Homecoming: A burning sense of curiosity made Avanade the perfect fit for James Wilkinson

  • Posted on November 5, 2019
  • Estimated reading time 4 minutes

James Wilkinson doesn’t like to look back. Curiosity has fueled his life and his belief that newer and better things were out there. Imagine his surprise at “boomeranging” back to Avanade. 

James first came to Avanade in May 2016. He took a role in business development out of necessity – his startup company, a Spotify-for-magazines venture called Readbug, had run out of funding. 

“When I say out of money, I think I had 10 pounds left on a credit card,” he recalled. “I remember coming for interviews with holes in my shirt meaning when it got hot, I couldn’t take my jacket off. It was the moment of realization that I’d probably held on to the passion project for too long.” 

Moving on from something that he had poured so much of himself into was hard, and James was honest when he said that his first few months at Avanade were not an easy transition. 

“I was mourning my old company and getting into the swing of being a part of a much bigger machine,” he said. “Going from 10 people to over 30,000 people, total autonomy vs. stringent process, human-centric and behavioral vs. IT and efficiency.” 

But things slowly started to change. He communicated with his manager, who encouraged him to lean into his strong sense of curiosity and explore opportunities within Avanade. After his first six months, James found himself enjoying Avanade more and more, but his inquisitive nature was about to kick in again. 

“An innovation agency I had interviewed with previously said, ‘Come join us,’” James said. “Having seen Readbug make the mistake of developing in isolation of the customer, I was excited that this agency helped large global brands like Converse co-create the Chuck Taylor II. Their success comes from designing new products and services with their customers in the same room, so you understand their needs and feel their passions first hand. Developing with customers means you have a known target audience waiting to consume your new products, so your business is more likely to meet their sales forecast. It’s about innovation, not invention, and I was keen to step out of IT to learn from industry leaders in that approach.”   

The experience in such a qualitative industry gave him new insights on how to be proactive about aligning customer needs to business growth, but James found himself realizing the gap between technology and human centered innovation was closing.  

“All the big consultancies are setting up market research agencies to get closer to the consumer, while the agencies are trying to go the other way by bring on more data, AI and prototyping capabilities,” he said. “But it’s very difficult to replicate the scale and capabilities that Avanade and Accenture have. And with the addition of the Studios, Avanade has moved into that space because they understand that we’re all human at the end of the day.  

“So why would I not want to come back to Avanade, which has all this human-centric behavior insight capabilities being set up in the Studios, but be able to realize it with Microsoft and Accenture’s business capabilities behind it as well?” James continued. “I got the ability to answer that curiosity question and come back to a place where I could apply it all.” 

Coming home wasn’t hard – James learned of a new opportunity at Avanade during a catch-up coffee with former coworkers. He said that his positive experience leaving Avanade also played a role in helping him feel like he could come back.  

“I always enjoyed the culture at Avanade and on realizing how many Avanade employees I was still in touch with, it really was an easy decision to make,” James said. “On listening to my logic for leaving the business, Avanade never tried to fight my decision to leave. I was told that ‘the door is always open.’ They understood that it wasn’t a financially motivated move – I took a cut to leave. I had this thing inside me that I had to answer. Avanade helped me exit in a really good way, and as a result of that, I feel lucky to have been invited back.” 

James said he often thinks about what could have stopped him from leaving the first time, knowing what he knows now about the opportunity available at Avanade (he means this professionally but also personally, because he believes the company is uniquely positioned to help employees create the lifestyle they want). For himself, James recognizes Avanade has to be exceptional to be the sole place he’s ever returned to.  

“Maybe the first time I got into Avanade too early, or perhaps the timing was perfect so I could see the direction Avanade was heading, step out into a consumerist agency and come back with knowledge relevant to team up with Avanade to do more,” he added. “Either way, I think Avanade rightly take a long-term view of employee development, knowing that if we do right by each other, then there is always an opportunity to return with a fresh perspective.” 


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