Big Data Analytics with Home Depot CFO Richard McPhail, VP Erik Holbrook, and Professor Bill Rand

“In God we trust. All others must bring data.” – Edwards Deming

With about 500,000 employees and over 2,000 stores, at The Home Depot, data science and analytics are critically important to solving business problems and giving the customer the best experience, both in-store and online. They need to know when to have inventory available, when to have staff ready, how to allocate resources, and so much more.

But leveraging data and analytics are not just for huge companies anymore. Today, Bill Rand, Erik Holbrook, and Richard McPhail talk how every tactical decision should be made with analytics backing it up.


Jenny: Well, Bill, let’s start with you. As I mentioned in your intro, among your many roles and responsibilities, one of them is the executive director of the new Business Analytics Initiative, BAI for short. For those that are not familiar with this, do you mind providing us a little bit of a 30,000-foot view of what it is and how important it is to have it in Poole college? 

Bill: Yeah. Sure. So, the BAI, it really capitalizes on a lot of investments that Poole college has made in the past. In terms of developing analytics resources. And we’re bringing those all together under one organization called the Business Analytics Initiative that allows us to really excel in that space and provide a new set of opportunities and initiatives in that space as well.

So we really focus on three kinds of areas, teaching of business analytics, right. And at that we have an undergraduate program in business analytics. We also have a graduate certificate in business analyst that compliments nicely with the MBA. And we have a masters of management and marketing analytics that’s going to be launching in the fall of 2021 and we hope to do more of those in the near future. We also look at research, so we employ, we do sponsored contracts where we’re kind of working with companies, organizations, and the federal government to really understand how business analytics can advance the state of the art for decision-making and business processes in the future. 

And finally, we hope to play a role in thought leadership, right? Really taking the teaching and the research efforts that we’re doing and spinning them back around to other businesses and other companies can really take advantage of them and see how to best apply business analytics to their own organizations.

Jenny: And Bill, for those that may not be familiar with kind of the culture at NC State, we have a strong data science area here at NC state. How will these units work together if they, they will, or they won’t? What, how does that?

Bill: Yeah, very much. I’m happy that I can now say it publicly. I’ve known about this for a while, but in June of this year, NC state is going to be launching the Data Science Academy and that’s been announced, right? And the Data Science Academy is going to be bringing together all the different data science efforts at NC State University.

The BAI will serve as Poole College’s Bridge, if you will, to those efforts, right? So we’ll be working with computer science, we’ll be working with statistics, we’ll be working with other disciplines, right, that med whoever, right. To kind of try and really take advantage of all the great data and engineering opportunities that we have in the university and applying them as much as we can to help businesses, organizations solve problems and what BAI will be doing is bringing kind of the business acumen and the business knowledge to that space, right. So we’ll be presenting how we can best help that to make a better business decision. 

Jenny: Awesome. Richard, we’re going to dig a little bit deeper about your involvement, Home Depot’s involvement and kind of data science, but I wanted to start by saying, I of course read your bio. And, you did your undergrad here at NC State and Poole. 

Richard: Yes.

Jenny: We won’t mention where you did your masters, kind of a dark blue school down the road, but we’ll, we won’t hold that against you.

But, I’m curious, you know, how did you decide finance? What drew you to this industry and kind of this space? 

Richard: Well, I was always interested in business. I was also kind of quantitatively oriented, and so I think for me, NC State really lit a spark in my mind and kind of showed me that deep quantitative skills actually give you an advantage in business and finance.

Full Episode Transcript

Erik Holbrook is the Vice President – Finance, FP&A at The Home Depot.

Poole College alumni (’92) Richard McPhail is EVP and Chief Financial Officer, The Home Depot.

Bill Rand is Executive Director of the Business Analytics Initiative and Associate Professor of Marketing at the Poole College of Management at NC State University.


The Poole Podcast is hosted by Jenny Hammond, and is a production of Earfluence.

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