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Five Insights On The Biggest Big Data Executives in Consumer/Retail

What’s working for retail brands and why?

“Data is the new electricity” as noted by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, and given the widely acknowledged value of data, it is no surprise that we at Herbert Mines Associates have seen a significant uptick in demand for data-driven executives. In our effort to understand this trend and its implications in consumer/retail, Herbert Mines Associates set out to explore how companies in these sectors organize leadership to unlock the value of their data. Based on information from our proprietary database and discussions with data and analytics leaders, we have highlighted the following five key insights.

1)     The C-Level Title is Scarce

From the 187 consumer/retail companies examined, we identified only 18 Chief level positions with “data” or “analytics” in the title. While this may seem surprising, according to Gartner’s Chief Data Officer Survey conducted in 2019, only 3% of respondents were in retail. While other industries, such as finance, have accelerated data maturity due to regulatory demands, consumer/retail companies have not faced a similar mandate. However, we believe that with the shifting trends in consumer behavior, companies will drive rapid digital transformation thus elevating data roles.

2)     Variety in Career Route-Up

More than half of the 87 executives who have data or analytics in their title have progressed in their careers through the Information Technology function. This makes sense given that companies are investing in data technologies and need leaders who understand the value that these capabilities can provide. The second most common career route-up is in Marketing with over 25% of executives, which aligns with the rise of data-driven marketing to better target and connect with customers. Finance and Operations are other functions that we see in our route-up analysis. In terms of educational background, over 75% of executives hold an advanced degree. Approximately 25% have consulting experience.

3)     Enter the Chief Artificial Intelligence Officer

In 2019, an apparel retailer caught our attention when they appointed a Chief Strategy & Artificial Intelligence Officer. The title in and of itself demonstrated the company’s commitment to enabling “predictive, proactive, and personalized experiences” via advanced analytics. Will this title gain in popularity? It is too early to tell, but we did identify two other executives in our study with “artificial intelligence” in their title. As artificial intelligence and machine learning become ubiquitous, we would not be surprised to see a sharp rise in this title.

4)     On the Hunt for External Talent

Approximately half of the executives we identified are external hires. This suggests that when it comes to data strategy and growth, consumer/retail organizations are looking outside for new talent. Upon further examination of our data, we discovered that the majority of those external hires have been with their companies for two years or less. We see a big opportunity for consumer/retail companies to recruit in the financial services sector because these companies typically have more mature data functions and some financial institutions consider themselves retailers (particularly big banks with many branches).

5)     Two Pizza or Twenty Pizza Teams?

Jeff Bezos is known for implementing decentralized “two pizza teams” (i.e. small teams that can be fed by two pizzas) to drive innovation through fast iterations and limited meetings. Amazon does not have a Chief Data Officer while many other large companies choose a more centralized data and analytics organizational structure. This provides business users with a trusted “single version of the truth” to support decision making. Perhaps as consumer/retail companies’ data capabilities mature, the function will evolve to more of a ”two pizza” model with data teams embedded into the lines of business.

With the right senior level talent and organization structure, consumer/retail companies are able to unlock the value of arguably the world’s most valuable resource – data. As one of the leading firms for consumer and retail executive search, we help our clients attract game-changing talent, targeting candidates “beyond the usual suspects” to put the right puzzle pieces together for achieving success.

If you would like to learn more about this study, please email me at Ryan@herbertmines.com

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