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Tackling the Digital Imperative

Ahmed Fahour on BCG’s Digital Growth Spurt, the Values Shaping His Career, and Taking on the Next Digital Revolution as BCGDV Asia-Pacific Chairman

December 14, 2017

Though Ahmed Fahour has been away for nearly two decades, he finds being back at BCG as natural as being at home. The former partner returned to the firm this summer as BCG Digital Ventures (BCGDV) Asia-Pacific Chairman, following an illustrious run of executive positions at world-renowned firms. His career has always had an abiding focus on value and innovation, driving his extraordinary trajectory over the years and now bringing him full circle to the place where he built his foundations.

“My last BCG partner meeting was in 2000. Today, looking at a partnership group about five times as large, the profound growth, the performance—I feel like an old man watching his family’s success,” he reflects. “What amazes me is not only the increase in the size of the business and of the community, but also the breadth of expansion across capabilities, especially on the digital side.”

In his new role, Ahmed spends a few days every month advising both BCGDV and the BCG core business on promising opportunities in the digital space. He also works closely with BCGDV leadership to ensure alignment with BCG’s broader digital and analytics offer, leveraging his battle-tested acumen to support DigitalBCG on delivering continuous client impact. “BCG has proven, in a very short amount of time, that it can do digital consulting and business building, and in the case of DV, the numbers do speak for themselves. The biggest and most exciting challenge is that there’s so much more to achieve.”

As a seasoned early adopter, Ahmed is particularly passionate about digital identity and believes it will drive one of the most important next phases of the digital revolution. His excitement shines through as he discusses identity’s role in digital payment and transactions, as well as BCG’s work and opportunities around the security, architecture, and management of these processes.

“We won’t be alone in consuming these kinds of opportunities,” he acknowledges. “However, we have the basic tool sets inside the BCG core and DV, Gamma, and Platinion to really take advantage of the next 5-, 10-, and 15-year prospects, whether they be in transforming existing business models or incubating new sources of digital growth—this is the path the partnership clearly sees and wants. They’ve been laying out the groundwork to seize those opportunities and to support BCG clients in doing the same.”

Ahmed’s curiosity about how technology could make transactions easier, cheaper, and faster had an early start. The telecom boom and beginnings of broadband in the late 1990s coincided with his involvement in driving iFormation, a technology-focused capital investment vehicle created by BCG, Goldman Sachs, and General Atlantic Partners. “We acquired a business that built tax preparation software for corporations,” he says, recalling his team’s foray into emerging payments solutions. “It would be incredibly easy for someone to develop an app serving a similar purpose today, but back then it was about 60 million lines of code and a lot of computing power.”

His bold leadership in the digital space continued to grow over the years along with his career milestones, reaching a formative stage when he first took the leap from advising companies to leading the transformation himself. Joining Citigroup as head of corporate development in 2000, he brought with him both the intense data orientation cultivated from 13 years at BCG and his own ideas for new methods of application. He kept a keen eye trained on the amount of experimentation and capital already being deployed around digital ventures, continuing to do so when he became CEO of Citigroup Alternative Investments two years later. “Of course there was the dot-com bubble burst,” he adds. “But that was just a blip on the radar.”

In the mid-2000s, Ahmed launched what he calls his first big online experiment while serving as the Australian CEO of National Australia Bank—the creation of UBank, Australia’s first digital-only bank. He was convinced of the power of digital innovation to revolutionize a business, even before the smartphone era. The birth of the iPhone would only accelerate his vision for the future of business.

“If you look back today, I’d say the digital revolution began in earnest across many corporations from 2008 to 2010—that’s the period where an absolute supernova of change took off and brought the entire world along. We truly started only seven to eight years ago the beginnings of what I consider to be a 100-year digital transformation.”

Ahmed stepped into the role of CEO of Australia Post as the global digitization phenomenon started to gather steam. He remembers walking into the company, then a paper-based business, and thinking that the “Gutenberg’s-press way of circulating information” had died. He concentrated on stepping the business up for the new world of e-commerce and digital transactions. “The most important thing playing in my mind was around how I could refocus the brand, networks, and talent of the people of Australia Post to provide traditional services while growing with the new pace of society and technology.”

Throughout his career, he has put great emphasis on unlocking the potential of people and businesses, and this has formed the central philosophy behind how he leads organizations and creates shareholder value. According to Ahmed, his commitment to building teams who believe in the purpose of their mission has origins in his first BCG experience.

“When you have highly engaged, capable, motivated employees, they are able to do extraordinary things to help their customers—and if our customers feel that we add value to their lives, by definition we achieve shareholder and stakeholder value,” he says, noting that the perennial importance of nurturing and investing in talent is being further magnified in the digital age. “This is what happens at BCG.”

At present, Ahmed is enjoying being back in the fold as he works with BCG leadership to steer the firm toward “another exciting growth spurt” ahead. “One of the best parts of my job is getting to work with a lot of like-minded people that I get pure joy out of being with,” he says, adding that though BCG has evolved on many fronts, the strong sense of community has remained very much the same.

“The culture and values I picked up at BCG around unlocking the potential of those around you and pushing beyond the expected have guided me through all of the businesses I’ve worked in. I started learning all of that at day one when I was a 20-year-old consultant.”

Tackling the Digital Imperative