As chief solutions officer at customer data science and software company Polymatica, Anthea DeSyllas leads a team of data scientists and consultants, and identifies the right solution to each client’s needs, making sure that the quality of the service they receive is constantly of high quality. She spends her days in meetings with clients, working on client deliverables and scoping out future developments of the company’s products and services.
Her route to this top position was not clearly planned. After studying a master’s degree in engineering, she decided that working while wearing a hard hat and boiler suit at the side of a motorway wasn’t her and so went to L’Oréal to work in the logistics department. Working at the cosmetics giant she honed the transferable skills of numeracy, communicator and problem solving. She spent almost three years at L’Oréal before coming across customer data science company dunnhumby.
“I started as an analyst interrogating transactional data to provide customer insight for FMCGs. This gave me the opportunity to use my numeracy and logical thinking,” she said. The role also allowed her to interpret data, produce real, actionable customer insight, put together presentations and meet with clients.
She spent more than 14 years at dunnhumby before a short stint at YOOX Net-A-Porter Group and joined Polymatica at the start of 2018 as a product and solutions consultant.
DeSyllas said that half of the leadership team at Polymatica is female, which she believes makes the company stand out in a positive way. She said: “Hopefully it shows diversity and delivers diversity in thinking, which I believe has to be present in an effective leadership team.”
“I encourage my team to overcommunicate.”
She finds that the key to being an effective leader herself is to encourage her team to “overcommunicate” both with her and with each other, and creating a structure for the communication to take place, supported by technology. Documentation is also important to DeSyllas to be able to keep a trail of what has been said and done, what is being worked on, and what is in the planning stage, that is visible to everyone.
“Data storytelling is so important.”
As someone who has always loved art, DeSyllas has found a way to bring that creative passion into her work in data science. “There’s an art to science,” she said, adding that it is important to tell a story with data in order for people to remember it and to get traction with the business. “Data storytelling is so important. Using analogies with words and visual representation that will mean something even to the least data savvy person will make such a difference.”
As one might imagine, DeSyllas is a big fan of Information Is Beautiful by David McCandless, the essential handbook for all lovers of data visualisations. As someone who cultivated both the creative and analytical sides of her mind, it is no surprise that balance, especially a work-life balance is important to DeSyllas.
Fortunately, the data industry can be a good area for women or anyone who has external responsibilities, but DeSyllas said that data and analytics companies will have to continue the trend of offering flexibility to attract and retain the next generation of data professionals. “Remote, flexible working and advances in technology make attracting and keeping great people more feasible. As long as the individual delivers the work, greater flexibility should be possible to allow them to manage their busy lives.”
However, in DeSyllas’ perspective, flexibility alone will not get great people to apply and stay. “For an individual, it’s about their direct manager. A great boss that understands you and knows how to get the best out of you is key.”
Anthea DeSyllas is featured in Twenty in Data 2018, a collaboration between Women in Data UK and The Female Lead.