Since 2003, Tiger Woods has literally become the sole face, the strategic embodiment, the business essence of Accenture, the $22 billion global IT, outsourcing and business consultancy.
And why not? Woods' well-chronicled rise to his status as "best golfer in the world" has been legendary. He's been a force the sporting world hasn't seen before, a global icon with few if any equals, and a natural fit for Accenture's customer base (golf and business go together quite well, in case you needed reminding).
I happened to catch the Woods-Accenture partnership near its zenith at one of Accenture's global gatherings in April 2005. Woods had just won the Master's golf tournament in Augusta, Ga., the day before the conference started and was scheduled to speak to the attendees in Orlando, Fla. the day after the major competition. Though he looked a little weary, Woods came out and spoke to the delighted attendees. The crowd swooned. Accenture execs beamed. The timing was more than perfect, if that's possible.
As Accenture has pointed out in advertisements that target businesspeople in airports, run during professional golf telecasts and appear in glossy business magazines everywhere, Woods is "the world's ultimate symbol of high performance," and "he serves as a metaphor for our commitment to helping companies become high-performance businesses."
Woods' 1,000-watt smile and Nike-clad likeness have displaced (on purpose, it appears) any imagery of Accenture's top execs. (Quick: Who is Accenture's CEO and what does he look like? I hadn't a clue. It's William Green.)
In short, Accenture proclaims in its myriad marketing paraphernalia: "We know what it takes to be a Tiger."
A Thanksgiving to Forget
Everything about that slogan has now become a PR debacle, comedian's punch line and perplexing psychological examination since Thanksgiving 2009, when the soap opera surrounding Tiger Woods and his marriage exploded. (Apparently, like the rest of us, Accenture did not know what it actually takes, or what it fully means, to be Tiger Woods.)
Now, Woods and his roster of sponsors (which greatly aid his $1 billion net worth) are questioning just how much being associated with Tiger is actually worth. Which leaves the question: Will Tiger Woods' undeniable relation to Accenture's brand have any effect on Accenture's systems integration, outsourcing and IT consulting practices?
Forrester Research Senior Analyst Liz Herbert says that in the short term, Woods' public relations nightmare likely won't have any effect on Accenture's deal-making abilities with CIOs and their companies. She says, so far, that the topic has not come up once in talking with Forrester clients.
An important distinction exists, however, between Accenture's situation and, say, that of Satyam, the Indian computer services outsourcer which was rocked in January 2009 by scandal after its founder B. Ramalinga Raju admitted that Satyam's revenue and profits had been overstated for several years.
"This is not like the Satyam mess, which was directly linked with who they are [as a company]," Herbert says. "Satyam was clearly making false information, and that raises fundamental trust issues with buyers."
In other words: Tiger isn't going to be the one implementing your SAP ERP 6.0 upgrade or closing Accenture's books every quarter, so what does it really matter?