Interview with Phil Walker, former COO of Capgemini

Phil Walker

Phil Walker has had an impressive career to date. Following 20 years in the City and 6 years as Chief Operating Officer of Capgemini, Phil founded a niche firm that helps companies radically improve their sales and customer acquisition. In addition, he is an advisor to a number of SME’s in the UK and the Caribbean. He was a partner in PA Consulting and IBM and has had senior roles at Xerox and Dell. He is recognised as an expert in making organisations more customer orientated and has been quoted in the Financial Times, Management Today and other noted journals. Phil also sits as a judge on the Management Consulting Association and is an advisor to London University. 

We spoke to Phil in October 2016 about his career in the City of London, his approach to change, and Brexit.


You’ve had an interesting career journey to date Phil, for this interview we want to focus on change, what has been your approach to change in your career?

PW: Thank you for the compliment. I’d like to say that I had a cunning plan. The reality is and was, that opportunities tend to present themselves if you have a profile in the marketplace. I started writing about CRM when I was a partner at PA Consulting and got offered a senior role with IBM. After IBM, I was offered the COO role at Capgemini. I have rarely written a job application. Anthropologists tell us that change is good. Humans respond to change and challenge. It produces adrenalin and keeps you alert.

If you were Theresa May, what would your priorities for Brexit be?

PW: I am fortunate to have met Theresa May and I think she is a hugely capable person. Her challenge is to keep her party and the business community onside. This will be a tough balancing act. My focus would be on driving a strong economy. This gives you tax revenues to spend on initiatives such as infrastructure and housing that are solely needed. The challenge is time. We are in a period of internecine political power games in many parts of the Western world.  Her own party may not give her breathing space. Hence the odd announcement about Grammar Schools, to placate parts of her party and parts of the country.

How much of a shock do you think businesses are in for? For either hard or soft Brexit?

PW: Firstly, I think there will be three options for Brexit: hard, soft and some compromise between these two extremes. In terms of shock, we have a lot more to come. We have not experienced Brexit yet, but the portents are not good in the short term. If you read the European press we are in for a tough time. If you look at the history of the City of London we will tough it out and then thrive.

What does Brexit mean for global alliances with countries outside of the EU?

PW: There is some evidence that BRIC economies and the Commonwealth are putting plans in place to renew trade with the UK once they leave the constraints of the EU. If you look at the economic size of the Commonwealth, it represents £5.7Trillion in potential trade. The challenge is the speed with which we can unwind from current trade deals and form new ones. Some of these deals will take years to put in place.

If you were a large, global business today, what would you be doing to prepare for Brexit?

PW: Firstly, large global businesses have been dealing with BRIC economies for some time. Growth has been outside of Europe for many firms for over ten years. Europe has been critical for innovation and “soft power”, but manufacturing has been in lower cost countries. The irony is that Europe has been fighting back as a manufacturing base by using smart technology and innovation. Global businesses will view Brexit as another complexity that they could well do without, but it is probably item three or four at Global Board meetings.

How do you think countries outside of the UK and the EU view Brexit?

PW: I have just returned from the US and the Caribbean. Firms are viewing Brexit with a mixture of amusement and concern. They think it is a quintessentially British mess up that will be a huge distraction for the British public, but it will be worked through in the end. “What have you gained?” is the most common question.

The Western world is in a state of flux at the moment, what with Brexit and the US elections. Do business need to be ready with a political change agenda on an ongoing basis?

PW: A great question and one that demands a serious answer. There are three drivers to this “state of flux” that you mention.

- Globalisation: Jobs have been moving out to lower cost regions for over 50 years. The impact has been the hollowing out, not just of low-cost manufacturing jobs, but many middle-income administration jobs that are now done in Warsaw, Mumbai and Guangdong.

- Digital is accelerating this change: the fact that you can search, bank and buy on your phone means that someone, somewhere is now out of a job that used to provide these services. We are at the start of this digital revolution and whist some new jobs will be created many more will be lost.

- Inequality: Most low and middle-income earners have not had a significant pay rise in the last ten years. The top 1% have seen their pay treble over the same period. Does this matter? Yes. Part of the convulsion that you are seeing around the world is a response to these three drivers that people are struggling to understand. This is the first time in the past 50 years when middle-income workers are worse off than their parents, cannot afford a home and know that the future is tough. People are looking for answers to these macro changes.

Businesses will need a change agenda, but not a political one. I think planning for the three scenarios as described above, with a little help from TORI is the way to go. In the 70’s, Shell devised a method of scenario planning in the advent of an oil crisis. You do not wait for the crisis, but you have a few scenarios in the event that sooner or later stuff happens. That is what companies need to do.