Leadership, data, and strategy in retail with Mike Coupe

04 November 2021 • 2 min read

Leadership, data, and strategy in retail- An audience with former Sainsbury’s CEO Mike Coupe (1)

Remaining competitive in a challenging market requires a relentless focus on the opportunities that data can offer. That’s how Mike Coupe, former Sainsbury’s CEO, helped to keep the supermarket at the forefront of a crowded market during difficult times for the retail sector.

To learn more from Mike, we held a series of events in which he talked about his role in driving digital transformation at a large established B2C brand, and the importance of putting data at the heart of your technical and strategic projects.


During the sessions, Mike offered wide-ranging insights, explaining how data can’t simply drive strategy - it needs its own strategy, planning and stewardship to have a chance of being effective. He talked about the importance of company-wide initiatives, and ensuring that all members are on board with cultural or technical change. He also emphasised that the CEOs role here is crucial - change can’t happen without a vision and someone there to articulate and evangelise for it. 


In short, it isn’t enough to have a small team innovating; it needs to be embedded into the values of everyone who works there. 


Particularly timely were Mike’s discussions of how data can be used to better predict customer demand and more effectively manage supply. At a time of complex supply chain issues, it’s clearer now more than ever that Mike’s approach is one that CEOs of any retail organisation need to be thinking seriously about. He pointed out that some of the innovations in healthcare - in which data is used to improve prevention rather than simply trying to uncover a cure, provide a useful model for retail leaders. 


While it was useful to hear how data can improve operational resilience during challenging times, Mike was clear that it can also drive growth. Acknowledging the challenges of disaggregation in the consumer grocery space, he highlighted that data can be incredibly powerful in helping retailers identify growing opportunities for niche products. He also highlighted that a digital-first approach doesn’t just support strategic innovation, but can actually shape it, citing the example of Sainsbury's move into personal finance.


While the opportunities are clear, Mike was also clear about the importance of governance. Given trust is at a premium, and the shift to data legislation looks set to continue, he highlighted the importance of having a robust set of principles - articulated in a data charter - to ensure that the customer remains the priority, from both a product and privacy perspective. A vital part of this is to also acknowledge that digital access isn’t evenly distributed - your digital transformation shouldn’t exclude groups of customers that have trusted and relied on you for decades. That’s ethically problematic and bad for business.


Ultimately this means that a digital transformation and an evolution towards a data-first posture requires a human overlay. It’s vital that cultural and technical change is supported by skilled individuals that are able to bring the wider organisation with them on a digital journey.


To coincide with Mike Coupe’s sessions, AND Digital has launched its Data Engineering service. Get a snapshot of how your business can get smarter with data, and see how a strategic approach has led other businesses to success.





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