EnsembleIQ’s hunt for a new CEO led it to an executive with deep experience in data and analytics, which makes sense given how both areas dominate the retail world. David Shanker joined EiQ, parent company of Retail Leader, as CEO in February and brought to the role a diverse background in data, research, marketing and innovation. Shanker previously served as CEO of the Americas at Lightspeed, the digital data collection arm of Kantar and also co-founded and served as CEO of digital startup PinchMe. Earlier in his career, he held key roles at online research pioneer OTX Research and spent nearly a decade at IRI. Shanker spoke with Retail Leader about technology-driven disruption, shiny pennies, failure and his vision for establishing EiQ as the industry’s leading provider of business intelligence and growth enablement solutions.
Retail Leader: As a veteran of the retail and CPG space, what excites you today about the state of the industry and where we are heading?
David Shanker: There are several macro trends that make this a very interesting time. There is an explosion of big data that can be leveraged in a lot of different ways. And from some of my prior experience, leveraging behavioral and attitudinal data together offers really great insights and that is what we are doing at EnsembleIQ. Technology is playing a huge role in everything and with machine learning we are seeing progress made in how we do business with one another and how we think about going to market as brands and understand consumers at a deeper level. The convergence of e-commerce and brick and mortar is also very interesting. It is clear that pure play ecommerce without some brick and mortar footprint may not be the best possible choice. Amazon has certainly voted in that direction with the acquisition of Whole Foods. At the heart of those macro trends is technology, which is changing everything we do. Great companies need to adjust and adapt and leverage technology to change and disrupt the industry.
RL: What about concerns? There are a lot changes happening in terms of shifting consumer behaviors around where and how shoppers make purchases, how they interact with brands and how traditional trading partners interact with one another.
DS: One of my concerns is the shiny new penny concept. Everyone races to the new penny and tries to do things before they really understand and think about and discuss all of the implications. Before we put a lot of energy and effort and money behind new initiatives we need to understand the implications. I have seen many companies run very hard at that shiny new penny and sometimes they are running in the wrong direction.
RL: Doesn’t that create a conundrum for the industry and business leaders who need to move fast to capitalize on opportunities?
DS: It does. Every company wants to act with speed and lack of speed can kill but at the same time too much speed can kill. What’s important is to modulate the speed and make sure to understand the implications of something new and the changes that are going on and then being thoughtful and purposeful about things and how we go about doing them differently.
RL: There is a high sense of urgency among many companies to be the first mover.
DS: That’s okay as long as you understand the implications. You can have a company culture of being first with the understanding that you may fail more often than not. That is okay if that is how you go to market and you understand and can live with the benefit and the risk. My view is we can’t race at every shiny new penny. Because technology can be so enamoring you just have to be prudent about the directions you go in.
RL: How did you develop that philosophy? Is it something you learned the hard way?
DS: Earlier in my career it was easier to race to new things and not spend time thinking about the implications. As I have gained experience, I’ve come to better understand the importance of being thoughtful and purposeful. I love speed and having first mover advantage and will always try to take first mover advantage, but experience has made me wiser about thinking through the implications of being the first mover. Have there been failures along the way? Absolutely. I don’t think anyone in business can be really successful without having failed and looking back at those failures and learning from them. I’m okay with failing personally and with teammates failing, with one caveat; let’s learn from it, try not to make the mistake again, pick yourself up and then move forward again as fast as we can.
RL: What was your perception of EnsembleIQ prior to joining the company and how has your view changed since joining as CEO in February?
DS: Prior to joining, my perception was great brands and great people. It was a common theme I had heard and knew because I had been a reader and customer of some of the brands. The good news is the quality of the people has exceeded my expectations — we truly have an excellent team — and the brands are as phenomenal as I knew they would be. The big opportunity we have to grow our brands is by focusing on innovation, building the innovation DNA into our culture to help re-invent the brands, grow and become something unique and different in the industry. I love our brands and what we are going to focus on is continuing to innovate and expand and challenge ourselves to think about our brands differently than we have in the past.
RL: Amid all the change going on in the industry, where do you see a company like EnsembleIQ adding the greatest value?
DS: We are going to add the most value by utilizing the vast amounts of information and data that are part of our ecosystem. We are sitting on a literal goldmine of data that we must better leverage to help our customers better deliver their message and activate with their customers on an almost one-to-one basis. We also have an opportunity to better understand what is important to our clients and go out and acquire data to merge with our existing behavioral data sets.
RL: You’ve been involved with some pretty innovative companies. How would you assess the current state of innovation at EnsembleIQ?
DS: We have a lot of innovation occurring in different buckets around the company that need to be better integrated and exposed to our clients. I am excited that we have established an Innovation Practice led by Tanner Van Dusen who is the right person to harness the innovation and lead us in the right direction. We are going to rally around Tanner and EnsembleIQ will build a much larger culture of innovation.
RL: A year from now, how do you want EnsembleIQ to be thought of by retailers, suppliers and solution providers?
DS: I am hopeful and expect that EnsembleIQ will be seen as the leading provider of business intelligence and growth enablement solutions in each of our core verticals of retail, CPG, technology and hospitality. I want us to be seen as a company that is very receptive to our customers’ needs and one of the companies that our customers think of calling first when they have a challenging business issue.
RL: The retail industry is full of challenging issues.
DS: It is and when companies have challenges and they are calling people, I want to be on that short list of people they reach out to. RL