Career Path: From reluctant programmer to big data consultant | Crain's Boston

Career Path: From reluctant programmer to big data consultant

  • Randy Bean in 1992 with his son, Matthew Bean. | Photo courtesy of Randy Bean
  • Randy Bean, CEO and managing partner of NewVantage Partners. | Photo courtesy of NewVantage Partners)

Randy Bean is CEO and managing partner of the Boston-based big data consultancy NewVantage Partners.

In college I had studied English literature, history and art history and stuff like that ... As things turned, out my first job was as a computer programmer, which was the last thing I would have expected. But what has come to be the case over the past 35 years is that my career trajectory has mirrored the evolution of technology and data over the past generation.

I was initially hired in 1979 to be a programmer for First National Bank of Boston—which later became Bank of Boston and was later acquired by Bank of America—even though I knew nothing about technology and thought I had no interest in technology. It turned out to be something that I was pretty skilled and adept at, to the degree that I became kind of a superstar technical expert. My real interest wasn't in the programming languages—it was in the data. So I started to ask questions like, "what is this data used for?" And the response was, typically, "We just store it in case we need it someday."

After four years being a programmer for a major bank, I leveraged my skill set and experience working with data, working with technology, and became one of the earliest employees of a database marketing firm that ultimately became CRM—customer relationship management—and this grew to a billion-dollar company. And it was all about using data and analytics to understand who your best customers were, to provide the best possible treatment that you could give them to get new customers to grow your customer relationships and to retain your customers over time. So I spent a decade with that organization, again focused on the application of data to customer opportunities. Then I did two venture-backed startups that applied data and analytics in the context of internet marketing.

Then in 2001 I started the firm NewVantage Partners. We focus exclusively on the application of data and analytics to helping major corporations gain insight into their markets and create new business opportunities.

Around 2010 or 2011, a game changer occurred. I woke up one morning, went online, and I saw this term called big data. I believe I was reading an IBM or McKinsey report, and the first thought that came to me was, “Well isn't this what I've been doing for the past 25 years of my career?”

All of that ties back to the original job where I was hired as a computer programmer and my interest was really not in the programming but in the data that you moved around.

[First National Bank of Boston] was founded in 1784, so it was the oldest chartered commercial bank in the United States, and it was kind of a blue-blood bank. We used to joke that the real criterion was being able to trace your lineage back to the Mayflower. There were two types of roles available for recent college graduates: loan officer and technology intern, which was kind of designed for those people that didn't have sufficiently blue enough blood at the time to be a loan officer. That's where I was hired into, and I thought I was in the B job, but that later turned out to be the A job because it was technology that transformed the industry.

From day one, even though I was a programmer I was thinking about how the content that I was working with could inform the strategic planning side of the organization. I understood, for example, which data could be pulled together to profile customers and understand how the bank could enter new markets. So I became basically our expert analyst on data. But my ultimate career goal was to move close to my original training as an English literature major. So what I really wanted to do was to write and tell stories and to speak in front of audiences. At the start I was doing the exact opposite: I was sitting in a cubicle in front of a keyboard. But today I go out and I give speeches on a frequent basis. I write columns for The Wall Street Journal and other publications.

The last thing I ever would have imagined in 1979 or 1980 sitting in a cubicle writing code, was that someday I'd be able to translate that experience into helping Fortune 50 companies develop their business strategies, their customer strategies, their data strategies.

June 4, 2017 - 10:39am