Issue 03 of our print magazine is available to buy now

Issue 03 is available to buy now

Vincent Clancy: Can Professional Services Firms Transform into Purpose-Led Organisations?
LeadershipWork

Vincent Clancy: Can Professional Services Firms Transform into Purpose-Led Organisations?

Charles Wookey speaks to Vincent Clancy, CEO of Turner & Townsend, to explore how he led a highly profitable and successful professional services consultancy into becoming purpose-led.

A Blueprint for Better Business are an independent charity whose purpose is to create a better society through better business. They help business to be inspired and guided by a purpose that benefits society and respects people and planet. Their podcast series, hosted by their former CEO Charles Wookey, explores the challenges and complexities of creating and running a purpose-led business.

Vincent Clancy is the CEO and Chairman of Turner & Townsend, a global consultancy business serving clients in the real estate, infrastructure and natural resources sectors. Charles Wookey speaks to Vincent to explore how he led a highly profitable and successful professional services consultancy into becoming purpose-led. They discuss the realities and challenges of embedding meaningful purpose in a global consultancy business with over 10,000 people in 48 countries.

“When you see talent flourish and when you see the people you’ve invested in getting success, that brings a lot of joy.”

This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.

Why do you do what you do? 

I’ve been in construction for a long time and I love the industry.  My father was a builder, so a lot of my younger life was spent joining him at building sites. He was an immigrant from Ireland and a lot of his relatives were in the building industry. I became fascinated by the whole ecosystem. I loved the fact there was a real substance to the industry – you actually produced something very visible and concrete.

How did your personal purpose evolve?

Someone once told me that you spend your first third of your life learning, your second doing, and you’re third giving something back. Certainly my early career was very much about progression and ambition, but as I got older and more successful, you do tend to look at life from a much wider perspective.

The success and impact of the business and the people around you becomes more important. When you see talent flourish and when you see the people you’ve invested in getting success, that brings a lot of joy. But legacy has become really important to me – it’s about what I can leave behind.

What was it that got you to think about this whole wider area of being a purpose-led company? 

It was a serendipitous moment for me. At the time Ian Powell, an ex-senior partner of PWC was giving me some advice and acting as a bit of a mentor to me. I brought him through our “Great Vision for 2025” strategy one day. He said to me, “that’s brilliant, but what’s your purpose?”, to which I replied that “the strategy is our purpose”. But Ian explained that I was showing him what we were going to do – not our purpose. We had to be able to explain our actions in the context of purpose. 

“To have something that could act as our golden thread and be our North Star really appealed to me.”

That’s when I started to dig deeper and I realised how having a purpose would be a great unifier for the culture of the business. We were dispersed across 45 markets for a diverse set of industries and clients; to have something that could act as our golden thread and be our North Star really appealed to me. 

You uncover your purpose rather than creating it. We already cared about lots of things as a company – impact, ethics, relationships – but we dealt with it all separately. Purpose helped us to bring them all back together.

How has becoming purpose-led changed how you measure and manage things? 

We have to evolve the time horizon over which we measure success. Anything that has real meaning and is purposeful and substantial, you need time. Purpose fights against the relentlessness of short-term pressures. For example, our investment in Africa – we’re not expecting to make a lot of returns in the short term. But we decide on it based on the impact we want to have and the problems that Africa is facing. It may be generations ahead of us but we will benefit. 

In terms of management, without purpose you can be very fragmented in your decision making; when there was a decision about finance, you would wear your finance hat, when there was a decision about our people we’d reach for our people hat. I think the biggest change for me is how we operate less in those silos, while everyone is starting to look through a common set of lenses. 

Is it harder to make this transition in a professional services firm? 

The partnership and ownership structure of professional services companies can prioritise short-term thinking over long-term. Often they are federations rather than companies, and getting alignment within that context is harder.

However, any progressive professional services company knows that customers, and more importantly their talent expect them to be purposeful, have social value and operate ethically. If firms don’t adapt, I don’t think they’ll survive.