Get to know your peers in the HR community through our career profile series. Today, we talk to Eugene Burke, chief science and analytics officer at CEB. He outlines the highlights and challenges of his career journey, from the Ministry of Defence to CEB at present, and explains why open-mindedness and perseverance are key!
Name: Eugene Burke
Job: Chief science and analytics officer (2010 to present day)
Current employer: CEB
CV in brief
1. 2001 – 2010: Director of science & innovation and product director, SHL (now part of CEB)
2. 2000 – 2001: Director of consultancy services, SHL (now part of CEB)
3. 1993 – 1997: Principal psychologist, London Fire Brigade
4. 1986 – 1993: Principal psychologist, Ministry of Defence (UK), USAF exchange psychologist and various NATO working groups
a day in your life
1. Tell us about your job and organisation:
CEB is a member based advisory company that looks to solve critical issues affecting organisational performance. We combine the best practices of member companies with our research methodologies and analytics, to equip senior leaders and their teams with insight and actionable solutions to transform performance. My role is to support the creation of research by applying psychology and data science to help leaders understand the workforce capabilities and address people issues to achieve stronger organisational performance, from pre-hire (e.g. how to recruit the best customer services representatives) through post-hire (e.g. how to make their high-potential programmes more effective).
2. Who do you report to?
CEB’s global research officer
3. Tell us about your team.
Principally I work with occupational psychologists by background. They are predominantly millennials – born between 1980 and the early 2000s – with an enthusiasm for making sense of data, for solving research riddles and for developing practical solutions that can be applied by clients to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of pre-hire and post-hire processes.
4. What is the most rewarding part of your role?
Solving a problem for a customer and then sharing back how they can drive more effective people investments in their organisations. That ‘ah-ha’ moment from an audience tells me we have taken something complex that is troubling organisations, identified the core of the problem and articulated a solution that can be readily understood and implemented.
5. What is the most challenging part of the role?
Accessing data can sometimes prove to be challenging, but knowing what questions to ask, looking at data through the right lens and advising business stakeholders on how to drive change is harder – yet rewarding.
6. What does a typical day look like for you?
That’s difficult to say as my days vary depending on whether I am working on a piece of insight, working on a client project, crafting a story for a report, meeting with my team to review projects or to track their progress and development, meeting with internal stakeholders about projects in-hand or to explore new potential ideas, to preparing for or presenting to HR practitioners at events, which often means travelling (last year from Auckland in the East to Hawaii in the West, and from Brussels in the North to Spain in the South). No two days are ever the same but responding to emails and telephone messages are always a constant.
7. Why did you choose your current organisation to work for?
To a certain extent they chose me, as I was originally headhunted to join the company. That said, working for CEB gives me the chance to connect data and insights about people to the outcomes in organisations, and bring together colleagues from across all the main business functions. For example, what are the talent challenges facing retail banking? What behaviours really drive effective innovation outcomes in technology firms? Why are so few women in senior roles? …The range and potential of the insight this offers in helping businesses is truly immense.
8. Perks and downsides of your role?
For perks, see above plus working with great people. The downside is that we cannot solve all the problems we’d like at any one time.
9. What skills are essential for the role you’re in?
Open mindedness; seeing and then connecting up the dots of various ideas; perseverance – not all ideas or plans work out as you first think; networking internally and externally; communication – it’s as much about engaging and listening to as it is about articulation; not accepting the status quo – that might be why a problem has yet to be solved; a good training in scientific thinking and statistical modelling; experience in the line – that’s ultimately the audience we are talking to, so having been there helps.
1. How did you get to where you are now?
I originally wanted to be an economist and then discovered psychology. My first job with the UK Ministry of Defence gave me the hands-on experience of applied research (e.g. military pilot selection) as well as learning to communicate and network. The rest came from hard graft, building a reputation on the speaker circuit and commentating on trends for leading publications. And a smidgen of good luck – being in the right place at the right time.
2. What were your best subjects in school? What and where did you study?
Between the ages of 11 and 18 years old, my favourite subjects were sciences – I liked biology and physics but didn’t engage with chemistry as strongly. Some arts – history and literature – were also my preferred areas. At university I discovered statistics and methodology which, now, I can see gave me the foundation for analytics.
3. What was your first job? How did you get it and why did you choose to work there?
I was a youth advisor for a local authority in London while waiting to get my security clearance for the Ministry of Defence; a job that an aunt helped me to find. I cycled around trying to support disadvantaged and disabled young people in various work placements. It was challenging and rewarding in equal measures, but it certainly made me more aware of the importance of diversity in the workplace.
4. Have you followed the career path you set out to?
I wouldn’t say I had a plan or path laid out from the start but I had a strong admiration for thought leaders in applied psychology and an aspiration to make a similar level of contribution.
5. What challenges have you faced along the way? How did you overcome them?
There are too many to list here, but I would say that perseverance is an asset whether it’s with ideas, projects, people or career goals.
6. What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?
Being elected as Chair of the Board of Association of Test Publishers (ATP) by senior peers in the testing industry – that’s a compliment and landed me a suite next door to Joe Biden at last year’s ATP conference.
7. Do you have any career regrets?
I spent quite a few years learning my craft and with hindsight I should have had the confidence to network with and present to industry peers earlier on in my career – I now encourage my team and others to build their visibility while they’re learning. After all, we continue to learn and have something worth sharing at every stage of our careers.
8. What advice would you offer to others who are looking to get to where you are now?
Be patient and focus on where you want to be rather than where you are at the earlier stages of your career. It takes time to build expertise and visibility for that expertise, so, at times, there are trade-offs worth making in terms of the opportunity to learn and gain valuable experience versus immediate rewards and benefits.
9. What advice would you give to your 22-year-old self?
Get out there. Network and build your visibility by talking to and asking questions of those already established, and sharing your experience and advice with others along the way.
1. Coffee or tea? Coffee – sitting outside a Parisian or Roman café people-watching… It is the ambience as much as the drink for me.
2. Jam or marmalade? Neither, I prefer Marmite (or Vegemite) on my toast.
3. The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? Both, but since I have to make a choice then the Beatles as they changed the world of popular music.
4. Mac or PC? Mac for the design but I use a PC day-to-day.
5. The Guardian or The Times? The Times
6. BBC or ITV? BBC – it is the quintessential British channel and probably one of the most independent sources of news and culture globally.
7. M&S or Waitrose? Waitrose – they do the best humus
8. Morning or night? Night – like most people who score high on measures of ideas. I’m a nocturnal person and night time is when people become more interesting. That said, sunrises and early morning mists are also joys.
9. Rain on snow? Neither as they both ruin a good pair of shoes.
10. Sweet or savoury? Both, but I am one of those people for whom a good pudding adds to the meal rather the pudding being the focus of the meal.
1. App: Google maps
2. TV show: The Killing (Series 1)
3. Band: The Beatles among many. I’m very fond of Elbow – great lyrics and they have continued that English Indie sound.
4. Song: “Blackbird” from the Beatles White Album, but that’s one of many. Hendrix’s “Hey Joe” and “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis are up there too.
5. Book: There is no one book per se, but I am very fond of Nordic Noir (crime thrillers) at the moment – Harry Hole, Martin Beck (which also gives the reader a piece of social history as they are set in 1960’s Sweden) and Wallander being the obvious ones.
6. Sports team: The 1966 England World Cup Team
7. Thing to do on a Friday night: Have a glass of red and homemade pizza with friends and cool music.
8. Place to eat: Good Chicago Steak House or Mediterranean Mezze
9. Holiday spot: Maldives
10. Piece of advice you’ve been given: There is no copyright on ideas, though this is currently being challenged in the entertainment industry.