Men discussing data

Provoking Consumer-First Analytical Thinking with Drew Smith

My guest this week is Drew Smith, Vice President of Global Data and Analytics at Little Caesars Enterprises and Ilitch Companies. Little Caesars is a pizza franchise that is mainly in the United States. Illitch Companies owns the Detroit Tigers (baseball), Detroit Red Wings (hockey), and several stadiums. Before that, Drew worked at International Institute for Analytics (IIA), an analytics consulting company, and IKEA, the furniture retailer and manufacturer. Given this long record of experience, I knew Drew would be a great guest.

At IIA, Drew ran their Analytics Leadership Consortium (ALC). This is a program where analytics leaders from various industries and companies come together to have peer-to-peer sharing on issues. I asked Drew what some of the commonalities he heard in these meetings were. “[…] [P]eople were really obsessed with organizational models. Centralized, hybrid, decentralized, like what’s the best organizational model? And I often found when people were asking that, they really weren’t addressing the root cause that they didn’t have their data in good shape. They didn’t have the right talent in the team.” Some people shared what they focused on “I don’t know how to describe my organization. Here’s what I do. Here’s how people set up. Here’s how we deliver projects.”

Drew shared one company in particular that he admired, Steelcase. Both Drew and I have worked with Steelcase, and I concur with Steelcase’s exemplary ability to focus. Drew said “[…] they had a problem with getting the engineering talent that they wanted, and I think all managers put their brains on that, and they recruited and they trained and they created an ecosystem that made it easy for data engineers to come into. I felt like they were just really good at focus.”

Drew faces a unique challenge at Little Caesars and Ilitch Holdings. He’s the first enterprise data and analytics leader they’ve had. When interviewing for the position, Drew said to the CEO “I was like, you’re a little late. You know that, right? Like we’ve got work to do to play catch up […]” and pointed out how much further ahead their competitors were in the data and analytics strategy. The CEO took accountability and said they’d wanted to fill this position around 2014. “We are behind, but you’re gonna help us get up to speed and deliver world class analytics out to our whole company, including our franchisees. So I was like, okay, I like the size of that. I like the honesty within the CEO. And so I liked the fact that it was new, it was challenging, it was a ground up kind of thing.”

Now that Drew is in a new position with all of the experience, I asked him about the lessons he’s taking to the new position. His lesson is “this takes time.” He continued, “So I’ve been […] with Little Caesars for about nine months, and there was a bit of strategy creation in the first bit. And then we’ve finally got some good first hires, building out the data team. And I’m like, that was maybe in April, and now I’m like already anxious to get products out. So, I took the lesson of be patient, and all of my friends at IIA said, hey, this is a couple years. It takes two, three years to get this really up and running when you’ve got a big company, which we are. But man, I’m like, I’m trying to learn that lesson.” He added “I have to remind myself of that lesson on a daily basis when I’m meeting with the guys building analytics products, and “guys” being a gender neutral term.”

Check out the episode to hear even more of Drew’s insights from a long career in analytics, living in Sweden while working at IKEA, and creating human usable data products at Ikea. Drew has a great perspective, and you won’t want to miss the rest of his insights, experience, and good humor.