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Gemma Hulbert, chief data officer, Gymshark

Gemma Hulbert, chief data officer, Gymshark

How is your organisation using data and analytics to support the corporate vision and purpose?

 

At Gymshark, our purpose is to unite the conditioning community, where conditioning is everything we do today to prepare for tomorrow. When Ben and his friends started the business in 2012, they made apparel that represented them and their needs, bringing together a community of like-minded people along the way. As the business grows, we must listen to this community at scale so we can continue to build products and experiences that really resonate with them, which is where data and analytics comes in.

 

Data is an enabler in knowing our audience and creating relevant products and experiences for them. We now utilise data and analytics to support decision-making and provide operational improvements business wide, so we can continue striving to provide the most relevant brand, products and experiences for our community.

 

2020 was a year like no other - how did it impact on your planned activities and what unplanned ones did you have to introduce?

 

We have always been agile in how we operate at Gymshark, but the changes we saw at the beginning of the year tested our agility more than ever. A rallying cry from our CBO, inspired by the Irish prime minister, really inspired the way we adapted in 2020: “Let them say of us, when things were at their worst, we were at our best.”

 

We reshaped our focus towards looking after our people and the community through tough times, adapting our activities and offering initiatives like the personal trainer live stream, free home workout content on our app and supporting the NHS with our sweaty selfie campaign.

 

From a data and analytics point of view, for a time we paused some of our longer-term projects and doubled down on how to stay close to the shifting behaviours and needs of our community. We had to understand the challenges our community were facing, what their health and fitness regime looked like, how they were engaging and shopping with us in this new world, so we could adapt our activities. We searched for opportunities to utilise data for better visibility of what was coming ahead in a world where things were changing on a daily basis.

 

Looking forward to 2021, what are your expectations for data and analytics within your organisation?

 

2021 will be about continuing to support our business growth and the ability to enable data-led decisions business-wide as we scale. Finding great talent for continued team growth will be a big priority.

 

Our recently introduced North America team will see significant growth, getting us closer to our US community while ensuring we create a data-led culture within this forming team. We are fortunate that business wide there is a huge appetite for data, but continuing to educate teams on what data-led decisions and processes can look like for them will be hugely important, too. Educating teams and cultivating a data-led culture is an infinite need that must always be given focus.

 

Is data for good part of your personal or business agenda for 2021? If so, what form will it take?

 

I’ve been very inspired by the data for good initiatives I saw in 2020, it’s something I’m very passionate about Gymshark getting involved in. In 2021, we will begin plans on what data for good looks like for us and how we can give back. Initial plans are to find non-profits that we can offer support and resource to, running data for good days where our team can support these organisations to help them tackle challenges they are facing with data.

 

I started my career in a non-profit which was fortunate to have a data team at its disposal, so I’ve seen first-hand the value this can drive. I’d love to be able to share some of this value with organisations that don’t have that resource available.

 

What has been your path to power?

 

When deciding on what to pursue as a career, I knew that I loved maths and problem-solving, but I also loved creative subjects such as art and design. I went on to study marketing at university, hoping I could utilise a blend of critical and creative thinking for this subject. I didn’t know much about career paths in data at the time, but I found my passion for data and analytics during my second-year university placement role in 2011, as junior marketing analyst at PDSA.

 

I absolutely loved my time at PDSA, staying there full-time for a few years and learning so much from the amazing team around me. I was inspired to understand all the ways in which data can drive value in business. I then joined Gymshark as a marketing analyst in 2016 as I wanted to further push myself out of my comfort zone and gain more autonomy in driving data-led decision-making.

 

As employee number 50-something and the first data role, I explained the value of building a data and insight team to our CEO, who then tasked me with building this team as a director in 2017. After three years of ridiculously fast business growth, in 2020 I was given the dream role of leading Gymshark’s data strategy as chief data officer, with the data team now at 40 people globally.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

 

Building the data and insight team at Gymshark is an incredibly proud achievement for me. The one thing that also stands alongside this is gaining board-level buy-in for a data-led approach at Gymshark, including convincing the board that we need a C-level representative for data to support this vision and to give it a voice at the highest level.

 

Having true backing from the founder and CEO, where they are genuinely passionate about the value data can bring is something I’ll be forever proud of. Seeing our founder Ben stand up on stage and explain to the whole business that being data-led is fundamental to our business strategy was a moment I’ll never forget.

 

Tell us about a career goal or a purpose for your organisation that you are pursuing?

 

I’m extremely passionate about giving people exposure to careers in data, to prevent them from missing out on this career path when it could be a perfect fit for them. I look back at how I got into data and it scares me that it was quite accidental, so preventing others from missing out on this pathway is really important to me.

 

At Gymshark, we are working on plans which can help provide more opportunities for people to get into data and to excite them about this career path. I’m also working on using my voice to showcase the importance of data, too, with the hope of reaching as many people as possible and inspiring more people to consider this as a career path.

 

How closely aligned to the business are data and analytics both within your own organisation and at an industry level? What helps to bring the two closer together?

 

I feel that the level of alignment between data and analytics and the wider business can really vary across the industry. From my experience, there are a couple of key drives for this alignment, the biggest one being the presence of a true data culture. Another would be around the people and skills in your team, in both the team’s ability to understand the wider business context and act as influential translators, along with the team structure itself and how this encourages cross functional ways of working.

 

I’m fortunate that at Gymshark we are in a strong place with our data culture, with us having great buy-in from the top down. The team structure has also been built in a way which allows us to have analysts partnering with specific functions, so they can gain valuable contextual understanding and focus on solving relevant business problems. I’m fortunate to work with an incredibly talented data team at Gymshark, with individuals who have the aptitude to understand the business context as well as conducting complex data and analytics tasks.

 

Having the right talent in the right structure minimises the risk of the team doing data for data’s sake, which is an easy habit to fall into if there isn’t enough clarity on wider business challenges within your data team.

 

What is your view on how to develop a data culture in an organisation, building out data literacy and creating a data-first mindset?

 

I think there are a few key elements to driving a data culture. Education is key, so dedicate the time to educate people about how data can add value for them. People often avoid things they don’t understand, so make it really simple and connect it to the business context.

 

Find the key influencers in the business and make sure they are on board at the most senior level, leveraging them to champion data on your behalf. Finally, start simple and take people on a step-by-step journey with you to sophisticated data maturity, don’t try to run before you can walk and blind people with science on the way.

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