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2022 Code Red for Leadership: Data-centric tech and talent are essential for bold and rapid decisions

by Peter Feld , 02.11.2021

An open letter to the industry

My reasons for writing this now are simple but pressing. The last 20 months have changed the way every one of us does business. My view is that there’s no going back from that – and that we shouldn’t want to go back.

The behavior changes and innovation explosion triggered by COVID restrictions has leap-frogged the business world easily 5 years into the future. Disruption, acceleration, data overload and sustainability are the topics on everyone’s lips. Living in a pandemic has driven us all to find flexible ways to shop, work and entertain ourselves, as well as taking a deep new look at what is most important to each of us as individuals. Today, people are holding on to those new habits and values. At the same time, they are demanding the return of selective aspects of the old models and channels. The challenges and opportunities from these varying influences fluctuate all the time.

For business, this means the tempo of decision-making is the highest we’ve ever faced, and it is not going to lessen. We need to understand developing market conditions the moment they arise and pivot our plans far more frequently to address changing conditions.

Take disruption: Click & Mortar is now winning in the retail arena. 83% of people have changed their shopping behavior and market conditions continue to be in flux. Even where old behavior seems to be reemerging, it’s at differing levels than before and driven by different desires and triggers. Alongside this, external influences such as extreme weather events are increasingly changing people’s focus on how we live and the decisions they make.

As for acceleration: the consumer world was already moving swiftly, but the pandemic compressed evolving trends that would have taken years to develop into months. The number of retailers adding ecommerce to their business model leapt by 64% [1] the first half of 2020 alone. Yes, people flocked back to savor the ‘instore experience’ when shops first reopened, but the convenience and instant gratification of ‘buy now’ has embedded the habit of remote shopping.

It doesn’t take an analyst to see that continuing disruption added to acceleration of change is resulting in increased data overload for businesses. Making core decisions based on anything other than solid data is high-risk in the extreme – but how do you handle and make sense of the extreme amounts of data available from online platforms, search engines and apps, to name just a few? If you ignore key data sources, you could lose out to your competitors - but understanding them all at the pace required is a herculean task.

In my view, success depends on embracing digitization and data-based decision making – and I am not alone in this. One of Forrester’s Senior Analysts, Richard Joyce, calculates that a 10% increase in data access will add $65 million to a typical Fortune 100 company income.

The businesses that are winning today have made bold changes, not minor adjustments, to respond at pace to current behavior. I personally have been inspired by the decisive actions of Intime, a department store chain in China. When traffic to its physical stores fell and consumers moved online, Intime switched their instore sales assistants into live-streamers on social media - showcasing products throughout the day that could be purchased via a simple click. By reacting fast and decisively to the new market conditions, Intime kept its staff in work and continued selling.[2]

As CEO at GfK, I am quite literally putting my money where my mouth is, in endorsing bold change and a higher tempo of decision-making supported by digitization. We have radically reinvented GfK from a market research company to being a provider of a tailor-made, AI-powered intelligence platform (gfknewron) and consultancy. Our platform is a GPS route-finder for businesses – delivering seamless, at-your-fingertips support through timely direction on when to turn left or right, alerts on upcoming hazards and recommendations on more efficient routes.

My message, then, is this: the time is ripe for bold decisions and high tempo implementation. I believe that the ‘shapers of tomorrow’ are those that have the conviction to make radical changes based on early signals developing within their markets and consumer behavior. The critical point is that the shape of these changes must be solidly rooted in trusted data and up-to-the-moment forecasts. We’re never going ‘back to normal’, so be bold, be brave and create your own disruption to shape tomorrow’s market.

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Peter Feld, CEO, GfK

Since March 2017, Peter Feld serves as Chief Executive Officer of GfK SE, a global leader in data and analytics based in Nuremberg, Germany. Prior to joining GfK, Peter Feld was CEO of the WMF Group, the leading premium cookware and professional automatic coffee machine maker, from mid-2013 until December 2016. Peter draws on more than twenty years of experience in leading positions building brands in renowned global consumer goods companies: During his time at Beiersdorf from 2010 to 2013, he was Executive Board Member, responsible for Europe and North America. From 2004 to 2010, he worked in different management positions for Johnson & Johnson in Switzerland and Germany, including Managing Director Consumer Healthcare Central Europe (2007-2010), General Manager Consumer Healthcare Switzerland (2006-2007) as well as General Manager of Greiter AG (2004- 2007). Peter started his career at Procter and Gamble in 1992 where he held different international management positions until 2004. He holds a Master in Mechanical Engineering from RWTH Aachen. Peter served as a Vice President to the German Brand Association from 2007-2017.


[1] GfK Market Intelligence: Weekly tracking, All European countries Weeks 01-31. Difference of average sales value growth Weeks 1-3 vs 28-31
[2] Alizila