The CEOs of Thomson Reuters and Target show how to be true data leaders

Most of the thought leadership being extolled by vendors, pundits, IT analysts and consultancies remains laser-focused on advocating the creation of ‘chief whatever officers’ to solve every leadership need, and for the mass training of ‘unicorns’ to create enough competent workers in data and analytics.

Neither of these roles, no matter how much everyone cheerleads the need for them, will solve the central requirement for CEOs and boards to take accountability for all leadership of data and analytics endeavours as part of the overall strategic portfolio – nor the criticality of making data, information and analytics core competencies of the enterprise.

My contra viewpoint on how to create a predictive enterprise is not necessarily new – similar thinking has been embraced by a small group of CEOs spread across a number of areas in the public, private and NFP sectors who have led their organisations to become data and analytics driven in all activities.

To better understand how these CEOs have embraced and excelled at the use of data and analytics, I have prepared a series about eight of these data leaders in more detail. For the purposes of this column, I will be limited to a brief discussion of two such CEOs.

Jim Smith – CEO, Thomson Reuters

Smith was with Thomson for many years prior to its merger with Reuters, and as CEO has been the architect of the joint business model that they use today.

A key strategic objective of the post-merger was to operate as an enterprise rather than a set of distinct portfolio businesses. By doing this, Thomson Reuters can reap the benefits of scale in order to better serve its customers as a leading source of information for businesses and professionals.

Accomplishing this required Thomson Reuters to drive its information-centric vision and strategy from the top down, bringing together disparate platforms and products into one source of the truth for all of their clients to use in analytics and decision science.

Not to rest on his laurels, Smith is driving the organisation by stepping up its data-driven innovation initiatives to invest in new ideas that can be leveraged across the entire business. He is clearly Thomson Reuters’ data-driven leader.

Brian Cornell – CEO, Target

Cornell came to Target during the aftermath of one of the largest data breaches of the time and found the company in free fall in terms of earnings, with major strategic challenges at every turn.

Given his background at Walmart, Pepsi and Tropicana, Cornell immediately employed the most powerful tools in his bag, data and analytics, to begin the process of moving Target in a new strategic direction and rebuilding its business.

He explains ‘My first action as CEO was to move my office down the hall a few steps away from our global data nerve centre and set up my war room. I am a dyed-in-the-wool data guy who likes nothing more than nosing around a store and getting a feel for what’s going on. We are using all of our data to define the signature categories we’re going to stand for – the ones that can differentiate the brand going forward and make Target the market leader.’

>See also: Leadership in the age of digital transformation

Smith and Cornell are just two of the growing number of top-down data leaders who can be found at the helm of major organisations across the world.

Both of them know the power of data and analytics, and make them core competencies of the entire organisation. They understand the strategic value of being a predictive enterprise and are driving their respective organisations to become one.

Neither relies on proxy leaders or unicorns to ensure their success.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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