Last month, First San Francisco Partners’ Founder and CEO Kelle O’Neal announced that Anthony Algmin was joining the firm to lead our Alation practice, after being an FSFP consultant for several months. (Read our news release here.)
Anthony’s new role at FSFP will be to develop our Alation partnership. He will also support the development of our evolving Alation consulting practice, which is focused on enabling data-driven insights and digital transformation through a modern approach to governance and metadata management.
Anthony’s experience includes decades of hands-on technology work, management consulting and executive roles, coupled with a passion for leading data-driven change — and we’re excited to have him on the team.
Before joining our firm, Anthony was the Principal and Founder of Algmin Consulting, where he helped companies improve their competitiveness in a digital world. His prior experience includes being the first Chief Data Officer (CDO) for the Chicago Transit Authority and a senior partner at a boutique consultancy. Anthony’s early career was spent in the financial industry as a data systems developer and architect, followed by several years in management consulting.
Anthony is the creator of the Data Leadership Framework, which helps organizations balance their efforts across the many areas of data management. He is a popular speaker and writer, with his first book on data leadership scheduled to be released in early 2019. Anthony has an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management and a BA from Illinois Wesleyan University.
I recently spoke with Anthony to learn more about him. I hope you enjoy our Q&A, with its mix of business and personal perspectives.
Q&A With Anthony
(Melanie with FSFP) What gets you out of bed in the morning? (Anthony) I have twin four-year-old daughters and an eight-year-old son, all early risers. So they get me out of bed in the morning, literally! From a job perspective, working with clients and helping to make a difference in their organizations is what motivates me. My unique background has helped me develop a rare mix of skills that can really make a difference, so I wake up feeling like it is my mission to help everyone I can.
How would you describe your day job to your kids? They don’t think in terms of companies, but they do understand things like going to the store. So I’d tell them I help people improve their stores and help those folks learn new things, like their teachers do in school.
What’s the best thing about working in the data management industry? I like that there are always new challenges to tackle. Even though we see patterns that repeat in many places, every organization is different than every other company in some way. Finding their unique challenges is crucial to helping them achieve their goals.
What’s the worst thing about working in this industry? It’s always harder than we hope. As we get into the details, each time we turn over another “rock” hoping for the best, it’s never the best answer — and we also uncover ten more rocks. Though the challenges always seem to expand with detailed understanding, by prioritizing deliberately we can navigate and solve them effectively.
Is the fact that there are deep data issues something that’s inherent with most companies? And is it because they don’t realize the full extent of those issues? Part of it is because people are inherently optimistic. We really don’t want to ignore our companies’ issues, but we tend to simplify the issues in our minds when we don’t yet have the details. This sets us up for a double-whammy when we consider the previous answer — because even with the details, things are never as easy as we are hoping.
This pattern leads many companies to accrue lots of technical debt — that’s the “cost” to the company of what happens when they choose a quicker or easier solution now, instead of a better approach that would take longer or potentially be more costly. When a company asks us for help, it’s often because there is significant technical debt that manifests as organizational pain.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? It came from a university dean who I had known well for years on the day of my college graduation. She told me that she knew I had a lot of potential but said to always remember to not take myself too seriously. Even today I think about that advice. She knew then that I would be energetic and passionate about what I do, but it must be balanced with perspective and humility. A little humor doesn’t hurt, either.
What was the biggest thing you learned about being a CDO? I learned that the job is not really about data — it’s about people. Most of a CDO’s time is spent working with people who are working with the data. In fact, most data-focused jobs are now more about people and change management than they are about working with data — it is all about working with people to drive organizational improvements.
Who inspires you? I’m inspired by the heroes around us every day — like police, firefighters and electrical workers getting power restored after the storms. These people put themselves in dirty, dangerous situations every day, doing jobs that provide the rest of us a quality of life we too often take for granted. Whenever I start feeling stressed in my demanding life of meetings and pushing buttons (as my daughters call it), I pause to think about these folks and remember I don’t even know what stress is. I get to do what I love because they do what they do. The very least I can do is appreciate it.
Who would you most like to swap places with for a day? For exactly one day, I’d want to swap places with Jerry Seinfeld. I have long had a hypothesis that fame and fortune is isolating and lonely, and this would be a good test of whether that is true. Plus, I could get on stage and do stand-up for a big crowd, which would be a fun twist from the speaking engagements I do now. And I’d get to drive some cool cars, since he’s a notorious car guy. Not a bad day, I think!
If I could have a second choice, I’d want to trade places with the engineer on my old commuter train to and from Chicago, which I rode for twenty years. I’ve spent a disturbing amount of time thinking about rail operations over the years, especially when the train was delayed. To be in the drivers’ seat for one day would be a cool capstone to that experience. One day would be plenty, though.
What’s something that’s surprised you about your chosen career path? The community of people doing this type of data management and governance work is so much smaller than it should be! These capabilities are needed everywhere, and yet there seems to only be a fraction of the people who should be doing it. This continues to surprise me.
Have you ever had to unlearn something in your data career? In my early days as a consultant, I wrongly figured that consultants should try to know more about our clients’ businesses than they do. But it’s not that. We need to know different things — not more things. We’ll never understand our client’s businesses as well as they do. It’s not just a bad target, it’s actually impossible. We need to complement their knowledge with our own unique knowledge, and together we will arrive at the necessary solution.
What novel or on-screen character do you most identify with? Many years ago, I would watch Night Court reruns right before bed. I always admired Judge Harry Stone. He was a little kooky, but passionate, and universally kind to everyone he came across. Recently, I’ve been re-watching those episodes. They still give me joy, and I find I can still quote some of the dialogue like no time has passed at all.
Do you have a personal motto or mantra, Anthony? “This too will pass.” It helps me remember to enjoy the good while I can, and that the bad is also only temporary. It definitely helped getting through the early years with twins!