How is your organisation using data and analytics to support the corporate vision and purpose?
It’s slightly different in private equity. HIG has more than 30 companies in its active portfolio across Europe, so in effect that’s more than 30 data strategies. We’re taking a crawl, walk, then run approach, in terms of getting the data foundations set, getting people excited by data and hunting for low hanging fruit.
2020 was a year like no other - how did it impact on your planned activities and what unplanned ones did you have to introduce?
If ever there was a time to have KPI and metrics in place, 2020 was the year. A lot of focus was on the critical planned activities and the ever changing unplanned activities, but one thing is clear – being able to provide quick insights was key. And measure the impact, hence the metrics.
Looking forward to 2021, what are your expectations for data and analytics within your organisation?
Within HIG, 2021 will be the start of an exciting journey to understand for each of the active portfolio, what data assets are available, the opportunities, the people and the commercial value of data use cases. HIG has such a diverse industry portfolio of companies from strawberry gin, laser treatment, wheelchairs, bedding, printers, taxi services…the opportunity to use data and analytics is mouthwatering.
Is data for good part of your personal or business agenda for 2021? If so, what form will it take?
Personal. There are treasures of data, powerful tools and technologies and incredibly talented people in data. Collectively, wouldn’t it be great to help unlock hidden insights to better the world, eg, pandemic, poverty, healthcare, environment and privacy issues? But I think the biggest blocker is quality and the availability of representative data. Some of the time data is just not captured.
What has been your path to power?
I graduated with a statistics and economics degree with no real view of what I wanted to do in life. Before I could explore my options, I landed a fixed one-year role, working as a statistician in the civil service.
Hungry for a more fast-paced environment, I moved into financial services and reinsurance, building all kinds of models, most notably one that drives the quotes for car and household insurance to this day.
Then, nearly four years later, a dream data analyst job at The Economist surfaced - a magazine I religiously read at university and still to this day. That may explain why I stayed there for 14 years, doing everything data could offer - data science, reporting, campaigning, engineering, data quality, governance, strategy.
Then, in 2014, I jumped at an opportunity to join Andy Day at News UK, building a new department of data talent, with my role specifically around data management.
In 2017, I moved to Electrocomponents, leading the charge on transforming the business to be data-driven and to exploit data.
In September 2020, I joined HIG Capital, a leading private equity firm, to lead the charge on digital and data and, so far, it’s been great.
What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?
Being able to make a real difference (on the data agenda) in each of my last three roles, and, on the way, I am privileged to have built and nurtured some seriously talented and high-performing teams.
Tell us about a career goal or a purpose for your organisation that you are pursuing?
I’d love to create a data community within the 30-plus active companies under HIG Europe’s portfolio. And eventually extend that to the 100-plus in the US. Sharing ideas, successes, failures on an ongoing basis, and putting the rich content on a knowledge portal for easy searching - that would be incredibly powerful and a professionally rewarding goal.
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 love an organisational design that isn’t hierarchical and where it’s easy to create cross-functional teams to attack a business problem. It removes barriers and bad behaviours because everyone in that cross-functional team are incentivised equally.
Where data and analytics is seen by the business as being owned by one department (eg, business intelligence), organisations won’t get the most out of data. Data and analytics needs to be in the DNA of the business and owned uniformly. Sadly, the only way to get this across is through senior leaders (C-suite) and their behaviours. It’s no coincidence that organisations that are data mature and fully exploiting data have data-minded leaders.
What is your view on how to develop a data culture in an organisation, building out data literacy and creating a data-first mindset?
One option to supercharge a data culture is what we did at Electrocomponents. We set up an 18 month data academy of more than 70 people across different departments, to be our next generation data scientists. On the way, they were delivering business benefits through smarter actionable insights and indirectly change agents within their domains. You had people from supply chain, sales, marketing, pricing, digital, and customer services, many of whom were nether technical nor data literate to start, who ended up Python experts, being able to interpret data and story-tell.