Julie Sweet of Accenture Could See Her Future. So She Quit Her Job.

Here is David Gelles’ profile of Julie Sweet for The New York Times. To read the complete article and check out other resources, please click here.

Credit: Greg Kahn for The New York Times

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As the chief executive for North America at Accenture, a consulting firm with 469,000 employees, Ms. Sweet runs a business with annual revenue of $17.8 billion. Her clients include Marriott, Halliburton and the Golden State Warriors.

Yet Ms. Sweet has rarely been content with the status quo. As a young lawyer, she learned firsthand what it was like to be one of the few women at a top-tier law firm. At Accenture, she has made promoting women a top priority, setting aggressive targets for gender parity across the company and pushing to move more women into the executive ranks.

Last year, Ms. Sweet participated in the New Rules Summit, a conference hosted by The New York Times. There, I interviewed her onstage about effective ways to level the playing field for women. Later in the day, we hosted a working group with conference attendees about how to create an inclusive workplace culture. Throughout, Ms. Sweet was frank in diagnosing the challenges that professional women face, and refreshingly pragmatic.

This interview, which was edited and condensed for clarity, was conducted at Accenture’s offices in New York City.

What was your childhood like?

I grew up in Orange County, Calif., in a little town called Tustin. There’s a sign that says, “Work where you must, but live and shop in Tustin.” My dad painted cars for a living. He didn’t graduate from high school. My mom was a beautician in her early days, and then my parents decided that one of them needed to go to school in order to build the future. So my mom started going to college when I was in eighth grade, and she graduated when I was a freshman in college.

What was your first job?

I worked starting when I was 14. I was the reservationist at the Elizabeth Howard dinner theater. They had never hired someone in high school, let alone a 14-year-old. But Elizabeth was so impressed that I was this young woman coming in looking for a job, she hired me and gave me a chance.

This was during the Reagan recession. My parents were struggling financially, and when I was in seventh grade I was growing so fast they could only buy one pair of pants at a time, because they kept having to replace them. By the time I got to high school, if I could work, then I could buy my own clothes.

Did you work during college too?

The summer after my freshman year I took a job at this company called Phone Buy. I was the assistant to the president, and he told me to hire a receptionist. I did all the interviews and hired this woman, and she was not very good. After two weeks, she just didn’t show up, and $200 was missing from my wallet. I remember the president said to me, “Julie, I know that $200 is a lot of money for you, but I’m not going to repay you. You were in charge. You interviewed her. You hired her. She was a bad hire. And you need to remember that.”

Why did you go to law school?

I decided that I wanted to be a lawyer in eighth grade. I had no lawyers in my family, obviously. When I was a senior in college, one of my professors said to me, “Julie, have you ever met a lawyer?” I said, “No.” He said, “Before you sign the papers to incur a lot of debt, I’d at least like to know that you’ve met a lawyer.” So he set me up with an informational interview. And then I went to Columbia Law School, and then straight from Columbia to Cravath, Swaine & Moore.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

David Gelles writes the Corner Office column and other features for The New York Times’s Sunday Business section, To learn more about him and his work, please click here.

To learn more about him and his work, please click here.


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