Interview with Liz Tinkham, Former Senior Managing Partner, Accenture

  • By: joannafurlong
  • Posted: May 5, 2017

Brutally honest? A straight-shooter? Whatever you want to call Liz Tinkham, she’s real. She offers unique insights into how to manage your life (and its trade-offs), make difficult career decisions, and rise above the stress of a high-powered career.

We’re thrilled that Liz will be speaking at Girls in Tech Catalyst, June 20-22 in San Francisco. Join us so you can see her live!

How does retirement feel after a 33-year run with Accenture?

Weird. Being out during the day is strange. It’s much less crowded! I’ve had an extremely nervous stomach lately; I’ve had dreams I’m missing my final exams. Maybe I feel guilty I’m not working. I’ve worked since I was 12 years old. I think of this time like a break versus a vacation. I had a 7 x 24 kind of job at Accenture. I don’t miss the pressure, but I certainly miss the people.

What was a typical day like for you at Accenture managing $800M in sales and revenue?

Every day was different, and I liked that. A lot of times I was out of town at client meetings, or just in meetings to prepare for the client meetings. Those meetings took up most of my day. We were always preparing. And usually throughout each day I had one to two calls with the global leadership team, located all over the world, plus one-on-one meetings with those on my team every day.

How did you manage your stress in such a high-pressure environment?

Exercise helped a lot, and I got better at it as I got older. And then I always came back to the worst-case scenario. I’d always ask myself, “What is the worst thing that could happen?” And of course, that’s someone dying and that’s not going to happen. Thinking this way always brought me back to what’s really important and it helped me to get through the stress.

I’m also a talker. I believe in always talking things out. It always helps to get everyone into the room.

Did you ever think you would do something like this for your career? When you were younger, “what did you want to be when you grew up?”

I wanted to be an astronaut. I studied aerospace engineering in college, it was a hard major. And the only way to see it through was to take it all the way to a PhD. I was just so tired, but I knew I had to work to make money. I had friends at the time at Arthur Anderson, and they encouraged me to try consulting.

What advice do you have for other women who read this that want to go into a consulting career like you?

First, if you don’t like change, this career is probably not for you. You need to be very adaptable to change. You’re always at the whim of your clients, and you learn ways to deal with that. If you’re the type that likes to know what you’re going to be doing next week and hates the unknown, it’s probably not for you.

How do you manage it all? Even retired, you’re very active.

It’s a lot to juggle. Towards the end of my career, I thought about what’s next for me. I looked forward. The bad thing that can happen to a lot of women once they have kids is that they cut out hobbies and extra activities. I teach at the University of Washington, which I find very fulfilling. I’m going through the process of reprioritizing my life. My family comes first and now giving back comes next, and then I’d like to be involved in advisory roles and potentially consider working again.

You’ve been a passionate advocate for the advancement of women and minorities. How did this play out during your time at Accenture?

I didn’t explicitly think about it, I did my best to promote people regardless of gender or race. I was often the only woman in the room. I got to be very good at calling people out. I looked at myself as though I was in a class with my brothers. We collaborated. I could talk to them; I could tell them to knock it off. . . As I became more and more senior, I became very vocal about this issue. I found it disgraceful how few women are at the top.

If you could back up time, is there anything you would do differently?

In my 40s I would have found a good external mentor. I had great mentors at Accenture, but I would have found someone on the outside.

What’s the number one soft skill women need to work better at to be successful today?

A sense of humor. You need to be adaptable.

What’s one thing that not many people know about you?

I’m a big Star Wars fan.

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