#41 GM’s Iwao Fusillo on Recruiting Top Talent and Building a Successful Data Literacy Strategy

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For years, businesses have prioritized academic background and domain expertise when searching for top talent, matching current skills to job reqs with little regard for candidate aptitude. But according to Iwao Fusillo, Chief Data and Analytics Officer at General Motors, this is an outdated strategy. Iwao has led and developed data and analytics teams across multiple verticals, including finance and sports. In his experience, the secret to building successful and diverse teams is assessing passion, too.

Fusillo, a data and analytics veteran with prior stops in the NFL and American Express, now leads GM’s program for enterprise-wide analytics and data science. In this episode of the Data Chief, Iwao joins Cindi to discuss how data and analytics are fueling the future of General Motors, advice for structuring and scaling data teams, and how GM’s newly founded data and analytics academy is fostering data literacy across the organization.

Key Takeaways

  • Presentation is key: As data and analytics professionals, one of the most important skills you can develop is how to speak the language of the business. This means presenting data stories in a business-friendly way so that non-technical stakeholders start to build trust in data programs, not fear or confusion.
  • The best talent is both skilled and passionate: If you’re only evaluating candidates based on a bulleted list of current skills and past experience, you’re very likely missing out on great talent. Don’t discount a desire to learn and passion for your product or industry.
  • AI requires a hands-on approach: While AI and machine learning offer many opportunities for improved business operations, they can pose great risk if left unsupervised. Responsible use of these technologies means paying attention to data quality and acting quickly when biases are identified.

Key Quotes

“It’s such a unique time to be in the automotive industry because automotive and tech are coming together. As I sit here today, as GM’s Chief Data and Analytics Officer, I really do feel that data and analytics are fueling GM’s future, our all-electric, zero-emissions future, and being responsible for a program of enterprise-wide analytics, top-tier data science capabilities in an industry that I’ve got such passion about is big for me.” 

“As analytics mature over the next decade, as A.I. continues to mature over the next couple of decades, Chief Data Officers, Chief Analytics Officers will in fact be tapped more for CEO positions and independent board positions. Many more functions will be led by data-savvy, senior executives.”

“Passion, when it comes to data, [data] literacy is really important. That’s why we put the GM analytics academy course out there, to not only build the literacy itself but just the passion in having a core competency around analyzing and presenting data in a compelling way to make decisions.”

“I am seeing a rapid uptake here at General Motors in data and analytics being a part of that strategic story, data, and analytics, being a part of every person in every function and how they think about it and how, how they think about advancing their function.”

“There’s domain expertise, and I think having great math and science skills are important, but they’re not a full package. You don’t have to have math and science, or you have to have transferable skills, yes. I would say, I would take the passionate person who I could drop into a textile mill in the middle of the Midwest somewhere. And that person will figure it out. I’d rather have that than the person with the exact academic background.”

“Some of the attributes we teach in the analytics academy are speaking in the vernacular of the business. How do we talk about data concepts from descriptive analytics to predictive analytics? How do we talk about those concepts in a business-friendly way?” 


Iwao Fusillo joined General Motors as Chief Data and Analytics Officer in January 2021. Reporting to the Head of Innovation & Growth for GM, Iwao is responsible for driving GM’s program for enterprise-wide analytics and data science capabilities. He leads the end-to-end data lifecycle and establishes business processes for best-in-class data strategy, architecture, governance and democratization. Acting as GM’s data evangelist, he ensures that GM’s 1,300+ data analytic professionals use a value-based approach to defining workstream priorities and serves as a trusted business advisor to senior management and various stakeholders to identify strategic analytics opportunities with transformative value creation potential. Iwao also serves as the GM representative on the Data & Trust Alliance, a consortium of ~20 data forward companies founded by Sam Palmisano and Ken Chenault on matters related to the responsible use of data and artificial intelligence. In addition, he is a part of the Leadership Advisory Board for GM’s Asian Connections, an employee resource group with over 6,000 members.

Before joining GM, Fusillo served as global head of data and analytics at the NFL where he oversaw the league’s data and analytics group, with a remit to improve the safety of the game of football and identify the key drivers of engagement across television, digital, and social media channels. He also led the league’s innovation program in data and analytics, including the patent strategy for its key data-driven technology inventions. Prior to the NFL, Fusillo was global head of data strategy and insights for American Express Company’s Commercial Payments Division. He previously held various finance-related positions at Chemical Bank (now JP Morgan Chase).

Iwao collaborates extensively with Chief Data Officers and Chief Analytics Officers through a variety of cross-industry forums including his keynote at the June 2021 Millennium Alliance where he was selected as the 2020 Leader in Data. 

Fusillo received a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Princeton University and a Master of Business Administration in finance and international business from Columbia Business School.

Iwao is headquartered in Detroit and lives in New York with his wife and daughter.

The Data Chief is presented by our friends at ThoughtSpot. Searching through your company’s data for insights doesn’t have to be complicated. With ThoughtSpot, anyone in your organization can easily answer their own data questions, find the facts, and make better, faster decisions. Learn more at thoughtspot.com


Episode 43