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Lester Berry, Head of customer analytics, John Lewis Partnership

Path to power

 

I have been lucky so far, working for several great companies across various sectors and with some great people. Getting out of bed in the morning has never been a problem. My first role, all those years ago, was as an operational research analyst for British Airways (and staff travel perks!). From there, I moved to Lloyds Bank, then onto British Gas and now John Lewis Partnership, with shorter spells at Marks & Spencer and Telewest sprinkled in between. The common element linking all the roles is that I’ve bridged the gap between analytical teams and business decision-makers. Doing analysis is one thing, but having an impact on decisions is what motivates me. The current role at John Lewis Partnership is perfect. There are plenty of challenges, but with the backdrop of numbers, retail, stiff competition, the Partnership ethos and a brilliant team, the first two years delivered everything I hoped they would. As I look ahead, I’m looking forward to taking the analytical capability onto the next level - there is a huge opportunity here.

 

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

 

Several highlights spring to mind, but I am particularly pleased with the progress made at Waitrose in the last 12 months while I have led the data and analytics part of a broader change programme. The awareness and impact of analytics has grown hugely in 2018, right across the business and at all levels, delivering value in new ways to both strategic and everyday decisions. We haven’t finished, but there is some real momentum now and impact will continue to accelerate in 2019.

 

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

 

Success isn’t determined by how good you are at maths, but by the difference you make. You need to have a commercial understanding of business problems, the desire to solve them and the ability to connect with people to be effective.

 

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

 

In terms of the industry, yes, as we have seen a continued rapid growth in capabilities, tools, boutique agencies, etc, with many companies 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. In terms of my role though, no. 2018 did not turn out as expected, it was much better. As mentioned above, the progress made at Waitrose has been very pleasing and, if I’m honest, more than I thought was possible (and I’m an optimist!)

 

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

 

In many ways, I see 2019 being more of the same, but faster still, ie, more tools, more new capability and more new ideas, at an increasing pace. I am hopeful for two improvements, though. Firstly, that companies become more nimble in trying out new capabilities with a more agile test-and-learn approach adopted 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 cooler (a bit!), so I am hopeful more people choose a career in analytics.

 

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

 

With some difficulty. Finding the right talent is hard and can take a long time, but it is still possible with perseverance. We are working on two solutions. The first is to build a better talent pipeline so that we are less dependent on recruitment agencies. The second, once people have joined, is to make it a great place to work so that they want to stay. This is all about creating the right environment, a sense of belonging, team spirit, challenging work, training and development, etc.

 

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

 

Health. 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 optimised our health, imagine how transformational that could be.

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