Slow down to move faster

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Burce Gultekin, the Global Director of Data Analytics and Integration at FrieslandCampina, is a force to be reckoned with. Her forward-thinking and innovative disposition paved the way to a career with a track record of success, and RightBrains had the opportunity to catch up with her to learn more about her journey.

Machine learning before it was cool

Although Burce started her career as a reporting specialist in finance, it was her affinity towards numbers and optimisation that led her to the data and digital domain: “As a junior, I think it took me only two months to automate the job that I was hired for,” she tells. She was hired to make International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) adjustments on a local accounting ledger. “I had a look at the job and thought: ‘Ok, I can code my way out of it.’”

She later went on to build the first “Business Intelligence (BI)” system for ING Turkey back in 2010: “We called it ‘Project Managing Profit,’ and in essence it was all about gathering data from different sources and forecasting whether we would hit our monthly profit target or not. We also built a regression model to forecast the profit in a more intelligent manner. The joke was that I did ‘machine learning before it was cool,’” she laughs.

Burce had always thought about data, analytics and automation, long before formally entering the space. The big tipping point came where she was invited to participate in an ING Talent Council, where employees from different countries were given a challenge and were then tasked to solve it: “I represented Turkey, and our team’s challenge was owning and improving customer experience. That is when I literally fell in love with the idea of transforming customer experience, end to end.”

It was this event that led her to make the big career change: “I moved from finance to customer experience, and led many digitalisation projects across Europe where we mapped customer journeys, finding ways to make it better, faster and digital, while exceeding the expectations of the customer.”

Slow down to go faster

“Over the years I have learnt that I actually need to slow down to go faster. People are smart – perhaps they don’t see something in the same way as you do, but they genuinely want to innovate and collaborate. You need to provide them with different angles and perspectives, ask more questions to get them thinking. There is a lot of educating to do – in all the industries across the board, the challenges are so similar. With a bit of educating, by asking the right questions, and importantly, with patience, people will reach similar conclusions.”

Her goal for the future is to lead an AI-first digital transformation and turn a traditional company, like FrieslandCampina into an organisation that is truly data and AI driven: “I really want to achieve this status where, when it comes to the processes within the supply chain, within commerce, within finance, and in every aspect of the organisation, we think about AI and data innovation first.”

Understanding technology drives value

Burce believes that success within the data & digital space is dependent on two key elements: “Understand what technology is and does, and that it keeps evolving. It is a moving target and it enables data driven automation and digital transformation. A second key element that is often overlooked, is the statistical knowledge – understanding what machine learning is and how algorithms work. Once you are grounded in these fields, you can bring in the business perspective and drive impact by increasing sales, saving costs, and mitigating risks with a data driven approach.’’

With a passion for mentoring women, not only in digital, but within various diversity and inclusion networks across the board, Burce found an immediate connection with the mission of RightBrains: “There is this gap in terms of diversity in the technology, digital and data world. It is not easy to find and retain the talent, and furthermore, some IT organisations are not capable of providing that safe environment for people to be themselves. The place that RightBrains chose, to bring digital women into the corporate environment is really crucial.”

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