A Candid Interview with Accenture’s Iliana Valiente About AI, Tech & Leveraging Strengths For Success

Iliana Oris Valiente, the Managing Director and Innovation Lead at Accenture Canada, speaks on career advice for students and young professionals.
Iliana Oris Valiente, Managing Director and Innovation Lead at Accenture Canada. PHOTO: COURTESY ILIANA ORIS VALIENTE

Meet one of the most influential voices at the intersection of finance and emerging technologies—Iliana Oris Valiente. 

Iliana, the Managing Director and Innovation Lead at Accenture Canada, leads strategic transformations in web3, sustainability, and AI. Her influence extends beyond advising corporations, as she bridges the gap between web2 and web3 realms for government leaders, regulators, and startups. As a managing partner, Iliana's journey challenges norms, making her a leading voice in finance and technology.

In an exclusive interview with Fetti, Iliana shares her journey and path to becoming a key member of Accenture Canada while providing valuable insights for aspiring entrepreneurs. Here are some highlights from our conversation:

Can you provide a brief overview of your career journey and what led you to your current role as Head of Innovation at Accenture?

I have a very non-traditional career journey, but honestly, those are the ones that make for the best stories. I started my career in international development, thinking I was going to work for the United Nations and solve the world's issues. I got roles in the finance domain, where I realized that I actually wanted to learn more about the business world and use the business platform as a way to make the world a better place. So I worked in tax, audit, and corporate finance. I loved my tech clients. Those were my favorite clients, and by doing more work in the tech circles, eventually, I got introduced to Bitcoin and crypto and fell deeply into the rabbit hole of “What happens when you have internet money?” and so on.

Iliana Oris Valiente, the Managing Director and Innovation Lead at Accenture Canada, speaks on career advice for aspiring entrepreneur.
Iliana Oris Valiente hosting the Global INSEAD Alumni Day! PHOTO: COURTESY ILIANA ORIS VALIENTE

I had come from a chartered accountant route and worked in audit. So I was always thinking about how different companies record their financial information and thought this [blockchain and digital currencies] would change so many different industries, and behold, I became known as an expert in this new emerging space. I was in a really good position when Accenture reached out, and I joined as the youngest-ever Managing Director and Global Blockchain Innovation Lead. Accenture is a massive company and has over 700,000 employees, so that was not a small feat. After a bit, Accenture wanted to launch a series of innovation hubs around North America, and that's how I became the overall Canada Innovation Lead, equivalent to the Chief Innovation Officer. 

Throughout your career, you've held positions in tax consulting, corporate finance, and more before transitioning into blockchain. Could you share when and how you discovered your career path and professional passions?

Honestly, I would say to find something that you're excited about. Your career days are long, but the more passionate you are about a subject, the better off.  There's a principle of “ikigai” that comes from Japan that says you need to find the intersection of what you love doing, what the world needs more of, and what you can get paid for. And if you can find that intersection, it is magical. Obviously, also make sure that the thing you're working on is commercially viable and that there's enough of a market of people who care about the topic, but there are so many niches out there that you could probably find something you're thrilled by.

Having experience with ventures like Rubix and ColliderX, what advice would you offer to students and young professionals interested in pursuing an entrepreneurial approach to their careers?

Everything I've ever started has begun because there was a problem that I was trying to solve, and that's what entrepreneurship is—you find a problem, you get obsessed with that problem, and you come up with a solution. The one advice I would give is to do some introspection and figure out your strengths. You may not even realize a strength, but it is because what comes naturally to you is the type of activity that somebody else hates doing or just is not capable of doing. So, go lean into those strengths as much as possible. 

Iliana Oris Valiente, the Managing Director and Innovation Lead at Accenture Canada, speaks on career advice for the next generation.
Iliana Oris Valiente, Managing Director and Innovation Lead at Accenture Canada. PHOTO: COURTESY ILIANA ORIS VALIENTE

Throughout my career. I have been the square peg that someone has attempted to put into a round hole, and it just did not work. The more I started leaning into my strengths—the things that came naturally—the easier my career progression became. I encourage all of our new joiners to do the Clifton Strengthsfinder personality test. I'm a big fan of all psychographic assessments. The more self-awareness we have, the better we can be in our careers and in relationships with other people.

What have been some of the most significant challenges you've encountered in your career so far, and what lessons have you learned from them?

The biggest challenge I've encountered in my career is that I'm often pushing the envelope of what's new and what's innovative. I am challenging the status quo. People fundamentally do not like change. Change is hard, and changing the status quo is difficult. So, in order to get people to change, you have to win them over. You can't mandate, so you must put yourself in the shoes of the people you're asking to change and understand what's in it for them. How could things ultimately get better? How do you hold their hand, and how do you walk them through those next steps? That has been the number one challenge I have faced throughout my career, even when advocating for blockchain. Blockchain is still a small sliver of my overall portfolio of things I oversee. As I look at all innovation, emerging tech, and social trends, the playbook hasn't changed. You need to meet people where they're at, as you're helping them get to the future.

Could you describe a typical day at the office for you?

I don't have a day in my life, I have a week. So, typically, my Monday starts with many one-on-one meetings with the people who report to me. We know the priorities, and they have what they need from me, and then I remove whatever obstacles are required. Then Tuesdays are my industry days. So we have forums where we bring together our retail and innovation team, the teams that do sustainability work, the rapid prototyping team, those deeply involved in the startup community, and other experts. We all get in a room with that lead and talk about the problems our clients are facing and how we solve them. 

Iliana Oris Valiente, the Managing Director and Innovation Lead at Accenture Canada, speaks on career growth.
Iliana Oris Valiente hosting the Global INSEAD Alumni Day! PHOTO: COURTESY ILIANA ORIS VALIENTE

On some Tuesdays, I might talk to a retail team, and then we'll have a very similar structured conversation with our banking team and another with our healthcare team. So it's a lot of changing of contexts because I oversee everything we do across industries and everything we do across all of the emerging technology types of domains. Then, by the time Wednesday rolls around, I'm digging into specific client projects, checking in as the executive sponsor, making sure that things are going well, answering any questions, and moving any blockers. On Thursdays and Fridays afternoons, I reserve space for people management, so that's when people reach out to me for one-on-ones, coffee chats or meetings with external ecosystem partners. Then, client work happens whenever a client needs it, so they get plopped in, but that's generally how I look at my weeks.

In your field, what are the most valued skills for professionals?

Communication and problem-solving are probably the biggest ones. I could tell you to learn a tool or a widget, but widgets and tools will change over time and become irrelevant. If you understand how to solve problems and apply creativity, that's golden. Obviously, go brush up and learn all the different AI skills out there because every tool in the future will be AI-powered, but don't forget the truly human things that a machine cannot do. 

If you could go back to the beginning of your career, what advice would you give to your younger self?

The advice I would give to my younger self is to be bolder sooner. It took a long time for me to recognize that. I spent many of my early career days apologizing for being myself and trying to tone myself down to fit the environment I was in when I was just in the wrong environment. Mentors play a significant role. I had a mentor of mine. We were at lunch once, and he looked at me and said when are you leaving us? You're one of my top performers; you do well at your job, but I can't help but think you are meant for bigger and better things than this. You have big wings that you need to spread and go fly. I did not see that about myself and needed someone else to point it out.

As someone passionate about technology, could you share recent tech breakthroughs that excite you personally or professionally?

AI. Whether you have an interest in graphic design, marketing, or sales or are an engineer, it doesn't matter because you are going to have to embrace AI tools. It's not the future of AI versus humans. It's humans who use AI versus humans who don't use AI. And you want to be in the category of humans who use AI. The best thing you could do now as a student and young professional is upskill.

What are three books or podcasts you would recommend, and what makes them valuable in your opinion?

There's one book I would greatly recommend. It's called “Designing Your Life”. It's written by two Stanford professors, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. and what they did was they used the principles of design thinking and applied them to a human's life, career, personal relationships, and what you do for fun. The other book I posted on Instagram a couple of days ago is “Letters to a Stranger.” It's this idea that we can meet any number of strangers in our lifetime, and you never know when that interaction is going to completely and fundamentally change your life. I find that if someone goes and reads that book, what I hope it does is open up their eyes to the value of every single interaction that they're having. Especially when you're young and in school or just starting out in your career. Meet all the people, reach out to them, read their stuff, and introduce yourself. People are usually pretty friendly.

Wrapping up our chat with Iliana Oris Valiente, Managing Director at Accenture Canada, we leave with new insights about the AI revolution, the future of tech, and much more. 

It was truly an enlightening experience, and if you want to keep up with Iliana Oris Valiente’s future endeavors, catch up with her on LinkedIn.

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