If you go looking at the FTSE 250 in search of chief data officers, you could be in for a surprise. Instead of the much-predicted presence of CDOs at the board table in nine out of ten, you will scarcely get into double figures. A notable standout is Pets at Home where Rob Kent has held a genuine C-suite position since November 2018 reporting directly to the group CEO, Peter Pritchard.
“I am the first CDO here,” Kent points out. “When the corporate strategy was created three years ago, one of its four pillars was using data to serve customers better. If you have got 6.5 million pets registered on the VIP scheme, you have got data to leverage. No-one can compete with that.”
Pritchard had been part of the business for ten years before being appointed to the top role in 2018 and six months later he headhunted Kent. “He invited me to build a new team and he was bold enough to say I would be a member of the executive board,” he recalls. What was at that point a leadership team of three has since expanded to ten, while the data office has also grown from Kent and a blank sheet of paper to embrace data science, cloud data engineering, CRM, insight, data protection, data visualisation, MI and reporting. “I started with business intelligence and built from there,” he says.
While the Covid-19 pandemic has been tough on high street retailers, it has been a boom time for pet ownership. Named as an essential retailer, the petcare sector has been able to defy the downward pressure with Pets at Home achieving revenue growth of 7.9% to £1,142,800,000 in the year to 31st March 2021. Retail revenue reached £1bn for the first time with growth of 8.7% during the year, despite Covid-related restrictions.
This surge of value creation is not simply the result of locked down consumers looking for a companion, it also reflects a lot of hard work and thinking about the retail proposition and how to build customer loyalty. Says Kent: “We are fundamentally an enabler for the business across retail and our veterinary services. We are working with the leadership team to identify value and see the big picture while also supporting the stakeholders we are responsible for, like marketing and customer insight.”
Kent has been delivering right across his portfolio, from bringing the loyalty programme’s data platform in-house as a cloud solution, rather than an outsourced service, through to looking at where machine learning may support sales demand forecasting and recognition. “Part of my strategic role is to educate the leadership in the art of the possible,” he says.
This extends beyond the executive board to investors and shareholders. “They are interested in the progress we are making on data and analytics, so we give them presentations on our customer segmentation, insights into growth, cross-sell and up-sell, as well as churn, retention and lifetime value,” says Kent.
This is where he believes CDOs should be operating, even if he admits that, “when I got headhunted by Pets at Home, I wasn’t a pet owner at the time - luckily that wasn’t an interview question!”
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