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Louis DiCesari, Global Head of Data, Analytics and AI, Levi Strauss & Co

What has been your path to power?

 

I joke that my path to power started with being the annoying child always asking “why?”. Many people get into analytics through tech and engineering backgrounds, but I came into the field through the consumer behaviour path. I’ve always been fascinated by why people make the decisions they do and what brands can do to influence those decisions, making life better in the process.

 

As my career grew, I started to realise that “how” is just important as “why”. Working for big companies – Prudential Financial, Vodafone, and now Levi’s – I’ve had to figure out ways to operationalise change at scale. Whether it’s recommending the right alternative when a life insurance policy is coming to an end, crafting the right retention offer for a customer who is leaving for another telecommunications provider, or figuring out which inventory to ship to what store in what quantities, the analytics are only as good as the organisation’s ability to implement and act on them.

 

I’m proud to have led teams that have driven lasting change: injecting behavioural economics to actuarial projections; freeing up tens of millions of dollars per year in capital reserves; optimizing retention offers to profitably retain millions of customers worth billions of Euros during some of the most serious competitive threats in telco; and now helping an iconic brand come out of the pandemic a stronger company with profitable price increases, less discounting, a stronger assortment, and more advanced eCommerce capabilities, including AI-based recommendations and visual search. We’ve been successful because we’ve stayed close to the business problems, nimble in approach, and relentless in focus.

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

 

During the initial days of the pandemic, we operated in a war-room setting, with daily updates to the top leadership of the company. Our focus was first and foremost on keeping our customers and associates safe, and second on figuring out how to operate in an environment of store closures and social distancing. Each day was a new adventure in predicting how to meet our customers’ needs while adapting to constantly changing operations.

 

We had to embrace a “minimum viable product” mindset and quickly stand up new analytical models for demand, pricing, promotion, assortment and operations. As the world has returned to semi-normal, the pods we established during the pandemic are still intact. We’re iterating on and scaling the products we built during the pandemic, adding new capabilities to delight our customers while driving profitability.

 

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

 

Absolutely. Our data and analytics roadmap aligns to the company’s strategic priorities, and each company priority has a workstream on data and analytics. I’ve been lucky to work with leaders who champion the use of data and analytics and who have proactively created seats at the table. It’s our responsibility as an analytics community to keep the seat at a table by bringing not only data or information, but solutions that create value with a clear path to implementation.

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

  • Value delivery – Continuing to track and measure the financial value of everything we touch, through rapid testing and experimentation;
  • Scale – Ensuring every product we’ve built is used to its fullest potential throughout the world;
  • Innovation – Keeping up with consumer expectations, particularly in emerging areas like AR and VR;
  • Operational excellence – In a world of supply chain issues, inflation and fast-changing requirements, operational excellence is more critical than ever to meeting customer expectations

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

Leadership means: setting the right data and analytics vision and strategy, aligned with and elevating the company strategy; getting the right diverse group of people in place and keeping them motivated and engaged; putting agile processes in place so that our people can have greatest impact; and ensuring that data and technology infrastructure are available to deliver on those priorities. I believe that analytics functions can and should be profit centres, with clear P&L and prioritisation based on value and speed to value.

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

 

  • Commercial focus – Staying laser focused on business needs and delivery of financial results; setting up renewable revenue streams that afford us more time for innovation;
  • Servant leadership – People are our most important asset, and our job as leaders is to make things easy for them, allow talent to shine, and source good ideas from anywhere and anyone in the organisation;
  • Resilience – There will always be data problems, technology problems, staffing shortages and other disruptions. Anyone who has worked with me will have heard me say, “done is better than perfect.”

 

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

 

I’m a naturally curious person, and I like learning about new industries and business functions, applying what I can from my past experience, while finding and taking on new challenges. I set goals for myself to meet new people in new areas of the company, even if they don’t have anything to do with what’s on my plate right now, so that I can keep expanding my business knowledge. I encourage my team to do the same.

 

I also make a habit of staying close to my team, always asking what’s on their mind, using open-ended questions and giving them opportunities to apply their ideas. No-meeting days, reading groups and hackathons have all been great ways to “crowdsource” new ideas to help us overdeliver.

 

I’m a fan of agile, but regardless of methodology, I like to break things into achievable and time-bound chunks, getting feedback often and iterating.

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

 

It’s a constant battle, or maybe an arms race is a better way to describe it! There’s so much creativity and so many cool solutions right now, including for visual analytics, which are so important in fashion. More than ever, I feel architecture is so important to figure out how to get all of these great components working together within one ecosystem.

 

Louis DiCesari
has been included in:
  • 100 Brands 2021 (EMEA)
  • 100 Brands 2022 (EMEA)
  • No. 4 100 Brands 2020 (EMEA)