Accenture CFO and Smeal alumna leads with an eye to the future

August 30, 2021

(Editor’s note: This is the fifth installment in Smeal’s ongoing Women in Business series.)

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — According to a 2018 study published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the typical worker stays at a job for just over four years. Penn State Smeal College of Business alumna KC McClure is a rare exception.

While her title and responsibilities have changed multiple times over the years, she has spent her entire career — more than 30 years — with the same company since graduating from Smeal in 1987.

A photo of KC McClure, chief financial officer of Accenture.

KC McClure, the chief financial officer at Accenture, graduated from Penn State's Smeal College of Business in 1987. She was appointed to the Smeal Board of Visitors earlier this year. In that role, she said she hopes to "infuse the voice and perspective of a large entity that is on the forefront of change."

IMAGE: Provided

She joined former “Big Five” accounting firm Arthur Andersen, and then moved to Andersen Consulting when it was established as a separate business unit. In 2001, Andersen Consulting was renamed Accenture, a global professional services company with leading capabilities in digital, cloud, and security with more than half a million people around the world.

McClure was named Accenture’s chief financial officer in January 2019, with responsibility for the company’s corporate controllership, treasury, tax, investor relations, financial reporting and analysis, strategic planning and analysis and corporate development functions.

She has been a member of Smeal’s Accounting External Advisory Board since 2017 and was appointed to the Smeal Board of Visitors earlier this year.

“What I hope to do is infuse the voice and perspective of a large entity that is on the forefront of change — one that hires a lot of people from diverse backgrounds — into the academic environment so that Smeal students are equipped with the skills employers are demanding from their workforce,” she said.

In 2020, she was named the No. 1 IT services CFO in Institutional Investors’ annual survey of the sector’s equity analysts and institutional investors. While she said she was honored to be recognized, she was quick to share credit with her colleagues.

“I think it’s a nice indication that the way we’re operating and the way we’re communicating with our investors and our financial analysts is on the right course,” she said. “I’m really proud of that.”

McClure said she recognized how unusual it was for someone to spend their entire career with one employer. She said she feels lucky to have found a company that has always challenged her and allowed her to grow professionally.

“When I came out of school, it was all detailed, manual work that seemed rudimentary to me. Now we are working alongside machines to do that work,” McClure said.

“Automation, machine learning, and predictive analytics are just beginning to scratch the surface of what is possible. Accenture is reimagining the finance and accounting profession, with a focus on planning, advising and analyzing," she added. "We need people to be thinking about strategy, so as much as we can free up capacity by automating routine things, we’re doing that."

McClure said that, for today’s professionals, it is vital to be relevant, innovative, and inspiring as a leader.

“That means embracing technology and being ready for change,” she said.

McClure said she believes that being able to connect everyone through technology — something that was well underway before the COVID-19 pandemic caused companies to rapidly shift how they did business last year — is creating a new global business community.

“It makes good sense to develop yourself and your business to have a global approach and an understanding of other cultures. That’s something that is only going to be more important for students coming out of school today,” she said.

“At Accenture, we help our clients think about what is coming next and position them for the future. That’s even more important now because of the transformation that technology and the world are going through. You have to be prepared to continually learn and change.”

She said she hopes to bring that focus to her work with the Smeal College Board of Visitors.

“I see my role as and helping to infuse that change into the academic environment. That means equipping young people for today’s workplace,” she said. For the accounting industry, she explained, that means “technology, technology, technology.”  

Although she recognizes just how important it is for business students and professionals to embrace technology and to remain on the leading edge, she said that it is just as important to remember basic business fundamentals.

In her experience, she said people tend to get caught up using the latest buzzwords instead of talking about their business in simple terms.

“People need to understand: How do we make money? When do we make money? Where is the profit? When do we get paid? Who takes the risk? If you are going to talk to me about your business, explain it to me in a concise and simple-to-understand way,” McClure said.

She said that helps make sure things are fundamentally sound, which she sees as a way to eliminate risk. She said it also helps to level the playing field, regardless of your years of experience, which creates a more inclusive environment.

McClure has also been a passionate advocate for diversity and inclusion.

She said that she sees a fair balance between men and women who are hired into entry-level accounting positions in the industry, however there is a notable difference in how women are promoted up through an organization. According to a 2020 Mercer review of women in senior leadership positions in North America, just 29% of senior management roles and 23% of executive roles are filled by women.

“My parents raised me to believe that I was no better than anyone else but also that nobody is better than me. When it came to my career, I always believed ‘Why can’t it be me?’ and I worked hard so that I could have the opportunity for it to be me,” she said. “But I also want those opportunities to be there for others.”

Accenture stands out as a leader in gender diversity, with 12 women, including McClure, on the company’s executive leadership team.

While Accenture has publicly stated its commitment to a gender-balanced workforce by 2025, McClure said that racial and ethnic diversity is something else that is critically important to promote diversity in the broadest sense, and in 2020 the company published ambitious goals to further diversify its workforce. In a company with more than half a million people in 120 countries, she said it is widely believed that a variety of cultures, beliefs and backgrounds makes Accenture stronger and more innovative.

The company has directed its efforts to include gender, ethnicity, LGBT, religion, persons with disabilities and cross-cultural diversity.

“Diversity is part of our core values. It is also good business,” McClure said. “Studies show that you get better ideas when you have a diverse workforce, and so we want people to come here and just be who they are. We know we’ll be better for it.”

McClure said that a national reckoning over racial relations in America, coupled with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, has helped her refine her leadership skills.

“Empathy is integral to leadership, particularly over the last year,” McClure said. “You never know what someone is going through, so I always presume they’re coming in with good intentions.”

In addition to being an empathetic leader, McClure cites her natural curiosity as one of her greatest strengths.

“In a business where things change rapidly, you have to continue to learn and grow, and that’s been part of the fun for me. I love to learn new things,” she said.

We invite you to nominate women in your own Smeal network who have a unique story to share. Email Anne Louise Cropp, associate director of development communications, at all109@psu.edu.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated August 30, 2021