It was a simple question, but it got Elisa Gois thinking about her journey from counselor and case manager to Senior VP of Global Business Strategy & Analytics for Host Hotels & Resorts to her current role as Chief Analytics Officer for MGM Resorts. She had just finished a presentation to the board.
“One of the board members asked me afterward what my background was,” says Gois. “I told her, ‘I have a master’s degree in clinical social work, which may seem a bit odd given I just gave a presentation on global economies and their impact on the lodging industry.'"
Gois realizes now that her “odd” background has been a huge competitive advantage. Thanks to her experience in analyzing and understanding human behavior, she’s able to read her audiences and adjust the conversation and information flow accordingly. That helps her effectively explain complex analytical processes to vastly different audiences.
“I used to analyze people, and now I analyze businesses. If you have an analytical mindset, you can apply that to anything in your life,” says Gois.
So what can you learn from Gois to create your own successful career in analytics?
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1. Apply communication skills
“Understanding your audience is key to connecting with them at their level – whether they’re an expert in analytics, or new to it,” says Gois.
“Too often, IT develops systems for the business, but because they aren’t the users, they don’t develop it in the way the business needs it. Likewise, the business doesn't know the potential of the technology, so they don't know what to ask for,” says Gois.
“Focus first on communication,” Gois says. “You have to be able to translate technology to business, business to technology, and as a result, help develop working solutions.”
2. Find the right mentor
Gois knew the value of a mentor who was open to looking at operations and processes in a completely different way. She found that in her boss at Host Hotels and Resorts, Dexter Wood.
“It's imperative to have someone who doesn’t want to do business as usual,” says Gois. “You want someone who says, ‘How can we flip this operating model around? Or how can we leverage things that we're not leveraging?’ I needed a mentor who was a creative and strategic thinker – having someone I could bounce ideas off of was imperative. And he absolutely was that person.”
After Wood left Host for a new job at Hilton, he invited Gois to a lunch meeting with a consulting company that had worked with Hilton on an analytics project.
That lunch resulted in a career change. The consulting company passed her résumé along to MGM, and soon Gois was hired as a member of the C-suite: Chief Analytics Officer at MGM Resorts.
When I’m looking for an analyst, I look for someone who has an inquisitive nature, who’s going to take initiative to learn the business, and thinks outside the box about how to approach the business in a different way.
Elisa Gois • Chief Analytics Officer, MGM Resorts
3. Understand the people and processes you’re analyzing
Gois urges her team members to get out and learn about the business so that they can truly understand “a day in the life” of the people and processes they’re analyzing.
“You can’t just sit at a computer looking at numbers,” says Gois.
“I don’t want any of my food and beverage analysts doing an analysis on banquets until they’ve been in that kitchen and they’ve helped plate a 2,000 meal group dinner,” says Gois. “They have to, because otherwise, they won’t understand how it works.
“And don’t expect the organization to proactively teach you everything you need to learn,” says Gois. “Get out there and learn different parts of the business, all the different aspects of it. If you do that, you’ll earn credibility and you’ll have the business knowledge you need to drive insight and value with analytics.”
4. Build a diverse team
Gois knows from personal experience that you don’t need a math degree to be successful in analytics. “If you have an analytical mindset and have an aptitude for it, you can translate that into any business, any industry.”
At MGM, Gois is building a team of analysts from a variety of industries and backgrounds. “I don’t only want people with gaming experience. I want people from the entertainment, lodging, retail, airline and health care industries. We're building a team of professionals with expertise across diverse skill sets and industries. That brings diversity in approach and innovation that drives value for the organization,” says Gois.
“When I’m looking for an analyst, I look for someone who has an inquisitive nature, who’s going to take initiative to learn the business, and thinks outside the box about how to approach the business in a different way,” says Gois.
“We’re here to transform the way we look at our business – not just do it the way it’s always been done.”
As one of the few women not only in analytics, but in the male-dominated lodging and gaming industry, Gois had to be a self-starter. She worked hard to get where she is and is a strong believer in taking initiative.
“I would never be where I am if I sat at my desk waiting for someone to tell me what to do,” says Gois.
“You have to figure out what next steps you should be taking,” advises Gois. “You need to be two steps ahead, coming up with ideas on how to drive value and make money for your company. You need to be thinking critically about the business you're in, and you need to have a passion for it.
“It's not just a bunch of numbers on a piece of paper. Your mindset needs to be: ‘Wow, this is a really cool business. How can I transform it?’”