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Will Sach, Director of Data Strategy, News UK

What has been your career path to date?

I started my career working in Pathology, drawn to studying disease and its link to mortality. Science was my passion from an early age and the chance to unravel the many mysteries of the human body drove both my degree and career choices. Sadly, my career in Pathology came to an abrupt end after only a few short months when discovering I was allergic to the main chemical reagent I worked with. I was forcibly retired days later. 

 

With a Bachelor and Master of Science degree under my belt, I spent a summer contemplating my future. In the end, I opted for a career change after finding a database marketing company willing to take a chance on a forlorn science graduate. It was here I discovered that there was a new science emerging – one that revolved around understanding customers and their experiences, which I knew I wanted to be part of. In essence, I swapped studying humans for customers and their data.

 

In 2006, I heard of a company that was leading the way in customer science, dunnhumby, and its owners, Clive and Edwina Dunn. After joining as an insight and media consultant, I became fully immersed in the world of data and its potential for understanding customers. I spent nearly 13 years at dunnhumby, working in a range of insight and media, commercial and strategy roles where I learned about data, technology, people and processes. 

 

I began to feel a calling for taking my knowledge into a client-side role. An interesting role came up at News UK to swap industries and lead the data strategy and in 2018, I joined the team as client data officer on The Sun. Eighteen months later, I became director of data strategy, a role I continue to perform today.

What made you choose data as your career focus?

At dunnhumby, we were taught that winning with the customer is the key to unlocking long-term, sustainable value for the business. There are endless opportunities to do this and I have used my consultancy skills to guide UK manufacturers, retailers and global businesses and their investments in the customer experience. Over the years, my passion has broadened to understand the foundations on which good data is built, knowing that unless they are in place, organisational objectives like monetising data soon come unstuck.

How aware were you of data as a career opportunity during your education or early work experience? Does this need to be heightened?

In the early 90s, there wasn’t much career advice offered at school or university. Unless you knew you wanted to train as a pilot or a doctor, you most likely crash-landed into the world of data as a happy accident. While data has been touted as the fourth industrial resolution, there is still a lot of work to be done to excite and educate the next generation on data and its role as a language we use to join the dots. 

 

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

Over the past 12 months, I have been leading a new enterprise data strategy for News UK. The key focus areas are:

 

  • Data leadership – creating a new operating model for data, which includes communicating why data is important, how it helps our teams and drives business and personal growth;
  • Data governance – governance is everyone’s responsibility in the business, we need to help them understand what they are responsible for and why;
  • Data culture – we are bringing the gold through new data capabilities and tools, so now we are teaching our people to become miners. We are committed to improving data fluency as we believe it creates the link between people growth and business growth;
  • Innovation and future focus – to become a truly customer-first and data-enabled business, we must listen to our customers. We are investigating new customer signals and building long-term experimentation programmes designed to deliver continuous improvement.

 

Tell us about any ambitions you have in terms of becoming a data leader.

As data leaders, we need to see and think differently to everyone else. The right combination of data, insights and application offers a new perspective on what is an opportunity or business problem. As a data leader, I would like to be known for solving business, customer, industry and community problems. 

 

The area I would most like to have an impact on as a data leader is solving community problems and using data for good. The role data could play in supporting organisations and their corporate and social responsibility (CSR) will mature over the next few years. It’s a great opportunity to strike a balance between being a successful business and demonstrating a responsibility to the communities we serve beyond our core product. 

 

What key skills or attributes do you consider will be essential to your success in this role?

Being passionate about data and obsessed with the customer are critical, but not enough. Data leaders also require a steely resilience. It can be a bumpy road and the key to engaging people with a data strategy is to help them understand what’s in it for them. It will take time and you will get knock-backs along the way so data storytelling is fast becoming a core skill for any effective data leader. You must know your audience if you want to pique their interest and, more importantly, get them to act on their own volition.

 

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

I read a lot. The beauty of the internet is that there is a bottomless encyclopaedia of data content and case studies ready and waiting for the data enthusiast. I am a big fan of the Harvard Business Review in particular. I’ve also read a range of data leadership and strategy books. On a more practical level, I think workshops (both internal and external) are hugely worthwhile. I am a particular fan of hackathons, as you are exposed to a number of different skillsets at once and have a short time to work together to deliver a successful outcome. I try to attend conferences like Big Data LDN as it’s a great place to meet new people, plus is are a host of educational seminars and talks to attend.

How do you keep pace or stay in touch with your peer group? Do you see it as important to have an active professional network?

I think in order to stay sharp, you have to step out of your business and comfort zone. I try to join roundtable discussions and do the occasional speaking event as it offers me the chance to speak with data professionals from all industries and different countries. It’s a great opportunity to communicate, validate or even argue through our own data stories. On this last point, to become proficient at telling good data stories, you must listen and learn from others and create your style. I don’t know of any better way to learn than this.

Will Sach
has been included in:
  • Future Leaders 2022 (EMEA)