Irishman, volleyball talent and visionary leader

Michel Bloch Buch-Larsen
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Meet David Colgan, our new equity partner, who will take Deloitte’s SAP unit to the next level. In this article he shares his personal and professional story.

Irishman and traveller
“I was born in the Republic of Ireland, in a town south of the border to Northern Ireland and started my life witnessing a civil war just 20 kilometres away. As an Irishman, I always looked outwards. When you come from a small country, you are aware that you cannot conquer the world, but that you need to seek elsewhere for diverse inputs.“

“I have a background as an accountant, but after a while, I started to miss being more creative in my work. So, after qualifying, I shifted to consultancy and started in Coopers, embarking on their SAP consulting journey in 1997. Coopers then became PwC, which subsequently became IBM.”

“I travelled a lot during this period, working in many countries including Ireland, England, Germany and France. Around 2000, I got the opportunity to work in Denmark. The project team asked me, if I could handle working in workshops where people spoke Danish. I did not understand one word of Danish, so I had to learn fast. I was in deep water!”

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“During my time in Denmark back then, I acquired a taste for the Danish working culture. In Ireland, working culture is very much like the American morale; it is all work, work, work. Work first, everything else second, which is not always that effective. In Denmark, I felt a respect for the fact that there is more to life than work.”

“In the beginning, though, it was hard for me to understand that people left the office at 15.00, but I noticed how effective they were during the working hours. When people in Denmark work, they really do work, and when they make commitments, you know that you can count on them to be kept. There was a maturity in the Danish working life that I could really see myself in, in the long run.”

Volleyball and family
“As I returned to Ireland, I received a phone call from my former colleagues at IBM. They had another large project for Maersk in Denmark and wanted me on it. So, I came back and worked within the shipping industry – which has had my interest ever since.”

“One day at work, I was caught in an elevator with a lovely lady. That was when I met my wife, although I didn’t realise it at the time. When you are stuck in an elevator for three hours with someone, you talk to each other in another way than you might else do. This elevator adventure became our ‘Hollywood story’.”

“Then, children entered the picture and I moved to Denmark. Today, we have two girls and a boy. The eldest girl is 14, our boy is 11 and our youngest girl is seven. They all have lovely Scandinavian-Irish names. That is the funny thing about mixing cultures.”

“I am so fortune that I get to coach my eldest’s volleyball team in Farum-Holte. Luckily for me, she has inherited her father’s passion for volleyball. I played volleyball for many years and I was Premier League Champion in Ireland four or five times.”

“The great thing about volleyball is that you cannot be an individualist; you need to act as a team. It is also a mental sport; if the team does not believe in itself, it loses, even though it has the right skills and experiences.”

“In my work, I draw many parallels to volleyball. There is a motivational element from sport that I like to copy. The same goes for agreements between players or team members. You need to make sure that everyone in the team knows which role to play and takes responsibility. As a coach or a leader, you can teach the team many skills, but out in the court, they need to lead the way themselves. Then, you can only trust that you have shown the way and set the direction.”

Deloitte – out and back again
“I shifted from IBM to Deloitte in 2009. Here, I got to do what I – from my own perspective – am particularly good at: managing the journey from creating a strategy to getting that strategy implemented for a client. I have been on several successful projects doing exactly that. You might say I have both written the prescription and taken the medicine and lived to tell the tale.”

“I then went to Accenture in 2011. They were very established in the SAP market. After initially focusing on the Danish market and having time to devote to my family, I accelerated my career with successfully delivered transformation projects in Nordics and was given responsibility for their Nordic SAP business group.”

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“That is something which is very important for me to show others; it is possible to put your career on hold for a while and speed it up again – also in consultancy. Personally, I have not had a fast career and I would be sad to see people I work with losing hope of getting a career when for instance starting a family. There are always other options that you might not be aware of.”

“So, why am I coming back to Deloitte now, you might ask? The simple answer is that Deloitte is a great cultural match for me. From my background as an accountant, I ‘speak the language’ and the ethical perspective of accounting is part of my DNA.”

“I also like Deloitte’s approach to SAP. It does not take technology as a starting point, but rather take companies’ business and digital transformation as a starting point, supported by SAP as one of several technologies. Deloitte’s space-shaping, imagining focus and its focus on clients’ success is, in my opinion, exactly what it takes to accomplish a successful digital transformation.”

SAP in Deloitte – five years from now
“In five years, we have a significantly larger SAP business, and we are known for delivering the goods. It is my criterion for success that we get this acknowledgment from our clients. That requires us to be even better the transformation skills in delivery, both in regard to business and especially in regard to ‘business meets IT’.”

“SAP itself is undergoing a great transformation of its product, moving away from a megalith to a more agile digital core, which means that data is optimised and that everything is real-time, digital-enabled. Now, SAP-products can talk together with other digital products such as Salesforce, creating whole new opportunities for us as a consultancy firm.”

“However, it requires that we all learn more about what opportunities SAP holds, not only in Consulting, but also in the rest of the firm. I do not expect everyone to be an expert on SAP, but I will ask everybody to spend some time investigating what SAP can do for their area of business and for the quality of our client solutions.”

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“That was a little bit about my hopes and expectations – but what can Deloitte expect from me? Well, in various personality tests I came out as a ‘catalyst to inspire’. You can be a bit sceptical of these tests, but the more I see the same answer showing up, the more it makes sense to me. I always share my passion and no one in my team will doubt that I want this SAP journey to succeed. Passion is not supposed to be kept inside, it is there to be shared.”

“As a leader, I am very down to earth. There must always be room for being a human, and the work we do needs to make sense to us. The days are gone, and time is precious. You cannot force anyone into doing something. In my opinion, the best you can do is to share a little of your own energy to someone who might need it. My colleagues can count on me to do just that.”