Bob Paton, managing director of Accenture's Newcastle Delivery Centre

MD of Accenture's Newcastle Delivery Centre Bob Paton discusses the company's role in a growing regional IT economy

Robert Paton
Robert Paton

It’s always reassuring when the managing director is the firm’s greatest advocate – and that’s certainly the case with Bob Paton, who heads up Accenture’s Newcastle Delivery Centre.

Having spent 34 years in IT, he’s a man of considerable expertise, yet he’s quicker to praise the team behind him than to wax lyrical about his own accomplishments.

Certainly, he’s got every reason to smile.

The centre is one of only two in the UK – the other being in London – and plays a crucial role within the multi-national, building IT systems for some of the biggest companies in the UK and throughout the world.

Since 2010, staff numbers at the site on Cobalt Business Park, North Tyneside, have also grown from just over 200 to around 340, and a recruitment drive is now underway to hire 90 more people.

“It’s been a huge success story in the North East and that’s because of the people we’ve got working for us,” Bob said.

“We’re fortunate to have great team spirit here and that’s something that has put us in good stead.

“We have challenging work with some high-profile clients and it’s a great team effort.

“We support each other and it’s a meritocracy; I always say you can get as far as your ability and desire will take you.”

Indeed, Bob says inclusivity forms a crucial part of his management style.

“I like to be supportive and give people direction and the one philosophy that has got me through 30-odd years in IT is that you’ve got to get it right.

“Check and check again.”

It’s getting it right consistently – and on a jaw-dropping scale – in fact, that has secured Accenture’s place in a growing digital economy.

The North East as a whole has a major role to play in that, Paton says, and the firm is leading the way when it comes to supporting skills initiatives setting up code clubs in schools.

Bob was likewise one of the main drivers behind Dynamo, a group made up of IT employers, technology hubs, education, regional business bodies and local government, which is dedicated to growing and promoting the North East technology industry.

Major names like Sage, HP and BT have since come on board and ultimately the group – which recently hosted the hugely successful Dynamo 14 conference – wants to help double the number of people working in the region’s IT economy from around 30,000 to 60,000.

“The North East has a great automotive industry, subsea, renewables, petrochemical, and a fantastic IT industry, which has grown massively,” Bob said.

“We have quality people in the North East and it’s more cost-competitive than somewhere like London or the South East.

“What every bit of research suggests is that if an industry forms a cluster it will be more successful together.

“If we work together, we’ve got a chance.”

As it moves forward, the group intends to grow links with schools, universities and colleges, while helping bring more females into the IT sector.

With his passion for the skills agenda, Bob has likewise taken on the role of chairman of the governors at Studio West, Tyneside’s pioneering new school, which guarantees students who complete their education there a place at university, a job or an apprenticeship, and aims to bridge the gap between education and work.

“It’s the first studio school in the North East and without doubt it’s going to be a huge success,” he said.

“That success is being driven by principal designate Val Wigham who’s doing an unbelievable job in getting it off the ground.”

Back at Accenture, meanwhile, a three-year apprenticeship scheme has been introduced, combining structured IT training – through the firm itself, Newcastle College and Northumbria University – with on-the-job learning.

Interestingly, entrants are not required to have to have any specific qualification, just a genuine interest in technology and its application in the business world,

In 2013, Accenture took on 39 apprentices and it’s due to take on another 20 this year. Subject to business demand, those who perform well and complete the programme will be offered a full-time job.

“It’s been hugely successful – one of the best things we’ve ever done,” Bob said.

“Up until a few years ago, we only took on graduates, but to me it’s not either-or.

“The two are complementary.

“University is good for some people, but it’s not for everybody.”

Indeed, it wasn’t for Bob, who was raised in Ashington with his brother and three sisters.

Leaving school at 15, with “zero idea” of what career he would pursue, he secured a job as a clerical assistant with the Department of Health and Social Security.

Remaining in civil service for around 20 years, Paton’s turning point arrived at the age of 23 when a vacancy for an IT programmer became available.

“I wasn’t quite sure what it was, but it sounded interesting and you got paid more money for it,” he recalls.

“I went on a six week computing programming course and I remember walking away on the last day and thinking, ‘I haven’t got a clue; I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing’.”

The role, however, proved satisfying and when Bob one day found himself working with a group of consultants from Accenture, he knew what his next step would be.

“I like what I saw so much I applied to join them,” he said.

“I felt so privileged to join Accenture.”

The move also meant he could eventually relocate from Sevenoaks back to the North East – a decision he took “about one second” to make – and when the Newcastle office became a delivery centre four years ago, he took up the role of MD.

Moving forward, he says, he wants to build the company to make it as successful as it can be.

“To be honest, I’m the firm’s biggest advocate,” he said.

“Accenture is a great firm.”

Bob, though, still manages a considerable degree of work-life balance, his passions including Sunderland Football Club and music, particularly that of mod icon Paul Weller.

His greatest pleasure outside of the day job, however, comes from the organically certified smallholding he runs at his home with wife Ann, a venture they took on after moving to their property near Hexham.

“We were looking for a house in country,” Bob said.

“We were looking for somewhere with a big garden and we’re both very interested in gardening and growing things.

“We found what we wanted but it didn’t have a big garden – it had six acres. We thought, ‘Why don’t we make use of that?’”

It’s been a lot of work – Ann is there full-time – and the couple’s weekends are largely consumed by it. Recently, Bob, who has always harboured an ambition to become a market gardener, found himself planting 1,200 seed potatoes by hand on a Saturday.

He’s adamant, however, that it isn’t a chore. In fact, it can be “absolute bliss” and some of Bob’s best thinking about Accenture is done while occupied with the fruit and veg.

“It’s called Hexhamshire Organics,” he said, with all the enthusiasm of a man who knows the joy of building a business.

“Coming to a market near you.”

The Questionnaire

What car do you drive?
VW Golf, although I’m currently on the look-out for a Land Rover Defender

What’s your favourite restaurant?
The best restaurant I have ever been to was Hotel Vernet in Paris, Locally, I do like the Lord Crewe Arms at Blanchland

Who or what makes you laugh?
I do like BBC Comedy series such as Not Going Out, Would I lie to You, and Miranda.

What’s your favourite book?
All recent books that I have read have a sporting theme - the last four were Seb Coe’s and Alex Ferguson’s autobiographies, Bradley Wiggins’ My Time, and Dennis Tueart’s My Football Journey. However, the book I pick up and look at most has to be Sunderland AFC, The Complete Record

What was the last album you bought?
Paul Weller’s More Modern Classics. Weller is my all time musical hero. Back in the day I was a massive fan of The Jam and all Jam fans used to make sure they bought the latest Jam record on the day of issue. I have continued with that theme and I bought More Modern Classics on the day of its issue

What’s your ideal job, other than the one you’ve got?
My lifetime ambition has always been to be a market gardener

If you had a talking parrot, what’s the first thing you would teach it to say?
“Red and White Army”

What’s your greatest fear?
Newcastle United somehow becoming successful

What’s the best piece of business advice you have ever received?
Check, check and check again

And the worst?
Deadlines are more important than quality

What’s your poison?
I have been teetotal for 25 years, so certainly not alcohol. Unfortunately I find it difficult to resist chocolate

What newspapers do you read?
Sunday Times and during the football season the Sunderland Football Echo (now fully online)

How do you keep fit?
During any spare time I have I work on our organic smallholding, which keeps me fit (and also very tired)

What’s your most irritating habit?
I get bored very quickly and don’t have enough patience

How much was your first pay packet?
At 16 years old I earned £8 a week working as a clerical assistant at the DHSS. When my salary went up to £10 a week I thought I had made it!

What’s your biggest extravagance?
I bought a 1955 Wurlitzer Juke Box a few years ago. It cost a lot, although I like to think of it as an investment. It has on it the songs from my era, so it has lots of songs from The Jam, The Clash, The Specials, The Ramones, and classic Tamla Motown songs

What historical or fictional character do you most identify with or admire?
In terms of admiration it is Nelson Mandela

How would you like to be remembered?
As someone who cared and did the right things

Which four people would you most like to dine with?
Paul Weller, Joe Strummer, Billy Bragg and Tony Benn

Typical day

6.00am - I always wake up very early, so I will be up usually at about 6.00. I will get ready for work and my wife Ann always makes sure I have a cup of tea ready for me for my journey into work.

6.30 – Travel from my home in Hexhamshire to the Cobalt Business Park where the Accenture Delivery Centre is located. On the way into work I will swap between BBC 5 Live and Talk Sport. I’m keen to get an update on both current affairs and anything that has happened in the sporting world.

7.30 – Get to work. Before I start I will first check out the back page of The Journal to see what the latest is with Sunderland AFC. Then I will look at the Business section to see if there are articles on areas I am interested in, particularly the IT sector.

7.30 – 8.30 I will use the first hour to get through the many emails I receive. I am convinced life was a lot better in the pre-email world, although that probably is an indication of how old I am.

8.30 – 10.00 – I will have a meeting first with my secretary, Steph, (who has been my trusted secretary for 15 years) to go through my diary, which is always extremely congested. After my catch up with Steph I will probably meet with my Resource Lead, Joanne, (who again has worked for me for 15 years) to discuss resourcing, particularly our current recruitment campaign. After that I will have a catch up with Dave, who carries out at least two roles. He is one of my key Delivery Leads and is also my Sales Lead, Dave has also been with me for a long time having worked for me for probably 10 years.

10.00 onwards and through the rest of the day there will be a series of varied and interesting meetings with either current or prospective clients, Accenture management either in the North East or from our London offices, or other North East IT leaders. My days are usually packed and varied. I am very lucky to have such a varied and rewarding job.

Lunchtime; At some point I will have my lunch, which is always a very healthy lunch prepared by my wife Ann. Over lunch I will have a look at newspapers and the internet, to properly catch up on what has been happening in both the business and sporting world, especially the sporting world. I will also call Ann to see what has been happening on the smallholding, Ann will have been working on the smallholding since I left in the morning.

Afternoon: the meetings will continue till about 5.00, I will then use the last hour or so to catch up with people, emails etc.

I will leave sometime between 6.00 and 7.00. On the radio during the football season I will listen to Radio Newcastle’s Total Sport phone in, which depending on Sunderland’s previous result will either be fun and interesting or dull and frustrating. I will also call Ann on the way home to talk about the smallholding.

When I get back my dinner will be there waiting for me (I am a very lucky man). Then after dinner, weather permitting I will then do something on the smallholding.

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer