Being Cognizant: Mark Livingston on the firm’s unique and integrated approach to client delivery

Mark_Livingston_Cognizant

Mark Livingston is Executive Vice President and Global Head of Cognizant Business Consulting (CBC). In this role, Livingston is responsible for the overall strategy and running of Cognizant’s Consulting practice which consists of some 5,500 consultants worldwide. Livingston joined Cognizant in 2008, and has since been instrumental in leading the firm’s success, and taking CBC to the next level. Consulting caught up with Livingston recently to discuss the business and its integrated approach.

Consulting: I know you’ve been very busy since you came to Cognizant in 2008. Where is the CBC business is right now?

Livingston: When I came here from A.T. Kearney in November 2008, I remember I did a meet and greet with a bunch of industry analysts, and I happened to mention the word ‘strategy’ and one of those industry analysts jumped all over me and said: ‘If you try to build a McKinsey style consultancy at Cognizant, you’re going to fail miserably…’ Well, I was a little shocked, but he knew my background and asked me about my biggest challenges. I talked about bill rates and talent acquisition and he said to me: ‘Those aren’t your challenges because those things are solvable. Your biggest challenge is this: If you can’t figure out how to team and collaborate with those client partners and jointly go to market with them, you’re not going to be successful. You’re going to be stuck on the outside looking in…’ At that moment, I had a light go off in my head. He was right. I came from A.T. Kearney and it was owned by EDS, but we never fully integrated the businesses. At that moment I began to understand that the key to my success at Cognizant was integration, alignment and collaboration with the client partners.

Consulting: That’s no easy task… 

Livingston: No, it isn’t, but I think what we’re doing here is unique and different, and I think most of the IT firms that have tried to build consulting businesses have failed, quite frankly. When I came here I was conscious of how other IT companies also try to sell consulting but often don’t let their best people do their jobs. They pull them off consulting over to bigger revenue opportunities. They never fully integrated the business. What they end up doing stops them from selling a $10 million consulting engagement because they need them to start selling a $50 million BPO deal.

Consulting: So, how do you ensure that doesn’t happen at Cognizant?

Livingston: Well, I was very careful to say that we’re focusing only on consulting. I was very conscious not to let me or my people get pulled over to the dark side, if you will. I would say ‘no’ way more than I would say ‘yes’ to the rest of the company. Then I realized that the market’s changing, the world is changing and the clients are changing. A few years ago, we reorganized to recognize that reality. I integrated the business, but still separately run consulting. Our key to success was that integration into the rest of the company. Clients don’t want just advice, they also want us to implement solutions and create change. That’s our competitive advantage because other IT firms simply don’t know how to make it all work together.

Consulting: How is the overall business doing? 

Livingston: We don’t report consulting as its own business unit, but the company overall is about $12.4 billion. Consulting rolls up into that number and we’ve been growing our consulting business the last five or six years at about 30 percent CAGR, almost all organically, which has not been easy. We have 5,500 consultants and they report both to me and to others in the business. But they’re all in CBC business.

Consulting: Talk to me a little bit about your recruiting strategy. Why Cognizant?

Livingston: I tell recruits that there are a lot of great consulting firms and they could have a great career at any of them. But Cognizant is different. We’re a very entrepreneurial company. We’ve really only been at this consulting model for a few years. I sort of look at us as a very well-funded start up. At most of those other firms to go from entry level to partner will take 12 years or more. I tell them that we have, honestly, no idea how long it will take. It’s as good as you are and that they’ll get as much responsibility as they can handle. I look at this generation and most of them aren’t coming to consulting to be a partner, most are looking for where they can get the most experience doing something they like in the quickest amount of time possible. That’s what I’m selling.

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