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Lester Berry, head of analytics and data science, John Lewis Partnership

Lester Berry

Path to power

My first role was as an operational research analyst for British Airways and from there I moved to Lloyds Bank, then onto British Gas and now the John Lewis Partnership, with spells at Marks & Spencer and Telewest in between. The common element linking all the roles is that I’ve bridged the gap between analytical teams and decision makers. Doing analysis is one thing but having an impact on decisions is where the value is and, ultimately, what motivates me.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

I’m not sure proudest is the right word, but towards the end of 2019 my role grew considerably. You may have read in the press about the head office cuts at John Lewis through the consolidation of the John Lewis and Waitrose leadership teams. I feel very honoured to have come out of that process and now lead the analytics function for the whole partnership, rather than just Waitrose, with a much bigger team.

 

Who is your role model or the person you look to for inspiration?

The sportsmen and women, who show the determination and focus to make the most of their talents every day, are extremely inspirational. When you see their efforts rewarded, whatever the sport - from Mo Farah to Bradley Wiggins and Lizzy Yarnold - you know they’ve spent years training for gold, it’s incredible.

 

Did 2019 turn out the way you expected? If not, in what ways was it different?

In many ways, for data and analytics, yes, as it has continued to get faster, bigger and better. We have continued to see a rapid growth in capabilities, tools and techniques, although many companies are either struggling to keep up or wondering how to generate sustained benefit from new opportunities, while at the same time tackling ageing infrastructure and cost pressures.

 

We have also seen analytics continuing to be more influential in the boardroom, with awareness being replaced by understanding as CDO/CAO roles become more common. This can only be a good thing.

 

What do you expect 2020 to be like for the data and analytics industry?

I am hoping to see two improvements. Firstly, that companies become nimbler at experimenting with new capabilities, with more agility shown by analysts, stakeholders and IT functions. As an industry, we need to be better at creating value, more quickly from new ideas. Secondly, I sense that our industry is becoming a bit more fashionable and more aspirational, so I am hopeful that more people choose a career in analytics.

 

Data and technology are changing business, the economy and society – what do you see as the biggest opportunity emerging from this?

I think about helping society in general rather than driving higher profits. More specifically, health has to be a big opportunity. General health advice is still broad brush and mainly common sense. However, we have already seen the start of a more personalised approach and I am excited by what this might mean to fitness, life expectancy, sleep, happiness etc. If we all optimised our health, with problems being spotted earlier, imagine how transformational that could be? It certainly excites me more than every corporate making a bit more profit.

 

What is the biggest tech challenge you face in ensuring data is at the heart of your digital transformation strategy?

There is a tension in the industry at the moment. On one hand there is a drive both to democratise data and to give analysts more power and freedom, while on the other, there is a clear, increasing and understandable focus on data security. Balancing these, knowing that neither can “fail” is difficult, but this balance must be achieved, and it is a challenge many are facing. We need to move fast but safely, and technology should be focused on enabling that.

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