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Episode 18: Tarun Kataria (MARS) + Key Takeaways

In this episode, Tarun Kataria of Mars takes us through his experience leading analytics efforts at a series of prominent global companies including Coca-cola, Georgia Pacific and now Mars. You will walk away from this episode with a handful of very useful frameworks that Tarun uses with his team and company leaders to stay focused on the right things, and always drive the company’s global mission across all of the business lines. Mars remains a private, family-owned company with a serious mission including climate change, food shortages, gender and racial equality, and other social issues. Behind the company’s multiple priorities lies a very robust, highly intentional analytics capability that is a model for others to pay attention to.

Key Takeaways

Describe your title and role.

My title is Senior Global Director, Advanced Analytics. My team has close to 20 people. We created an ecosystem of partners that think like us and operate like us. For every one person on my team, we have a ratio of 1:4 or 1:5 for the analytics ecosystem. So, we are at 80‑100 people.

Where does the analytics function sit in the organization and who does it report into?

We sit in the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) organization. The CDO organization sits within Digital Technologies (DT). The CDO reports to our Chief Financial Officer. This creates that balance of driving value with awareness of the bottom line while at the same time serving the global nature of our different businesses.

Is that the right place for the analytics function to report?

From a positioning perspective, it makes a lot of sense for the analytics organization to sit within DT. We are a firm believer in design. If you look at the fabric and structure of Mars, Inc., we are multiple businesses: our confectionary business, our services business, our pet nutrition business. So, we are quite diverse, and we are very global as well. If there is one organization that sits horizontally, touching and connecting all the business units across the globe, it is Digital Technologies. So, DT is the backbone. Mars is unique in that you can have companies that are global from a brand perspective, but from an operational perspective, they're still local, regional, or international. DT as an organization is truly global.

Describe the organizing model you have adopted for analytics.

We don't differentiate too much between technology, analytics, and business. We believe that they need to come together in a seamless way. We've designed our teams so that they speak the same language and are the bridge between business and technology. Heavily borrowing from Scott Cook's (Intuit cofounder) ideology, our teams are a combination of dreamers, hustlers, and hackers. Dreamers are the business translators and business strategists. Hackers are the data scientists, data engineers, and software developers. Hustlers are the people who manage the day-to-day project management, and behavior and change management, as well.

What are four or five important qualities and behaviors of analytics leaders?

  1. Courage. You have to be provocative as an analytical and digital leader. You have to look at where and how you can transform things. Having the courage to challenge the status quo as a provocateur is critical.
  2. Humility. One of the things that gets lost as people become leaders is humility. If you look at the true driver of disruption, it's not technology, data, or analytics. It's unmet consumer needs. You have to be humble to question your own biases if you want to be a disrupter.
  3. Tenacity. Tenacity allows you to thrive in the face of long-term challenges when solving for data, platforms, and technical and analytical solutions, and especially when changing behavior and culture.
  4. Agility. We live in a VUCA world—volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity—that is only going to continue increasing. You need to be able to change course.
  5. Good storytelling. What people remember when you leave a room are stories and anecdotes rather than frameworks and content.

How do you measure performance and success when it comes to analytics?

We have a simple approach, which is one of value, followed by speed. We've summed up our digital strategy in one word: 100X. For value, we use a three-prong system that tracks the dollar value of insights we generate, insights accepted by the business, and insights that get activated. The goal is to have the dollar value of the generated insights and the executed insights be so close that there is no difference. For speed, what is the time it takes us to answer a question or solve a problem, and the dollar value it takes us to solve it? So, looking at Q/T, question divided by time, and Q/$, question divided by cost. We relentlessly and ruthlessly bring down the cost and the time it takes to answer questions so we can inject speed into what we do.

For a transformational program, you have a set time, budgets, and goals. When COVID hit, there was a moment of retrospection when we asked, "Do we really want to go down that route?" And I'm glad we did, because the scope and capabilities, and the problem sets, have changed significantly since COVID. Not to say that the digital trend wasn't there; it just got accelerated in a big way. To give you an example, the number of transactions in our confectionary business almost quadrupled in less than ten weeks, and those ten weeks were equivalent to the decade before them. That pivot—going back to agility and value—allowed us to focus on COVID. I'm extremely proud that we started thinking about it with a more holistic omni-channel perspective, as well. The pandemic has been brutal on the human side of things, but from a business and transformation and adoption perspective, it has been a blessing in disguise.

For more insights from Tarun, listen to the full podcast.