Insights Blog

A career in data: Graham Sharpe – from adidas to Exasol

Graham Sharpe

Earlier this year, we welcomed Graham Sharpe to Exasol. With his previous work for one of the biggest brands in sport and fashion, Graham is a well known and highly experienced figure in the data industry. In this interview, we’ll find out more about Graham and dig into how he plans to even better align Exasol’s offering with the needs and requirements of the market.

What’s your background, Graham?

Graham: I started my career as a Cobol and Visual Basic programmer at ICL (now Fujitsu) before a short stint at Astra Zeneca, where I built and managed dynamic content on their Intranet. This was back in the early days of web-based technology. In 1998 I moved to adidas and stayed there for 22 years.  

My role at adidas was always data-centric. Initially, I was based in Manchester, but as adidas started centralizing IT after 2000, I got the opportunity to move to the HQ in Germany, where I helped build its first global data warehouse.

Since then, I’ve had multiple roles that have always been connected to business intelligence and analytics — such as Head of Business Intelligence and Director of Consumer Analytics Platforms and Solutions.

One of the biggest challenges and learnings at adidas was managing and embracing the cultural differences in a very centralized organization that largely relies on HQ for direction. 

When I joined in 2014, the Global IT department was 120 strong. By the time I left in 2021, it had expanded to something like 1,500 internal staff and thousands more for external support.  

I look back at my time with adidas with a huge sense of achievement and pride! Some of the solutions and achievements I was involved with – especially on the data and analytics side – were highly innovative, game-changing solutions. Many of these are above and beyond what most companies are still trying to achieve today. Some highlights include:

  • Bringing MicroStrategy and Exasol to adidas as the first genuinely global BI tool and data accelerator in 2009. This was a massive shift in capability for the business, allowing us to unlock data that had been restricted for many years.  
  • The creation of adidas’ Consumer DNA solution using Loading...machine learning and other Loading...advanced analytics techniques. Over the years, this solution has supported campaign targeting, web and app personalization and has been a significant contributor to the success and growth of adidas’ e-commerce business. 
  • Away from the technology, the teams that I built and the individuals I trained and developed was perhaps the most satisfying. 

What led you to join Exasol?

Graham: Ultimately, the time just felt right for a new challenge. When you are with a company as long as I was, it’s tough to keep reinventing yourself. One of the nice things about working at adidas is that your role never really stays the same for more than 12-18 months, even if your job title doesn’t change. But there are still limits, and after 22 years, I felt that there wasn’t much I hadn’t done or seen in the data and analytics space that I still wanted to cover.   

I’ve known Exasol and many of its key people since 2009. It was an easy decision to swap from customer to vendor. I’ve always felt like an Exasol ‘person’, having been a fan of the product for over ten years. I’ve represented the company and given talks at events many times over the years. It was just a case of making the switch official.  

Tell us about your role at Exasol and what it entails?

Graham: As Director of Strategic Solutions, the goal is to apply my 30 years of experience customer-side in a way that helps our customers identify new opportunities to get the best from their solutions and the relationship they have with us.  

Working within Product Marketing, I’m helping the team define how best to market existing capabilities and new options as we move forward with fully cloud-enabled offerings. This will range from trying to unravel and simplify the hype around new industry buzz topics such as Lakehouses, Data Mesh and Loading...Machine Learning, to looking at ways to help market and promote Data Democratization by working directly with Google Sheets and Excel.   

How have you been able to apply your past experiences to your role at Exasol? 

Graham: Sharing my experience at adidas with both existing and prospective clients and the internal Exasol team has been greatly appreciated on all sides.

I’ve been working with the sales teams in the UK, Benelux and DACH to discuss the challenges they are helping to solve for new customers. From what I’ve seen, these challenges are generally very similar across all companies/sectors – it’s the scale, depth and maturity that changes. I’ve found that it’s comforting for people to hear that everyone suffers or has suffered in the same way – even big brands like adidas.

I’ve also been involved in a host of workshops and roundtables covering broad topics such as Real-Time Retail Analytics and Data-Centric Strategies right down to very granular use cases such as consumer profiling; in-season forecasting; rolling demand planning; payment analytics and fraud detection; market pricing intelligence and dynamic pricing; and assortment analytics.

If anyone needs help or advice on any of these topics, they should get in touch. My ability to bridge the gap between customers’ real-life situations to the technical world of database development can be valuable. When it comes to building realistic, working, and beneficial data-based solutions, I’m never shy of offering an opinion or two.

What are your goals now? 

Graham: My big passion project is to demystify the hype and buzz that seems to surround the world of data and analytics. I want to help customers and Exasolians appreciate the simplicity and usefulness of what we can do together.

Currently, I’m working closely with our Chief Data and Analytics Officer, Peter Jackson, on a Customer Networks and Relationships project. This project intends to fully document and understand our existing customer base to be in a better position to expand relationships and become trusted advisors. Understanding who our key customers are – and how they leverage the benefits of Exasol – is also a great way to increase my own data analytics knowledge, so it’s a win-win for me.  

Longer-term, Exasol is growing so rapidly and has enormous potential, we’ll see what opportunities there are this time next year!

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