Nigel Vaz on his first year as global CEO of Publicis Sapient

06 April 2020 Consultancy.uk

Nigel Vaz recently celebrated his first anniversary as CEO of Publicis Sapient. He is also a member of Publicis Groupe’s Executive Committee and serves as the firm's Global Lead of Digital Business Transformation.

In his twenty years with Publicis Sapient, Nigel has partnered with clients across a range of industries including financial services, automotive, retail, consumer products, and telecommunications, media & technology. He is responsible for consulting and advising clients on transformation initiatives that accelerate their businesses in a digital age, as well as for evolving Publicis Sapient’s strategy, and championing its people, culture and core values.

Consultancy.uk caught up with him to discuss his first year in the role, and the importance of digital business transformation in today’s rapidly changing world. 

Nigel, can you start by telling us more about Publicis Sapient?

Publicis Sapient is a leading global digital business transformation company; helping established organisations transform digitally in order to drive growth, increase efficiency, and improve the customer experience. 

Nigel Vaz, CEO of Publicis Sapient

We have been helping to build companies for 30 years – pioneering digital business transformation since the inception of the Internet. We’ve partnered with clients across all industries and helped them stay relevant for a digital age, for instance through the launch of some of the first internet banks, stock trading platforms and the largest retail commerce platforms. We helped to create online seat selection tools for airlines, which became one of the biggest drivers of cost reduction at the time and now represent the airline industry’s second biggest revenue generator after air fares.

Our core strength lies in our ability to create realised value through our start-up mindset and agile methods and to help transform clients’ entire enterprise. We are purpose-built to help businesses drive growth and efficiency and to evolve the ways in which they work, in a world where consumer behaviour and technology are catalysing social and commercial change at an unprecedented pace.

Today, Publicis Sapient is 20,000-plus people strong across 53 offices worldwide – a unique fusing of global capabilities that span strategy, experience, engineering, and data science. We work directly alongside our clients – some of the world’s biggest brands including McDonald’s, Walmart, Lloyds Banking Group, Nissan, Carrefour and Unilever – to help successfully digitally transform their businesses. 

What changes have you seen in your first year as Global CEO?

In these first 12 months we have focused on laying the foundation to ensure that Publicis Sapient is set up to enable our clients’ success in a world where digital has gone from being tangential to existential. We have repositioned the business under a unified Publicis Sapient brand recognised for digital business transformation, and with a focus on driving client impact through deep industry expertise and a combination of our uniquely connected capabilities from engineering through high-value management consulting.

We have launched our shared purpose and set of values to unify who we are as a company, and advanced our capabilities by hiring top talent from across the world to strengthen not only our senior leadership team, but teams at all levels of the business. We’ve also finalised multiple strategic acquisitions – the most recent being management consultancy firm Third Horizon – to extend our ability to deliver transformation at across markets.

In addition, we are expanding our capabilities through joint ventures such as the creation of PS AI Labs, a data science consulting collaboration designed to create an environment where data scientists and artificial-intelligence experts can tackle some of today’s most complex and strategic operational challenges.

It has been a defining year, marked by many changes that were necessary to best position us to help our clients thrive in this rapidly-moving world. The core qualities that guided us from the beginning have been critical to our continued success as a global company.

What was your path to global CEO, and what does the role entail?

I started my journey with Publicis Sapient two decades ago in Sapient’s New York office. I was, and continue to be, drawn to the culture of a company whose purpose connected to the ambition of making a real difference in the world and whose values focused on creating impact through our work with clients: on their business and on their customers’ lives.

I was one of the team that established Sapient’s International operations – helping to build Sapient from a start-up into one of the largest digital professional services companies across Europe and Asia, in the space of a decade.

“Publicis Sapient helps organisations transform digitally in order to drive growth and efficiency, and improve the customer experience.”
Nigel Vaz, CEO 

Prior to taking on the global CEO role, I led the Publicis Sapient business in EMEA and APAC. I also played the role of Chief Strategy Officer for the Publicis Sapient business globally and was part of the Publicis Groupe Executive Committee, leading key strategic initiatives across the business. 

Today, I act as strategic advisor for global clients across a range of industry sectors including financial services, automotive, retail and consumer products – consulting on transformation initiatives that will accelerate their businesses. My focus is equally on evolving Publicis Sapient’s strategy and supporting our people and team’s globally: enhancing our sector expertise and management consulting, and developing our market-leading engineering capability, as well as championing our culture as a diverse and inclusive company that prioritises the experience of all our people. 

Why is digital business transformation so important?

Transformation – how we reimagine new futures and transform to stay relevant for a digital age – is the key question of our times. 

Digital business transformation is simply business transformation for the digital age. The reason that digital is so significant is that it signifies the coming together of rapid change in consumer behaviour, emerging technologies, the radical change in business models, and a growing awareness of the impact that business and technology has on societies and our environment. 

These forces are causing companies to rethink everything about how their businesses operate. As disruptive technologies and companies continue to impact consumer expectations, business environments are constantly changing. Organisations large and small are successfully responding by placing digital at the core of their businesses, effectively using holistic transformation to close the gap between what consumers expect and what their traditional business models can deliver. 

Only through digital business transformation can organisations create exponential value by driving growth, increasing operational agility and effectiveness, and, ultimately, creating better experiences for customers. 

Parting words

At the start of 2020 – and less than one year into my tenure as global CEO – all of us became aware that coronavirus, or Covid-19, was spreading with preternatural speed across the globe: it is as great a human tragedy as most of us will ever experience. It has taken lives and deeply affected lives on a scale that we’ve yet to comprehend. 

Our clients and our own companies were, before Covid-19, faced by geopolitical uncertainty and the need to adapt in a world of rapid and fundamental change. When we spoke about disruption, this is not what we had in mind. 

What we do know is that coronavirus is profoundly affecting the way we behave: on how we interact socially, on our mobility, on how we consume and how we work. This change has all happened in a matter of weeks, and within those weeks we have begun to comprehend the knock-on effect on businesses and entire industry categories, their employees and, in turn, economies and financial markets. 

Coronavirus is illustrating our shared humanity in the most visceral way. It shows that our similarities are greater than our differences. It is an experience that resonates across borders, and impacts individuals, small and large companies alike, and industries in their entirety. 

When we come out the other side of this, there will be a responsibility and, yes, an opportunity, to assess and define what business looks like in a post COVID-19 world. Where emerging technologies and disruptive business models were pushing organisations to digitally transform, coronavirus has forced the immediate adoption of new ways of working and of channels to connect with customers – the best of which will remain once the pandemic has gone.


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