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An Insider's Perspective on Growth Innovation

Accenture Song global chief strategy officer Baiju Shah discusses leadership and what it takes to remain relevant in his Growth Innovation course.

Baiju Shah co-founded Accenture Interactive, a business unit of Accenture, in 2009 because Accenture's clients were challenged by the pace of change. They were looking for a partner to help them grow and stay relevant.

"They needed a partner that did not yet exist," Shah said, "one that would not just be a creative agency, a technology powerhouse, and a business consultancy, but all of them in one."

Baiju ShahThe company rebranded as Accenture Song in 2022, and in 2023 it achieved $18 billion in revenue. As global chief strategy officer, Shah is responsible for the company's global growth strategy, including its vision, market positioning, investments, and acquisitions. He also leads a global team charged with creating what’s next in creativity and technology using innovations like generative artificial intelligence and spatial.

"My focus is helping businesses and their leaders reinvent themselves to find new growth and relevance," he said. "At a time when the pace of change is faster and more furious than ever before, continuous reinvention is crucial."

Shah discusses the need for reinvention in Northwestern's MBA + MS Design Innovation (MMM) program — a dual-degree program between Northwestern Engineering and the Kellogg School of Management — where he teaches Growth Innovation. He recently took time to discuss the course, what it takes to be an effective leader, and why he's an advocate for the MMM program. 

Looking at how Accenture Interactive has grown since you co-founded it, what makes you the most proud?  

We had to merge creative sensibilities (think creative optimism vs. consultant pragmatism) and different disciplines (technology, business strategy, and creative) into a cohesive team. It was fraught with challenges and there were many opportunities to capitulate. I am most proud of our resilience and our creative strategy that turned our vision into reality against the odds, creating our playbook as we went, and reinventing ourselves many times to stay ahead of the market.

Now, we are an $18 billion business, renamed Accenture Song, growing at multiples of the market. But I still think we’re very much a work in progress, and we’re just getting started.

From your perspective, what does it take to be an effective leader? 

The focus of leadership has to be to continuously evolve how people think, feel, and act. Contemporary leadership is more dynamic and complex than ever before and requires empathy, clarity of vision, and most importantly, an ongoing commitment to personal reinvention.

That commitment to personal reinvention acknowledges that what brought us here won't necessarily take us forward. The leaders of today must have the curiosity and humility to be perpetual students. This involves not just being open to new ideas but actively seeking them out, and being willing to challenge one's own assumptions and beliefs. This is easy to say but hard to do. It demands less of a traditional planning mindset and toolset and more of an ongoing discovery mindset and toolset. It is about being comfortable with discomfort.   

At the core, this is what I think MMM is teaching with its multi-disciplinary, experiential learning approach.    

What is it about MMM that you think makes it such a strong program for students who want to grow into innovative leaders?  

Growing up with a mother who was trained as a commercial artist and a father who was an engineer, I learned early on how to blend creativity with practicality, as we navigated new opportunities and challenges as a first-generation family. 

Because of my personal and professional experience, it's my strong belief that there is a massive advantage of having multiple lenses to see the world fully; to understand people and solve for them. I have designed my own career to traverse technology, business strategy, venturing, marketing, and design. As the chief strategist for Accenture Song, I have found it vital to find and bring these perspectives together to form a panoramic view and be able to see around corners in a rapidly changing world. 

I believe MMM students are building a multi-disciplinary foundation to not just understand the rapidly changing world but to shape it.  

What are the most important lessons you hope students walk away from the class having learned? 

These students are facing a world of unrelenting change and uncertainty. Many of the learnings, tools, and methods from their classes will become outdated. So the most important lesson is to prepare to discover and design the path forward, letting go of the tyranny of what was and what is. Doing this requires the development of foundational human traits: creativity, conscience, and confidence.

I find that triad of creativity, conscience, and confidence is so crucial for the students to nurture to be successful in a world without guarantees, to drive meaningful innovation and to lead with integrity.

What do you enjoy about teaching your growth innovation class in MMM?  

The students in MMM are at the intersection of business, design, and engineering, much like my own background. They already have the foundation and the ambition, so my goal is to equip them with the mindset and toolset to see the world through a wider lens, where for instance, innovation isn't just about what you create, but also the values that guide its creation. 

Teaching as part of MMM fuels my optimism for the future. These students are undoubtedly the future leaders of some of the most influential organizations on the planet.

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