Catherine Brien

Data science director
Co-operative Group

Path to power

I studied Maths at Cambridge and then went into consulting to solve interesting problems working for Mercer, which subsequently became Oliver Wyman. I cut my teeth analysing consumer behaviour and the economic implications to inform propositions and operations in B2C environments, eg, analysing transaction patterns to identify when products are going out of stock in a supermarket; optimising deployment of aircraft fleets; improving the effectiveness of marketing activity…

I rose through the ranks to partner at Oliver Wyman and left consulting in 2016 when I realised it would be more fun to do something myself, rather than simply be an advisor. I joined the Co-op as data science director where my goal is to make data one of our most valuable assets

What has been the highlight of your career in the industry to date?

Watching people and organisations achieve better results. Unlocking the power in data is quite magical. It allows us to see connections, find patterns, teach us things we didn’t know (and bust myths around things we thought we knew, but were wrong), drive automation and, ultimately, lead to making better and more informed decisions than was previously possible.

What do you expect 2018 to be like for the data and analytics industry?

Fast. The pace of change across the sector is incredible. Increasingly open. Open banking has been one of the most exciting launches of 2018. More personal and empowering. GDPR will set the baseline, but consumers will start expecting more. More connected.

So - why did you choose data?

I didn’t choose data, I chose solving interesting, complex problems that could make a big difference. I chose to approach those problems in ways that drew on facts wherever possible, rather than simply opinion. And, coupled with a background in Maths, that led to data - finding ways to make best use of what exists and, as importantly, designing the ways to collect new data we needed really to understand what we wanted (experiments, research…)

What is the best thing about working in the data industry?

When served up well, data is phenomenally empowering. Put it in the hands of the thousands of people on the ground in an organisation and decisions are no longer driven by the loudest opinion. Better decisions start getting made faster and more easily.  

If you were granted one wish to change something about the data industry, what would it be?

Accessibility and translation - too often, data is seen by the business as a bit scary and, too often, data scientists don’t have enough grasp of commercial and businesses realities to have the impact they’d like, so they sit separately. My goal is to bring a savviness around informed decisions into the everyday normal.

What advice would you give to somebody thinking of a career in this sector?

Go for it. And once you are in, be totally focused on the business outcomes, be curious, be tenacious, don’t be afraid.



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