Our recurring Women in Information Management series is turning its spotlight outward beyond the virtual walls of First San Francisco Partners and on Cara Dailey, Silicon Valley Bank’s first Chief Data Officer.
Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) was established in 1983. Today, it has $64B in assets and provides a range of banking services to companies of all sizes in innovation centers around the world. It partners with an estimated 50% of all venture capital-backed tech and life science companies in the U.S. and 67% of U.S. venture capital-backed companies with an IPO in 2018.
SVB’s headquarters are in Santa Clara, California, and has branches in the United Kingdom and Canada, along with a presence in Germany.
I recently spoke with Cara to learn more about her role at SVB and her background and to learn her perspectives about the industry and the opportunities for women who want to work and thrive in information management.
(Melanie with FSFP) Cara, what can you share about your role at Silicon Valley Bank?
(Cara) I’m SVB’s global Chief Data Officer and, in that role, I cover off on data strategy, data governance, data products and data architecture. It’s a business function role reporting to the Chief Financial Officer, but I have enterprise accountabilities for business transformation and am the lead for all things data. This is my second CDO role; my first was with Bank of the West.
I went to school for business and computer science, where my focus was a mashup of computer coding and business. And that’s exactly what I still do today. I call myself a translator. I help SVB understand its common language: data.
I’m focused on solving a lot of data problems, including data quality, data locked away in silos, building the data foundation and help connect our organization closer to our clients through data. I also call myself a fixer. And I like that name, because I grew up fixing problems.
I help Silicon Valley Bank understand its common language: data.
Where did you work after graduation?
I spent time in application support roles where I quickly developed a thick skin from taking calls and helping solve frustrated client issues in a myriad of systems. But I knew I wasn’t the problem; it was the applications and how they frustrated people. Those early fire-fighting days were actually thrilling to me.
When I moved to a technical specialist role at Hyperion (now, Oracle), that’s when I first came to see what it’s like to be on the front lines of finance. I would talk to Chief Financial Officers on the phone and would help them manage their Hyperion planning workflow. I was in the finance systems data space and was good at solving problems and translating “IT speak” into what a finance lead could and should hear.
On your LinkedIn profile, I see you worked at GE Capital during the financial crisis. I worked in financial services then, too. What was it like for you?
That was an interesting time, for sure. I arrived in the fall of 2007 and my first role was as a business intelligence leader for GE Capital Real Estate. I worked with large volumes of very unorganized finance and risk data, and that was when I first became aware of the CDO role.
Back then, I didn’t have a clue about data governance. I knew from working in IT what it was like to struggle with inaccurate metadata and not be able to figure out why metadata was different across assorted dashboards. I’d experienced what it was like to have fundamental governance issues before realizing it had a name.
I knew what it was like to struggle with inaccurate metadata and not be able to figure out why metadata was different across assorted dashboards.
You shared a little about your CDO role at Bank of the West. What was your focus there?
When I moved from GE Capital to Bank of the West, I transitioned from an IT position to a business role as the bank’s vice president of data management and reporting. Within a year, I was promoted to CDO. I focused on finance, risk and treasury data and was in the role for just over 18 months.
Did you move from Bank of the West to Silicon Valley Bank?
No, I left financial services and went to Nike — a very interesting industry for data, by the way — and became a senior director of enterprise data management. I learned a lot about supply chains and focused on opening up opportunities for Nike’s data and building out its governance program.
Within two years, I found myself wanting a more strategic role with overarching responsibilities for data. I wanted to get back into financial services, because that’s where I truly understood data — and context matters. There’s nothing like financial services data, and I had a vision of a CDO role that encompassed analytics, AI and machine learning.
SVB has a great brand and works with many technology and data-related companies. I came on board as the bank’s first CDO and have been here for a year and a-half. It’s been great.
I had a vision of a CDO role that encompassed analytics, AI and machine learning.
Many people outside information management aren’t familiar with the CDO role. How do you explain what you do?
I like to think I enable people to make quick decisions that are fact-based and that my team and I can provide a trusted foundation that enables insights into customer behavior. And also, that the products we provide back to an organization allow team members to focus on analysis vs. data preparation.
Depending on the audience, I sometimes share that working with data is not for the faint of heart. It’s one of the hardest jobs in an institution. Many companies have overlooked good data management practices for years, because it just hasn’t been a priority. And, as a result, there are years of deferred maintenance to work through.
Cara, is being a female CDO something you spend time thinking about? Also, what’s your focus at SVB?
I look at the CDO role as more of a focus on style — not a male or female thing. You’ve got to be very direct and precise on problems you’re going to solve. But at the same time, you must be flexible that some things are going to happen that change your focus. You must balance being both prescriptive and flexible.
When a CDO comes in, there’s typically a tidal wave of problems to solve. You must come in strong and show a method to your madness. You must quickly set priorities and be comfortable saying lower-priority needs must wait. And you have to score some quick wins.
People skills are also critical. I’ve always been a relationship-focused person. I know how to bring cross-functional stakeholders to the same table and, amidst our hard work and tough discussions, finding time for us to laugh, too. I’m comfortable getting out and about and talking with people and sharing the vision. Being successful as a CDO means you’re comfortable going out and selling the strategy. You can’t just sit in your office.
Another thing that’s important is to have the right team. I’m fortunate to have a great one, with each leader responsible for a distinct accountability area. Programs and Operations develops the data governance program, base-level processes, governing key data and setting up the data stewards. Architecture makes sure end-to-end that data is clean, consistent and available for use. Then there is Data Products. They’re the intersection between business, engineering and user experience; for example, for master data capabilities or data quality.
My initial focus at SVB has been to focus on finance data, how these key data elements move to source systems that report to the SEC. We’re making sure the lineage is good, we have data owners assigned, and we’re on top of data definitions, quality and control.
Being successful as a CDO means you’re comfortable going out and selling the strategy. You can’t just sit in your office.
Your LinkedIn profile says you’re a data evangelist. What does that mean to you?
I live, breathe and eat data. I’m constantly communicating data’s value. Data isn’t an easy thing to understand, so I’m always looking for ways to make it tangible. If I’m sitting down with our customer service team talking about the client master and how you can change the address in one place, that gets their attention. You need to know your audience, the right people who can help further your goals and understand the data pain points — who will work with you to turn things around.
Data is what I’m passionate about. It’s everywhere and there’s a revolution happening. Data is becoming more valuable than currency. Really, it’s the new currency. It’s such an interesting space to be in.
In our Women in Information Management series, we always like to ask what it’s been like to work in what’s still thought of as a male-dominated industry. Also, what advice do you have for women considering a job working with data?
We’re inching closer to being more diverse. I grew up in the IT and technology industry and, often, I was only the only female in the room. But that never held me back. For women who are coming out of college — no matter what industry or role they’re considering — they should be bold and sit at the table. Know that there have been other women before you who made the seat ready for you.
Data roles are interesting because they’re often a merger of business and tech. And sometimes that merger naturally brings more women and men together, which is great.
I always felt like I had to have loads of experience before taking a role. But I fought past that and realized that I don’t have to be the most-qualified person. My mindset was, give me 90 days and I’ll show you how I can do this.
That’s my advice for women: Look for those stretch roles, lean in and go after them.
Data is becoming more valuable than currency. Really, it’s the new currency. It’s such an interesting space to be in.
On the SVB website, there’s a section called “Living Our Values” that talks about innovation, diversity and getting involved. What’s it like to work there?
One thing I love about SVB is the culture and how we promote our values. One of them is we lead with empathy for others. In my job as CDO, I’m constantly reminding myself that, while I’m in these tough conversations, I’m dealing with people and their experiences and opinions. So, I try to put myself in other people’s shoes so I know how to react.
Another thing I enjoy is being able to mentor people here. Mentoring may come with the territory of being in a C-level role, but it’s something I’d be happy doing, no matter my title. As a mentor, I learn more from them than they do from me.
If you’re able to be a mentor, do it. You’ll become a better leader and contributor. If you need a mentor, find one. And while it doesn’t always have to be a woman mentoring another woman, there’s deep value in having a strong female role model.
If you’re able to be a mentor, do it. If you need a mentor, find one.
Any predictions on what the future looks like for CDOs and others working in this industry, Cara?
The data journey is never over, as there are always problems to solve on the horizon. But I do see the CDO responsibilities, both here at SVB and elsewhere, becoming more analytics-focused. Because once you get the data foundation right, you can pivot toward insights and analytics. Being able to tell people here are 10 things you can discuss with your client today — that’s powerful. Data is valuable, but the value is really in the insights.
Another thing CDOs need to focus on is having a point of view on data privacy. If it’s not a focus in your shop but one you’re connected to in another part of the organization, it’s important to know your role and responsibilities related to privacy.
For people in other data-focused roles, there are almost unlimited opportunities in areas such as data science, information security and work that’s connected to data regulations, like GDPR and CCPA. Just because we’re implementing regulations in pockets per jurisdiction, it’s not likely to end there. This is the way the world is going. Our digital footprint is out there for all the world to see. How do you secure that?
These opportunities make for interesting and challenging careers, that’s for certain. But I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.