DELOITTE CONSULTING M.D. THIRU PILLAY

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DELOITTE is a brand under which over 270000 dedicated professionals in a network of firms throughout the world collaborate to provide audit, consulting, financial advisory, risk advisory, tax and related services to select clients.

 

The South African Professional Services Academy (SAPSA) spoke to Managing Director of the Consulting business at Deloitte Africa about his personal, professional and entrepreneurial journey thus far.

 

Tell us your brief history; academic, professional to your role TODAY

 

I was born and raised in Shallcross, which is right next to Chatsworth in Durban. Although I was raised in a very modest context, my parents and grandmother instilled a great sense of self-belief and hard work at an early age.  I had early exposure to leadership and responsibilities when I became the head boy in both primary and high school. I became Vice-Chairman of the house committee of my residence at the University of Witwatersrand in 1990, the year I enrolled for a Mechanical Engineering degree. I was one of four Indians in a residence of about 400 boys – and got to live diversity – as for the first time I was living with the real diversity of our country. Things got too hectic when I became a member of the Student Representative Council, and I failed my third year of studies and got excluded.

I got a job as a Technician for an Eskom power station in a small town in Mpumalanga called Rietkuil. I was in a low-level role in overalls and safety shoes– it was a great learning experience and an awakening to the real world. It was also a unique glimpse into the economy and how things work (when you switch on the lights at home, I know exactly where that comes from). To be accepted back to university after the exclusion was a mission. I was lucky to secure 30-minutes with then Deputy-Vice Chancellor Professor Malegapuru Makgoba, who allowed me back into the Engineering Faculty. This changed my life and I am very grateful to him for that. I completed my studies while contracting as an independent contractor to Eskom (this funded my life and studies).

 

In 1997, I became the founder and leader with three other partners of an operations improvement consulting business, Khulisa Management and Engineering. This is where I developed my business management and consulting skills and where I got to test myself as an entrepreneur.  I worked with clients across industries on projects in areas like operations improvement, plant asset management, process re-engineering and strategy. Having started with a 6 page business plan, we grew an amazing team, positioning and culture over four years. We were a pioneering 100% black owned consulting firm. We eventually sold the company to Deloitte with whom we had developed a good business relationship.

 

What does it mean to you that your colleagues have entrusted you with the position of MD of Consulting at Deloitte Africa?

 

Deloitte is one of the world’s leading professional services organisations. It is a tremendous responsibility and great privilege to serve the firm and work alongside our executive committee (Exco) and my colleagues in Consulting and the broader firm. I have found the role enormously rewarding from both a local and global perspective. I value the relationships, the energy and the people and culture. It is a special place. I have been running the Consulting practice for the past six years across our 14 country member firm. I have also had Exco responsibility for our Corporate Finance business until May 2018. I have had a unique exposure to doing business in Africa as we drove our integration to become one firm. It has also been hugely rewarding to serve on the Global Consulting Executive and to have served a stint as Chief Innovation Officer. Prior to my current role, I built and ran our Strategy and Operations practice over six years, establishing what is now the leading business in this segment in the market.

 

What would you like to have achieved by the end of your term?

 

There is no specific tenure for the role. I guess you serve for as long as you have the passion, energy, relevance and acceptance by the organisation in the role. My overall belief about leadership roles is that you should aim to leave the business better than you found it and ensure its sustainability long after you have left. The business must also have made an impact on its leaders, people and clients. I would like to see us recognised by our clients and the market as undisputed leaders in the business consulting industry in Africa and making an impact on their most critical issues. Some of the key outcomes at the end of my term should include a culture that is strong and special, a robust Africa footprint, and we are futureproof with regards to our business model, services and impact in the fourth Industrial Revolution. I am still energised and believe I can make an impact – I need to define what is next for me. My belief is that the key to the next step is to do your best at what you currently do.

 

How you would describe your management and leadership styles?

 

I like to build things and change the game versus maintain the status quo. Organisations and people must have a belief in something bigger than revenue and operations…they need to be inspired. I am a firm believer that we are building a movement with like-minded people that buy into a dream and purpose together. I like to lead from the front and believe that the role of the leader is to set a collective vision, build a strong leadership team and culture, put energy into the system and drive execution. I am hands on and believe that you cannot build a business if you don’t have passion for it and understand the detail. Relationships and engagement are important to ensure alignment – so I like to be connected at deeper levels and not be transactional. I also expect my fellow leaders to get on with the job knowing that I am right next to them. I believe that we are in this together at all levels, most importantly at the level of who we are and what we stand for – our values, and that we should all be authentic and honest at all times.

 

What makes you tick or keeps you awake at night with respect to your position as MD Consulting in Africa?

 

I always challenge myself to do my best and ask myself “whether I have done justice to my role today”. Have I done my best and have I earned my right to be a leader? I am inspired by the purpose and ambition of Deloitte and humbled by the great people and scale. I want to make an impact and contribution that counts. This is after all my life’s work at this point, noting that I have been Director at Deloitte for 17 years. We have a very strong leadership team that I trust implicitly. Some of the issues on my mind would be the support our leaders need to be successful and progress with the transformational things to ensure we are stronger for the future and we don’t repeat previous mistakes. Effective execution is also something I worry about. This is the key to success and progress. The recent brand damaging events in the professional services industry and concern about integrity and ethics are top of mind for leaders in my industry.

 

How do you take part in mentoring others?             

 

This is key to building a strong culture and organisation. People give me a lot of energy and purpose. I think that coaching and mentorship are the ideal leadership models in our context. My interactions with my leadership team are often mentorship discussions. I also make time for conversations with colleagues and team members. We have had structured mentorship programmes over the years and continue to do so. I have found these extremely fulfilling, watching leaders grow. Deloitte has a great culture of mentorship and people development.

 

If you had to relate a couple of experiences, what would be the highs and what would be the lows of your working career?

 

Highs:

  • Being the founding member of a consulting business in 1997 was a defining moment. This was a leap of faith that kicked off my career in business and consulting and established a spirit of entrepreneurship and self-belief as a leader. I know that I can do it.
  • Being made a Partner at Deloitte at the age of 29.
  • Building our Strategy & Operations practice at Deloitte from a small group to a meaningful business that was able to compete with the mainstream players. Subsequent leaders have taken that business to even greater heights.
  • Leading client teams and delivering client impact is always hugely fulfilling. It is enormously validating to experience impact with clients. You also learn from your clients.
  • Playing a role in the establishment of Deloitte Capital into a leading Mergers and Acquisition practice in the industry and its early success.

Lows:

 

  • Losing a major deal that we have worked hard on is always disappointing.
  • Dealing with poor leadership behaviour.
  • Missing your budget or plan. While you can be resilient, it is not a good thing for the team spirit and can knock business momentum.

What accolades have you and your organisation received recently?

 

Our global and local business have received too many accolades to mention them all. We are a recognized leader by a wide range of analysts in most areas of business consulting including the various domains of digital transformation. The firm has also received numerous awards. A happy client who believes we have made an impact is perhaps the best accolade.

 

 

How has the firm fared in terms of achieving its business growth objectives?

 

I believe that we have done very well in a tough market. We are among the leaders in most categories. A key focus for Consulting Africa is the digital transformation agenda of our clients across all areas of their organisations (public and private sector). The macroeconomic environment has not been favourable over the last few years to support revenue growth. Despite that, we have performed well, especially with our new digital service offerings. We have also invested a lot in leadership, capability enhancements and new solutions over the last few years and look forward to the growth impact of these investments in the coming years.

 

Through what means does the organisation ensure that the firm maintains elevated level of ethics and integrity?

 

Ethics and integrity are fundamental to our brand and culture, and are the pillar and the compass that determine the way we lead. Not just at executive level, but at the level of everyday service by everybody who has earned the right and the privilege to be part of the world of Deloitte. Integrity is a founding global shared value of Deloitte. Our values are the very essence of the way we do business at Deloitte no matter the role. It starts with who we recruit into our business and in our governance, management, learning and development processes. We also have embedded processes throughout the organisation with a dedicated risk, independence, quality and ethics function. It is inherent in the way we behave, engage, and deliver services.

 

Is transformation considered a key objective at the firm, and if so, how is it attended to?

 

Transformation, diversity and inclusion are fundamental to our strategy as Deloitte Africa. We have an explicit goal to be 51% black owned in South Africa by June 2020. We are already a Level 1 BEE contributor. We have a tremendous focus on this in the Consulting business. Our black ownership in Consulting is currently 43% and we are very confident of achieving the 51% goal by 2020. We also have a drive to develop women in leadership. The firm’s goal is to have 35% women ownership by 2020. While we have made progress, we have a lot of work to do at the senior levels.

 

Kindly highlight some recent contributions by the firm to the community and to the relevant professions your professionals are a part of.

 

Deloitte is driven by a global purpose, one defining statement of who we are – to make an impact that matters. Every year, we have Impact Day where our people across the globe contribute one working day to making a real difference, a positive and sustainable impact to our communities. We are involved in several non-profit organisations. An example is our long-standing relationship with the African Children’s Feeding Scheme. This brings the social consciousness and our core values home and re-enforces our culture.

 

How does the firm ensure that professionalism and good customer service are upheld?

 

These attributes are fundamental to our DNA. We are clear that we exist to make an impact on clients. I like to describe our consulting culture as ‘humble-confidence’. We are an entrepreneurial and innovation led culture that is values driven and client centric. We are the people that clients want to work with.

 

Professionalism, client centricity and energy are key things we look for in our recruitment process. Our learning and development journeys in the firm also focus a lot on enhancing these attributes and capabilities throughout one’s career.

 

When you not at work, what do you get up to and where can people follow you online?

 

I have a wide range of interests and enjoy the outdoors. I’m a keen cyclist – both on and off-road and have, for example, completed 13 consecutive 94.7 cycling challenges and 11 Cape Argus rides. I also sometimes ride a super bike and enjoy watersports and skiing with my wife Ashika and our 3 sons who are 9, 15 and 18 years old. I am currently learning to fly a helicopter. I enjoy reading across a wide range of topics. I do Pilates once or twice a week and have a daily meditation routine. I believe spirituality is key to who we are and how we live.

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