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Venkat Gopalan, Chief Digital, Data & Technology Officer, Belcorp

Describe your career to date

My career spans over 25 years, marked by transformative leadership in digital, data, and technology across Fortune 500 companies such as Estee Lauder, Sephora/LVMH, Nike, Walmart, and AT&T. Specializing in retail, ecommerce, and consumer goods, I have been a driving force in digital transformation, leveraging extensive expertise to foster growth and innovation.

I play a pivotal role in shaping the company’s technological strategy, aligning it with corporate and sustainability goals. My leadership has seen the adoption of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and advanced analytics, steering Belcorp toward a future as a data-driven and AI-fueled enterprise. This shift not only enhances growth and productivity but also emphasizes the development of organizational capabilities through automation and continuous learning.

Before joining Belcorp, I was the Global Vice President of Engineering and Operations at Estee Lauder, where I developed innovative technical solutions that significantly improved customer experiences and operational efficiency, leading to substantial revenue growth. Beyond his executive roles, I am a passionate contributor to the tech community, actively supporting the Mach Alliance and serving on various technical advisory boards, sharing my knowledge and experiences to shape future technology landscapes.

How are you developing the data literacy of your organization, including the skills of your data teams and of your business stakeholders?  

At Belcorp, enhancing data literacy across the organization is a strategic priority that I am deeply involved in. Recognizing the transformative power of data, we have established comprehensive training academies such as the Belcorp data academy. Our mission is clear: to empower our employees with technological skills that enable data-driven decision-making. This is achieved through a structured learning approach which includes personalized, role-based learning paths and strategic partnerships with leading educational platforms like Udacity and Coursera.

We have set out a series of progressive goals starting with basic data appreciation to mastering advanced analytics and AI. This structured pyramid of learning ensures a tailored development for each role, from data literate consumers at the base, who learn to understand and analyze data, to analytics experts at the apex, who perform complex descriptive and predictive analyses. Key to our approach is the role-based differentiation within our academy.

Leadership engagement is another critical element. We facilitate executive training to ensure that our leaders can champion and challenge analytical standards within their teams, thus fostering a culture of data-driven decision making throughout the hierarchy. Through initiatives like the Belcorp AI Festival, we engage with global tech leaders to inspire and further educate our teams, ensuring that Belcorp remains at the forefront of data-driven innovation.

What role do you play in building and delivering conventional artificial intelligence solutions, including machine learning models? Are you also involved in your organization’s adoption of generative AI? 

As the executive sponsor for AI and data, analytics, and automation at Belcorp, my role is central to orchestrating the transformation of our company into a data-driven and AI-enhanced organization. This pivotal shift is supporting double-digit gains in productivity and efficiency across multiple facets of our business, from digital sales and merchandising to R&D, supply chain management, marketing, personalization, and customer service.

I have led the development and deployment of sophisticated AI and machine learning models, which are integral to our strategic initiatives. Our AI-driven approaches in merchandising and customer service not only optimize operations but also elevate the customer experience through personalized interactions and predictive analytics.

Additionally, my responsibilities extend to the strategic rollout of an automation and RPA strategy. This automation leverages AI to streamline operations and reduce redundancies, further embedding AI capabilities into our core processes.

I am spearheading the adoption of generative AI (genAI) within Belcorp, focusing on leveraging its potential to enhance productivity and drive growth. By integrating genAI, we are exploring innovative applications in content generation, design, and decision-making processes that promise to revolutionize how we operate and deliver value to our customers.

What are the key challenges to your data function that you are facing as its leader?

As a leader driving the digital and data transformation at Belcorp, I face several pivotal challenges. Key among these is ensuring the alignment of our data strategy with the fast pace of technological advancement and evolving business needs. Managing innovation while ensuring practical and effective implementations requires careful planning and agility.

Maintaining high data quality is a critical challenge. As data volumes grow exponentially, ensuring the accuracy, completeness, and reliability of data across all business units becomes increasingly complex. This requires sophisticated validation tools and processes to prevent data degradation, which can lead to poor decision-making and inefficiencies. Scaling data capabilities across a global enterprise also presents challenges.

As we expand our data-driven initiatives, ensuring seamless integration and uniformity in data practices across different regions and business units is essential. This demands continuous education and effective communication to ensure all teams are aligned and capable of leveraging data efficiently.

Talent acquisition and retention pose further challenges. The high demand for skilled data professionals requires a strategic approach to talent development and retention. We address this through our comprehensive training programs and by fostering a work environment that promotes growth and innovation.

Lastly, the rapid evolution of AI and machine learning technologies presents both opportunities and challenges. Keeping up with these changes to integrate useful innovations into our operations to drive real business value requires ongoing vigilance and a proactive strategy. Navigating these challenges is essential for sustaining and enhancing the impact of our data function on Belcorp’s strategic goals and overall success.

Venkat Gopalan
has been included in:
  • 100 Brands 2024 (USA)