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Gareth Powell, Group Data Officer, Irwin Mitchell

At the time of compiling the list, Gareth Powell was director of data, Studio Retail Group.


What has been your path to power?

I have 20 years of experience in the world of data and analytics, with a particular focus on retail, financial services and telecommunications and joined Irwin Mitchell as group data officer in June. The opportunity to advance Irwin Mitchell’s offering through actionable insight is really appealing and I am excited at the prospects for the application of data within the legal sector.


I was previously director of data with Studio Retail Group and prior to this I was group insight and analytics director at TalkTalk. I have also held roles as director of data science and director of customer data and analytics with N Brown Group over the last six years.


Like Studio, my role at Irwin Mitchell encompasses end-to-end responsibility for data and analytics and there is an exciting opportunity to make insight more accessible and intrinsic in decision-making. Irwin Mitchell has a fantastic heritage and is an ambitious organisation with a clear growth strategy as well as being a business with a solid growth trajectory over the last ten years. 


I am a big believer in having commercialised teams aligned to the entities of a business. This enables collaborative and faster decision-making. This, coupled with a “walled garden” data science, approach enables successful value creation which I am looking forward to repeating with Irwin Mitchell.

What impact has the pandemic had on the role of data in your company/organisation?


I joined Studio Retail during the pandemic. Like many organisations, Studio reflected on the transformative areas that will move the proposition forward and identified data as an area for us to drive the transformation agenda further. To that effect, we invested significantly in growing our teams and deploying data technologies that will enable our analysts to thrive while facilitating employee access to insights, underpinned by a significant data strategy programme. Like many other retailers, we saw a hike in cost per sale over the last year, so the insight derived through landing econometric and multi-touch attribution models provided greater flexibility.

Does data now have a seat at the table during strategic discussions? If not, what will it take to get it there? 


Data underpins both our customer experience and the organisation. It is the most fundamental aspect of our business transformation programme and plays a key role in our ambitions and aspirations. We are on a journey in terms of becoming a more insight-driven organisation. Key to this journey is highlighting value creation and prioritising the bigger data science bets via our executive board and senior leadership team. Of course, it helps having a chief executive officer who is in full support of the vision we are trying to deliver with data and analytics.


What are your key areas of focus for data and analytics in 2022?


Studio’s key areas of focus for data and analytics included landing and refining our new hub and spoke targeting operating model, which is crucial to the business for 2022. The team of bright data and analytical minds will continue to grow and be nurtured throughout the year. In parallel, we developed an approach to upskill teams in new data technologies as they are introduced. Embedding these new platforms and continuing to develop a new data ecosystem in Snowflake will allow prototyping and the delivery of better insights.


Studio is also embarking on a more significant data science journey this year, with a number of projects planned, including marketing ROI effectiveness, optimisation of product markdown and customer and product profitability. Data governance will also be embedded as a discipline throughout the business and teams will finetune ways of working within the data tribe and the business.


Tell us what leadership means to you in the context of your role as a senior data leader.


It is my role to get the business excited about what our data can truly enable with analytics, as well as reinforcing the vital role played by exceptional data management; posing the right analytical hypotheses is a cultural journey.


Data leaders must challenge accepted norms and collaborate closely with the business in order to succeed and therefore strong relationship management is critical. Analytical ivory towers never deliver. I like to strike a balance between enabling curiosity and innovation in the data team and satisfying the business with the data it needs to succeed. I always aim to inspire belief and excitement in my teams, starting with a vision through to gaining a deep understanding of how every part of the team contributes to value creation.

What key skills or attributes do you consider have contributed to your success in this role? 


I believe resilience is critical. Data is rapidly evolving in organisations, and it is important to be able to rapidly adapt. Target operating models are a constant evolution. Strong storytelling is key, whether in your vision or in the success stories you enable. It is important to be able to influence while having a flexible mind and allowing ample time for looking outward, and to realise that striving for 100% perfection is not the goal – deliver 80% of the solution in 20% of the time.


How did you develop – and continue to develop – these skills or attributes?


My first manager instilled a strong value-creation ethic and the art of championing success from day one in my career. Another manager was influential in helping me to develop gravitas; developing that external sheen is important, but ultimately it is important to enjoy what you do and smile like you mean it. Career development frameworks have been useful in guiding progression through each step of my journey. Another manager provided me with the platform and encouragement to step significantly out of my comfort zone. In the last five years I have relied on mentors and executive coaches. My first mentor really tested me and is responsible for my resilience factor. I continue to develop through tools like MBTI and by focusing on emotional intelligence.


Is the data tech you have keeping pace with your goals and requirements? Are your providers leading or lagging behind your demands? 


We had a significant amount to do in this space at Studio and last year was about landing new data technology. We now need to consider how we decommission legacy in parallel with landing our new cloud data platform. We now have the right tools to democratise our data while continuing to develop efficiencies via effective data and analytics management.

Gareth Powell
has been included in:
  • 100 Brands 2019 (EMEA)
  • 100 Brands 2020 (EMEA)
  • 100 Brands 2021 (EMEA)
  • 100 Brands 2022 (EMEA)