Behind the career: Kay Kapoor of Accenture

March 20, 2011

Kay Kapoor

Position: The newly named managing director, U.S. federal practice, of Accenture, a management consulting and technology services company in Reston.

Raised in a small town in India, Kay Kapoor left home to pursue the American dream. Taking advice from friends who noticed the growing information technology industry, she quickly entered IT and spent 20 years at Lockheed Martin. Now she is transitioning to a company that she says “marries everything I had done so far in serving the federal government.”

What key skill did you developed in IT that has helped you get where you are?

I would say that the biggest contributor to my success has been the delivery to my clients. My government clients have always wanted me back and always complimented what I have done and let it be known to my superiors.

I also believe success has come from sometimes saying no. For example, one of my clients asked me to do work that they were going to add money to the contract for me to do. I said I was happy to do it but I warned them of the risk it would have to their organization down the road. I ended up not getting that job. But that person has, to this day, always rewarded me. They knew we were not going to take them for a ride and that we had their best interest at heart. That's how I operated.

You mentioned that as an immigrant, female minority it took you a while to discover your voice. How did you find it?

There was a point in my early career where I was doing technical work. I started as a computer programmer but I knew in my heart that I wanted to be in management, not for the money but for the impact. I felt like I could take the team in a better direction. I was not given the chance for the next several years.

But I realized I had never voiced [what I wanted to do]. How could they know if I never voiced it? I just thought I would do good work and surely someone will notice. That's not how it works. You have to make it known that you do deserve a chance.

When did you first make that known?

It took a lot of courage. The first time I voiced myself, I was told that I had no experience, which is a chicken-egg story because if you never have the job, you're not going to get the experience and if you don't have the experience, you'll never get the job. So how do you navigate that? I realized I had to work smarter. I took on more and more manager functionality even though I didn't have the title. So when the opportunity came around, I was better qualified.

What is your leadership style?

I am very results-oriented. I have high expectations from the team but higher expectations of myself first. I've always coached and said follow your dream and your passion. My favorite book has always been “The Little Engine That Could.” Many immigrants came to this country like I did on the belief of the promise of the American story. I took the biggest risk when I took everything that was comfortable and familiar to step into a unknown country just because I believed-- I believed the promise that this country could provide me the opportunities to succeed if I could still hold on to my integrity and values and combine that with the hard work. I treat my American citizenship as a gift and feel like I have to give back everyday.

-- Interview with Vanessa Mizell

See Monday's Washington Post Business pages for Kapoor's “New at the Top” profile. Send nominations for others to newatthetop@washpost.com

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