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You’re already well-acquainted with the Burton Snowboard brand. You might just not know it. The day of the 2021 presidential inauguration, the online shop at the Vermont-based company was almost brought to its knees by a meme.
Bundled up in mittens and a Burton Edgecomb down jacket, sitting socially distanced in what seemed like his own little world, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was suddenly photoshopped into album covers, movie posters, and any other viral picture that has existed, from this century all the way back to the Last Supper. The particular color of Sanders’s coat sold out overnight.
No one can ever plan for a meme-based sales onslaught, but Vice President of Global Information Technology and Analytics Kyle Wierenga has no doubt ensured that the lessons learned by one of the most popular names in snowboarding will be applied to the future. Wierenga has been at Burton since 2019 after accumulating extensive data and analytics leadership experience at Bloomingdale’s, Aimia, and Costco. His global team is spread throughout the globe including Austria, Japan, and Australia.
The CIO embraced the transition from his pure computer engineering days to data and analytics while at Costco. Big data technology was just coming onto the scene and Wierenga saw the opportunity to help the organization embrace the burgeoning technology. “I saw it as an opportunity to dive into something my business was struggling with,” Wierenga told Analytics & Data Science Pulse podcast in 2020.
Wierenga would utilize the technology and analysis to overhaul accounts payable, adding adjustment incentives to bring in more revenue. Based on his track record, Costco was willing to invest in huge initiatives around supply chain and marketing as the data and analytics team continued to show value for its programs.
Wierenga would help take Aimia from fifth place to second place in the Gartner Magic Quadrant rankings. At Bloomingdale’s, Wierenga would oversee huge projects centered around customer personalization in their online shopping. It wasn’t just offering products based on a user’s profile, which it did; it also integrated real-time calculations on what the customer needed at the moment. If a user appears to be looking for a suit but they’ve only ever purchased or saved shoes to their wish list, the system would recognize that showing related products in the suits, not shoes, categories would make the most sense. It may seem like old hat now, but it was cutting edge at the time.
In coming to Burton, Wierenga saw a challenge. The snowboarding giant didn’t have much of a focus on analytics, so the new hire got to work. ERP and front-facing systems were upgraded. New data and analytics capabilities were built out including new customer analytics. A new marketing platform went online in 2021. He is focused on helping tech support the business of Burton, replacing marketing stacks and helping increase Burton’s role in the digital marketplace.
Wierenga’s transition to leadership was aided by a feat most would find utterly terrifying. The CIO spent three years in the club basements of Seattle performing stand-up comedy. He told Analytics & Data Science Pulse that it helped prepare him for a world where he would be required to translate often difficult concepts to non-IT business professionals.
The sometimes-difficult evolution from “pure tech” to communicator is a role Wierenga clearly takes seriously. If he’s going to hire a data scientist with a pure tech pedigree, he takes it on himself to help grow his teammate into a more well-rounded professional. “My job is to educate them in the business knowledge and help them learn to communicate their ideas,” Wierenga told Analytics & Data Science Pulse.
The CIO recounted a story of calling up a client who had just finished a presentation with a data scientist. While the information was helpful and the ideas intriguing, the data scientist’s pedantic and off-putting communication style shut down the entire room. Having the right answer isn’t the end of the deal. If it’s not communicated in a way that demonstrates the building of a relationship, it’s not going to get very far.
While Wierenga is willing to help build those important soft skills, there is an X-factor he looks for in those he hires. “Grit is my secret ingredient,” he told Analytics & Data Science Pulse. He asks about difficult projects that took months, were painful, and required commitment. “I want to know they didn’t give up. That’s who I want to hire.”