The Data Chief | Episode 50

Fitch Group’s Heidi Lanford on Finding a Voice in the C-Suite and Improving Data Literacy

Heidi Lanford

Chief Data Officer

Fitch Group

Current EpisodeEP50: Fitch Group’s Heidi Lanford on Finding a Voice in the C-Suite and Improving Data Literacy
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Episode Overview

As data and insights become more important to business success, it makes sense that the office of a Chief Data Officer has evolved as well. Heidi Lanford, CDO of Fitch Group, shares that “it’s gone from stewarding and protecting data to monetization of data.” She explains how CDOs can build effective partnerships with their executive counterparts with clear focus and communication, plus why there can be considerable career value in choosing to be uncomfortable, how she builds diversity into her team, and best practices for improving data literacy.

Key Moments: 

  • 02:32: How does the CDO position fit in the leadership structure at Fitch Group?
  • 04:38: What does Fitch Group provide?
  • 10:03: How does Heidi work with the leadership team?
  • 13:05: How does Heidi suggest CDOs communicate to CEOs?
  • 18:58: How can a CDO work with the technology side to update the tech stack?
  • 27:50: How is Heidi helping her workers become more data literate? 
  • 33:38: What is the “Legends of Data” program? 
  • 37:48: What’s the benefit of choosing to be uncomfortable in one’s career journey?
  • 43:19: ​​How does Heidi keep up with a rapidly evolving industry?

Key takeaways: 

  • What’s the best way to ensure data is guiding a business’ game plan? (10:03)

    “Do I want to be sure that the CTO organization understands our data needs and how we need to access data and the timeliness of that, and hand those requirements over and work in concert with the CTO to ensure that we have the best platform for that? Absolutely. And so that's where we're focusing on the data platform and what technology we need for the data platform, but whether it's AWS or Google or Microsoft, I value their knowledge and partnership. And so that's how we've tried to divvy things up in a way, but work in concert.”
    For Heidi, it all comes down to taking a collaborative approach with other business leaders. Leadership is about building consensus.”

  • How should a CDO communicate with other company leaders? (12:54)

    One of the biggest roles that a CDO has to advocate for in the C-suite is to be able to explain in plain language what it means for a data policy or a new data platform to actually come to life and make an impact to the organization because otherwise it's just techno-speak and they don't understand it.” 
    To build consensus and drive change, it makes sense that one has to first make sure that all interested parties appreciate the proposed direction.   

  • In your career journey, why is it good to be uncomfortable? (37:48)

    “I seem to be drawn to positions that maybe offer a little bit of discomfort and I feel that that's a great way to grow. I pick up things. Every time I'm in a different job, there's just something new and there's always something positive that I think you can take from each of your positions and what you've learned, and they have an impact on who you are and what you're able to do.” 
    There’s no doubt that both professional and personal growth requires a willingness to be uncomfortable. Rather than uncomfortably being something painful to avoid, Heidi seems to offer that it can be reframed as “a great way to grow.”

Key Quotes: 

“One of the biggest roles that a CDO has to advocate for in the C-suite is to be able to explain in plain language what it means for a data policy or a new data platform to actually come to life and make an impact to the organization because otherwise it's just techno-speak and they don't understand it.”

“Do I want to be sure that the CTO organization understands our data needs and how we need to access data and the timeliness of that, and hand those requirements over and work in concert with the CTO to ensure that we have the best platform for that? Absolutely. And so that's where we're focusing on the data platform and what technology we need for the data platform, but whether it's AWS or Google or Microsoft, I value their knowledge and partnership. And so that's how we've tried to divvy things up in a way, but work in concert.”

“One of the biggest roles that a CDO has to advocate for in the C-suite is to be able to explain in plain language what it means for a data policy or a new data platform to actually come to life and make an impact to the organization because otherwise it's just techno-speak and they don't understand it.” 

 “My dad always used to tell me, ‘Don't become a Jack of all trades and master of nothing.’ That has stuck with me since probably I was flitting from sport to sport or hobby to hobby when I was in elementary school. And I think… my dad's advice is true for corporate America. We need to focus on a few things and do them really well and not try to do a lot of things, just sort of half-baked.” 

“I seem to be drawn to positions that maybe offer a little bit of discomfort and I feel that that's a great way to grow. I pick up things. Every time I'm in a different job, there's just something new and there's always something positive that I think you can take from each of your positions and what you've learned, and they have an impact on who you are and what you're able to do.”

Mentions: 

Bio:

Heidi Lanford is Chief Data Officer for Fitch Group.

She is responsible for transforming the way Fitch leverages data across its businesses to enhance current products and internal applications, as well as exploiting the value of data for new product development.

Ms. Lanford joined Fitch in 2020 from Red Hat (an IBM company), where she was the Vice President of Enterprise Data & Analytics, responsible for developing their data and analytics ecosystem, establishing data governance, and building an insights-driven organization. Formerly Ms. Lanford held executive positions with Avaya and WPP.

Ms. Lanford is a frequent keynote speaker on topics about building a data culture, data literacy, applied analytics/data science, and women in STEM. She holds a BA in Mathematics and Statistics from the University of Virginia, where she sits on the board of their School of Data Science.”


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