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Judith kleine Holthaus, Senior manager, insight and analytics, Whitbread

Path to power

 

In school, maths and sciences came naturally to me, but I loved the arts, languages, history, possibly because I identified more with my creative mother than my scientifically-minded father. Pragmatism and the desire to “make change happen” led me to study business and management. My first work experiences were “creative” marketing internships, but I quickly learned that this wasn’t for me. I was happiest digging into databases to build business cases, analyse competitor strategies and inform decisions. It turns out I am very much my father’s daughter. Yet, I think there’s real value in remaining methodology-agnostic and pragmatic when solving problems. For my Master’s, I studied the full breadth of quantitative and qualitative methods to answer diverse questions from anthropology, sociology, politics and economics. And just as I believe in the growing power of data and analytics to inform decisions, I get excited about awesome qualitative insights, new research techniques, diversity of thought in a debate, and logical reasoning when that is most appropriate. A theme of constant learning runs through my career which has covered agency and client-side roles in multiple industries. I have lived in several countries and what I love about the hospitality sector is that it is fundamentally human, diverse and fast-paced. My team often work on questions that span disciplines from HR, operations, marketing to business strategy and finance. I believe that this multi-disciplinary approach will continue to help “make good change happen”.

 

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

 

I struggle to name but one. I recently had an exit conversation with an analyst who was moving abroad. He was proud of the influence he had had and the amount he had learned at Whitbread. Having a happy team and knowing that they thrive personally and professionally is a privilege. A recent project on quantifying the value of service makes me proud. It was based on a whole range of structured and unstructured data and is now driving business strategy. And winning the DataIQ Award for data and analytics leader of the year 2018 was a real honour - and would have been impossible without my fabulous team.

 

If you could give your younger self some advice about how to progress in this industry, what would it be?

 

To be more patient.

 

Did 2018 turn out the way you expected? If not, in what ways was it different?

 

2018 was fascinating. GDPR emails in our inboxes, “fake news”, Cambridge Analytica, etc, made it a year of unprecedented public debate about data and its use. Debates about “ethics in data” are no longer fringe territory. Conversations about the biases in data models were also interesting and very 2018 - they are a wonderful further argument for inclusive working. I hope this level of debate and public interest continues as AI capabilities multiply.

 

What do you expect 2019 to be like for the industry?

 

Exciting and challenging! I am looking forward to working with ever-richer data sets to answer a whole range of new questions, and I hope that we continue to prove the benefit of our work to businesses, customers and society more widely, particularly during times of uncertainty.

 

Talent and skills are always a challenge to find - how are you tackling this in your organisation?

 

Our team get involved in a wide range of subject areas, so our most effective team members tend to be curious, open-minded and motivated problem-solvers. The ability to manipulate, understand and connect data is an advantage, but we are flexible regarding preferred programmes or techniques. As a result, our recruitment process includes problem-solving tests to understand how a candidate thinks, asks questions, and what this would mean for the business. Recognising the importance of talent development, we are also increasingly offering internships in data analytics and, more widely across Whitbread, apprenticeships for candidates looking for alternative paths to university.

 

What aspect of data, analytics or their use are you most optimistic about and why?

 

I am most optimistic about the increased ability to connect datasets more easily and build models that drive executive decision-making as well as tactical actions. I hope we match this with an ability to integrate different viewpoints, approaches and progressive ways of working - and that we bring people along on the journey.

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