcast: Bill Green

January 29, 2021 Kevin Campbell

The CEO to CEO podcast is hosted by Kevin Campbell, CEO of Syniti.

This week's guest is Kevin's friend and longtime mentor, Bill Green. Bill was at Accenture for a long illustrious career, grew through a variety of different positions, ultimately rising to CEO and chairman, where he was for some 33 years. And then since that time, Bill's been on a variety of boards including being Chairman of the Board for Syniti. He's been a lead director at EMC during the acquisition by Dell, and today spends a lot of time helping other people, both for nonprofits and as a mentor. 

 

 

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Kevin Campbell (02:23):

Maybe you could start out by, most people know about you as the chairman from Accenture, you're the face of Accenture wherever you go. Can you bring us up to speed, kind of what you've been doing since then?

 

Bill Green (02:38):

I knew I was going to fail graduation and I did, that was in 2013. And so then immediately, you like to stay in the flow, you like to make a difference, and you like especially being with all the people that used to be with. So I've had some public and private boards, Dell of course, Standard & Poor's, which has been fun because there's been some drama, some acquisitions, some divestitures and stuff like that. Lawsuits, all kinds of juicy stuff for board types to pay attention to. And Inovalon, which is a healthcare startup that I actually looked at buying when I was at Accenture. And I remember when he left the room, Pam Craig, who you know, our CFO, said, "What did you think?" And I said, "Too good to be true." Well, it actually was true, and so it's a great little company now. And then GTY, I have one of these SPACs. People hear about SPACs now because everybody's talking about them.

 

Bill Green (03:46):

Back when we did ours, which was three, four years ago, well, let's just say we learned the hard way because we were new entrants and we were the first out of the chute. But it's been fun because at the end of the day, you get to the end of the ride, you say, "What do I really like doing?" And I like building businesses. And so some of that can be in a small business, but also, as businesses get bigger, they're still a collection of small businesses that kind of fly in formation. And so, that's been fun for me. And the private company thing has been fun for me because you just remember back when those public companies became public, then they wish they were private again, so you go around and around. But in the end, you still get a chance to do exciting work and work with great people and have a little fun along the way.

 

Kevin Campbell (04:48):

Yeah. And you also got some not for profits that you have, that you spend some time with, relative to education. You want to tell us-

 

Bill Green (04:57):

Yeah, I've always been grateful for... I won't tell you my rank and in my high school class, but let's just say I was saved by a junior college at the time, and I also learned a lesson there. Because the job of the college, I thought, was to educate. But it's real job was to energize and inspire. And I always say, and I've taken that to my work way of thinking about things is, there's just educate, energize and inspire. Energizing and inspiring people unleashes real power. And so I was one of those kids that had lost his way, and then I got inspired at this school. And so I still do work with the community college system in the US and the college Dean College, which I went to. And I've been on the national board of Year Up for a long time, which works with sort of inner city for the mostly young people, what we call opportunity youth, and essentially gives them training, almost like nine months of boot camp kind of thing.

 

Bill Green (06:15):

It gives them some community college training, it gets them an internship at a big company. And about 78% of this, the statistic right now, of those people get full-time jobs. And so I've been delighted with the progress with that. And recently, of course, with some of the social unrest in the United States, we've gotten a lot of demand as people try to get better balance with inclusiveness and diversity within companies, and then find out, where are these pipelines of entry level talent that are from a diverse people and diverse background that we can get into our workforce? And so I've been spending a lot of time on that, as well.

 

Kevin Campbell (07:03):

So important, right? Because I might've stolen the line from you, but I always say the people with the best team wins.

 

Bill Green (07:11):

Yeah.

 

Kevin Campbell (07:11):

Getting that talent from wherever it comes from is critical.

 

Bill Green (07:15):

Well, and you just find... I mean, in every organization there's trapped talent and our job is to sort of find it. But you realize that in society, there's just really millions of people that can make bigger contributions than they've been able to find their way for an opportunity to do so. And so we have served 30,000 young people so far, but we're trying to get to a place where we can serve 100,000 people a year, which, that's the kind of need there is out there. You just get talented people the right kind of training, and get them in places where they can take responsibility and take charge. So that's good fun.

 

Kevin Campbell (08:04):

Well, with all that, you're keeping yourself pretty busy. How do you still have time for some sailing or motorboating and the grand kids?

 

Bill Green (08:13):

Yeah, no, when I ran Accenture, at least I created my own schedule. Right now all those other entities create my schedule. But I used to say to people, I don't want to have to apologize for the fact that I like to work, because I just do like to work.

 

Kevin Campbell (08:36):

Right.

 

Bill Green (08:37):

But my grandkids are down on the Cape, two of them. And other than this COVID thing, one of them goes to school, so I'm always looking at him, making sure with a stick he's six feet away. But I'm a lucky guy. I got my kids around and active, and the two grandkids and I get the toys out. And we were just chatting earlier about, it's in the 30s here and going to rain on the Cape, but pretty soon it's going to be sunny and the fish are going to be back. So my time is coming.

 

Kevin Campbell (09:14):

That's right. Hey, let's switch and talk a little bit about M&A. You've been involved, it was a lot of M&A, both at Accenture and then the mega mega deal at Dell and EMC, and then as you mentioned on some of your other boards from there. What advice do you have for CEOs as they think about M&A?

 

Bill Green (09:35):

I guess my first thing is always, never lose the ability to grow organically, so I sort of start there. Because when you start having to buy the revenue, rather than create the revenue from your own work, I think in some ways, you lost the plot. And we can think of companies we used to compete against when we were young guys out there banging away, that lost the ability to grow organically. And it was kind of the beginning of the end. Now it can take years, but you lose the plot. That being said, the way change is coming so fast, the ability to accelerate towards the direction you think you need to be strategically, M&A is a great tool. Certainly, the EMC, Dell, it was easy to sort of get the original agreement, and then it takes you a year and a half to close the transaction because these things are a lot of work.

 

Bill Green (10:39):

The bigger they are there, the more complicated the are. You still have to do all the pieces, but maybe not as much at scale. But the other thing is, how do you take the best of each organization? I just went through one with Standard& Poor's, we won't close for nine months, probably. But going through the work, and right now we're in that spot where you say, "What are the really interesting things that they figured out, and how do we learn those? And then how do we also bring in some other people at this part of our management team, which is now extended, and let them lean over and grab the wheel of the bus and turn it a little bit? How do we make sure we listen and learn?"

 

Bill Green (11:30):

And I think, with all these, there's cost synergies and revenue synergies. And the costs are easy to get, but they don't give you the lift that the revenue synergies do. So I'm kind of a revenue synergy guy. I mean, that's kind of where I go, because that's the chance to surge ahead in the market. And it's one of those you want to look back on three years out and say, "That was a really smart thing we did."

 

Kevin Campbell (11:59):

If you do it well, hopefully you find some nuggets in the combination that neither one of you would have had separately.

 

Bill Green (12:06):

Yeah, yeah, no, that's exactly right. And nuggets is the right choice of words. And especially, consistent with the business that you guys are all about and we're all about is the data business. Because in those data businesses are tons of gold nuggets. And more and more companies are essentially managing big data sets, interrogating them for nuggets, and then selling nuggets on the outside to the market. And that's a nice business and it's a subscription business, it's a sustainable business. And interestingly, even the hardware companies this last year have been moving to subscription as a service kind of models. So the ability to be able to accelerate that quickly, the M&A stuff is a good tool. And for the most part, they have great outcomes.

 

Kevin Campbell (13:09):

You mentioned data. And as you've looked at all these transactions and you talk about what we can do with data and how we can go through it, but what generally, any advice on the role of data in a transaction?

 

Bill Green (13:26):

Well, I guess that there's a couple of things that's interesting. One is I think, as we know, that M&A creates opportunity for new entrants to help the company. There's nothing better than an M&A transaction to catalyze a company to do something that it knows it should have been doing in the past, and can now get to it. It doesn't matter kind of how you handle the accounting for it, but it's the chance to surge ahead. And then, on this M&A stuff, it comes down to the data and the people, and people go into the transaction because they want to get into a certain market or it'll be in a creative acquisition or something like that. But in the end, it comes back to the talent and how you get the talent to merge and operates seamlessly.

 

Bill Green (14:24):

And then in the data are the nuggets of gold that you sort of dig around and find. They could be point solutions that you develop for somebody that you then see that you can reuse. But there's just lots of things in there, which, if you do the work, you get the result. It doesn't come without the hard work, but if you do it, it yields and it makes you a better company. And it provides opportunity for people to learn and grow.

 

Kevin Campbell (14:57):

This podcast we've scheduled to air on Thank Your Mentor Day. So first, I want to thank you for being my mentor and friend for over 30 years. Invaluable for me and a lot of what I've been able to-

 

Bill Green (15:12):

Fun for me.

 

Kevin Campbell (15:15):

And as we've talked about before, the role of the mentor is to coach, to listen to, provide experience, to provide some tough love along the way. And I'm not the only one that's benefited from your mentoring, that line is long. Some of them told me to say thanks on behalf of your mentees. Who have been your mentors over the years?

 

Bill Green (15:49):

I was thinking about that. I mean, the first thing is, I've always studied the people I work with. And even in a mentoring relationship, that's not a one way transaction, whether you call it mentoring or whatever. But it's the opportunity to sort of listen, learn and synthesize things you see from people? And you learn, talking about nuggets, you just get people that you could spend hours and hours with them, but it could be one sentence that defines you. You and I had a chance to work for Dick Boyle, who just recently passed away. And Dick used to say, "The harder you work, the luckier you get." I mean, that's all I need to... And I just heard that and we had little acrylic things made with that on there. But it never leaves me. It's like it just lives with you.

 

Bill Green (16:57):

I worked for this guy, Bill Stoddard, who was a hard guy to work for at Accenture. And people used to call me and say, "How did you work for that guy? He's tough as nails." And he was. He was sort of tough, he had the German thing going on and everything else. But what did Stoddard teach me? You don't shit where you eat. I mean, how valuable is that? And so, these little nuggets, because those are the nuggets you take away, but you just watch and you see how people think their way through things. And that's why mentoring is just a two way relationship, just trading notes. I use the term noodle, I'm not sure it's a real word or not, but I use the term noodling on stuff.

 

Kevin Campbell (17:48):

Right.

 

Bill Green (17:48):

And back at Accenture, we always used to say, "Check in. Just check in." And those check-ins are, more than not, kind of mentoring sessions. Just checking your thinking, no agenda, nobody wins and loses. It's just like, let's just process this a little bit and see if we can't come out with a better answer collectively, or a better way forward than you would have by yourself.

 

Kevin Campbell (18:21):

Yeah. Dick Boyle and Bill Stoddard, those are two names that bring back a lot of memories. And as you said, those couple of things that they say, and both of them had positive outlooks on life.

 

Bill Green (18:35):

Oh, yeah.

 

Kevin Campbell (18:36):

No matter what was happening, there was going to be an answer and they were going to get it done.

 

Bill Green (18:41):

Yeah. I mean, I remember. I was thinking about Dick the other day just because he was a partner's partner, as we call it. A great human being and a great professional. And he didn't have to be that deep, content wise, because he just had the human touch. But I remember five years into the firm, I was a young manager, and I went to Dick and I had a job offer from outside of Accenture. And I was going to get a car and I was going to make more money. And I was traveling all the time then, and I was going to... Was a local, an in town assignment, as we used to say in consulting. And I went in to Dick and I said, "Dick, I just got the opportunity. I got this job offer, here's what it is." I told him the whole story.

 

Bill Green (19:33):

And he looked at me and he said, "You know what you have here, you'll make the right decision." When you go in there, you think people are going to say, "Will he offer me more money, or is he going to at least beg me to stay or say, 'Hey, we like your work, what will it take?'"

 

Kevin Campbell (19:52):

Yeah.

 

Bill Green (19:53):

He didn't say any of that. He said, "You know what you have here, you'll make the right decision." And that was all he said. And I left his office, but it was maybe the most profound thing because I thought about, "What did that man mean?" And I thought about, "I work as part of a great team. I do exciting and challenging work. I can trust the people that I work with. They have my back all the time. If I have an issue, they'll surround me to help me." And I thought my way through it, and over my career, just too many people, it's easy to think what you don't have, instead of what you do have.

 

Bill Green (20:32):

And after that, I never looked for a job outside of the firm. I just kept reminding myself, "God, I do exciting and challenging work. I work with really smart and talented people. We're doing good stuff. Our customers love us. We're still a lot of runway left to make this a bigger, more successful business. Why would I want to go do something else?" And as you know, the people thing is power, right? I mean, the people that, you'd give your lives for each other. And that stuff, you can't find that out there in the big world.

 

Kevin Campbell (21:15):

Yeah. That's exactly right. I think too often, people don't recognize it when they have it, and then when they don't have it anymore, they say, "Yeah, I-" [crosstalk 00:21:26]

 

Bill Green (21:27):

And so, here's a guy who... And so you think about that, he let me come to the conclusion. He didn't tell me what I had, he let me think about it. And those are the kinds of healthy things that you really benefit from.

 

Kevin Campbell (21:44):

With all the demands on your time, how do you figure out how much you can do, how much time you can spend talking to people? I mean, I've never seen you say no, so how do you do that, how do you sort through that?

 

Bill Green (22:01):

Yeah. I mean, it was more complex at the beginning when I had first retired, but then he kind of just say, "What do I need in my world? What's the intellectual stimulation, what's the physical stimulation? What are the things I just have passion for?" And yet, some of the things that... Well, I always wanted to be like Eric Clapton or Jimi Hendrix, or somebody, a guitar god. But then I joined Accenture and I have 60 guitars, but I can't play them any better than I could play them back when I joined Accenture. And so, I love the guitar thing, but it has a small spot in the brain, and it hasn't had a big enough spot in order for me to get any better. But you sort of move from profit to passion, and you move from money to meaning and things.

 

Bill Green (23:11):

Some things that I sort of have figured out, what makes me go? And then this give back thing, I think is a big deal, it's an important deal. And more importantly, there's a lot of ways to do it. It doesn't have to be about money, it can just be about looking after a couple of young people that you know. And I get great pleasure from it, and I think it keeps me relevant. And the questions from the young people keep you sharp. Every once in a while you remind yourself that they weren't born when I started at Accenture, but when that's okay.

 

Kevin Campbell (23:57):

Yeah.

 

Bill Green (23:58):

Yeah, I mean, we're fast friends anyways.

 

Kevin Campbell (24:02):

Yeah. No, that's awesome. And I think your points on meaning, and it's really about the journey and the people we meet along the way, and the conversations you have along the way that make it really special.

 

Bill Green (24:16):

Yeah. I mean, I look back and I get this a lot now, and I get it when people are going to leave a big company and then decide what to do. And especially if they're going to work with a smaller company or something. And like GTY, this company that Joe Tucci and I started, I just want to look back with pride and say, "Did some good stuff, met some great young people, gave them my best advice. And they took it to somewhere I couldn't have even fathomed."

 

Kevin Campbell (24:52):

Right.

 

Bill Green (24:53):

And it kind of gets back to some of the early core values that you learn in the workplace. I mean, you learn the words of some of these values, but you don't learn what they really mean until you spend time in the work environment.

 

Kevin Campbell (25:14):

Right.

 

Bill Green (25:16):

And then you start to get an appreciation for it. And at the end of the day, I remember when I told one of my clients I was going to be the chairman of Accenture, I was going to step down as CEO, just be the chairman. And he said to me, "You don't want to be there for that part." And I thought it was... And this was Ben Vervain who ran Alcatel at the time, he was at British Telecom before, you probably know the name.

 

Kevin Campbell (25:50):

Yeah.

 

Bill Green (25:51):

And he's a Dutchman, so he just serves it up to you. And then when I left Accenture, he said, "What are you going to do?" I said, "Maybe I'll do another gig, Ben." And he said, "Bill, you've got nothing left to prove and nobody left to prove it to." But think about that. It was just being out in the flow, chatting with people. And those words were profound. "Bill, you ran the big company thing, tick. You've got plenty of runway and you got lots of stuff that you can do." And it's those things that help you see your way through the backstretch, I think.

 

Kevin Campbell (26:42):

Yeah. I think that's awesome. The last question I always like to ask people is, what's the best career advice you've ever gotten?

 

Bill Green (26:51):

Well, I think I go back to the Dick story, just him saying, "You know what you have here." And it was sort of like when we used to, in the late '70s and the '80s when people wanted to move their factories to the South, you'd say, "Well, shouldn't you figure out how good you could get it here in Connecticut before you move it down there?"

 

Kevin Campbell (27:18):

Right.

 

Bill Green (27:19):

So I think the best advice is just sort of taking stock. And I always said at Accenture, the line between being criticized and being challenged is really thin. But for good people, in your company and Accenture, criticism causes people to go on defensive. Challenge causes people to raise their game.

 

Bill Green (27:51):

And so just how you communicate, how you say things. If you take that, and then having a sense for what you do have where you work. The relationships, the stuff you learn. The fact that it's safe, the fact that it's okay to say you don't know how to do something and ask for help. Those sort of things in the world today are really precious. And so to me, I always... Lots of people when they're going to graduate from Accenture check in with me, and we always start there.

 

Kevin Campbell (28:30):

Right.

 

Bill Green (28:32):

What's the stuff that you have that really works for you? And then, for my whole work life, I've had fun every day. And even in the recessions and the downturns and the lawsuits and the write-offs at the National Health Service in the UK, I mean, I can think of all these things that really tested me. But at the end of the day, I looked back and I had fun every day. And I had pride that we did good stuff. And then the people that I tried to help along the way have outperformed my wildest expectation for what was possible. And that's just the human condition, right? That's picking people and invest in them and then letting them run and getting out of the way. Set the guard rails, but as long as they're heading in the right direction, there's a lot of ways to get there.

 

Kevin Campbell (29:32):

And let them run. Well Bill, thanks for being on the podcast, and thanks for everything you do for me and for Syniti. It's very much appreciated. And you-

 

Bill Green (29:44):

I'm delighted with what's happened, just total transformation. We talk about transformation, small T all the time. But Syniti is big T transformation and it has that secret sauce, which is, you and I came from a place that had special sauce. And I feel that in Syniti every time I talk to anybody up or down. And that's power, because we used to say, "Our competitors can copy everything we do, but they cannot copy our secret sauce." And I think you guys have that too, and that's just raw power. And that means, as you always say, the best is yet to come.

 

Kevin Campbell (30:32):

Thanks, Bill.

 

Bill Green (30:33):

All right, my pleasure.

 

Kevin Campbell (30:34):

Thanks audience, for tuning in. And tune into our next episode in a couple of weeks on CEO to CEO. Everybody have a great day.

About the Author

Kevin Campbell

CEO, Syniti

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