As a teenager parking cars at a Fort Lauderdale country club, Mike Haydock picked up much more than two-dollar tips.
Like the life lesson he received one day from Academy Award winning actor George C. Scott. “He liked to play golf with the boys parking cars, and one day he gave me a tremendous insight on how he got into a role. He told me he became that role. He became Patton. That’s how he was able to pull that performance out.”
That immersive approach has made the math maestro one of IBM’s most sought after analytics experts, a demand that only will grow now that the chief scientific officer in the GBS Business Analytics and Optimization consulting team has been named an IBM Fellow.
From cattle stock to coffee sales
From designing the most efficient way to butcher cattle stock, to creating an original dynamic pricing model for airline fares, to when in the planting cycle is the optimal time to spray weed killer on a soybean field, Mike has worked his magic with applied mathematical methods for a diverse set of clients across industries ranging from agriculture to aerospace. His brainchild—an analytics-based forecast of electronics and appliance sales in the United States—has become a staple of predicting holiday sales trends.
Currently, Mike is leading an IBM analytics team on a deep dive engagement with a food and beverage retailer, and is in the process learning more about java than a Seattle barista. “We’ve been devising algorithms based on appending data from millions of customer purchases with variables drawn from 1,811 weather stations around North America,” the analytics guru explained. “We’ve developed correlations between consumer coffee-buying patterns and weather patterns, and our client is now directly connecting with their customers through targeted promotions on social media to keep consumers coming to purchase on days they might not otherwise—like when it’s 90 degrees.”
A performance background
If Mike brings a dash of the performance arts to the quantitative world of advanced analytics, the personable new Fellow comes by it naturally. His father and aunt worked as a popular tap dance and drummer duo in the South Florida nightclub scene when Mike was growing up. “My grandmother performed in vaudeville. My mom was also a professional dancer,” Mike said. “It was a show business family. My dad left for work at 8 p.m. and came home around 6 a.m. It was a night life.”
An all-around athlete who played in a rock band, Mike didn’t discover academics until he started that part-time job parking cars. “Most of the other guys working there were a few years older, going to college, and they spent a lot of time studying. They got me interested in academics and what became a lifetime passion to learn.”
Data: the world’s new natural resource
After earning a graduate degree in marketing management, Mike earned a doctorate in operations research and joined IBM in 1989 in Minnesota, where he and wife still live. Over the past 25 years, Mike has seen his specialty of applied mathematics evolve from an obscure field to the essential passkey for unlocking the power of data, the world’s new natural resource.
“To me, it’s a bit of an adventure,” mused the new Fellow. “Everyone has a data warehouse. That’s very different from doing something predictive with the data. That’s a huge opportunity for IBM — the intersection between physical and digital. If I’m a retailer, for instance, how can I take this information on my customers buying behaviors and change my menu board or my display lighting or change my social media promotion strategy? At the end of the day, it’s not just data — but what actions you can put in place to drive better results.”
Michael Haydock in his own words
You might think it would be stochastic optimization equations, but it’s really something much simpler… curiosity. You have to be fascinated with what’s driving things for our customers. You might say, sure I know this retailer, I buy my coffee there. But do you really understand their business and what drives their customers’ behavior and patterns? What are they saying on social media? How does the weather impact customers’ behavior? Once you start taking this customer point of view, you can find insights in the data. It still takes some smart people to think through all the angles and understand the math. But it all starts with curiosity. That’s what I look for in data scientists.
What advice do you give clients about getting started with analytics?
I tell clients, pick something that’s meaningful, but not so big that it becomes a multi-year science project with no visible outcomes. Start with a project that in four to six months can produce results that create change in your company. Use it as fulcrum you can apply to other problems.
What does it mean to be named an IBM Fellow?
It’s the single biggest thing that ever happened to me. It really caught me off guard. Being an IBM Fellow has meaning outside of IBM. For customers, it’s meaningful, and I hope to live up to that expectation and help deliver really special outcomes.
What are you reading right now?
Reading a book right now on Leonardo DaVinci. Before that, it was Inferno by Dan Brown
What’s on your playlist?
I like dance and synthetically produced music. It’s the programmer in me. One of my favorite artists is Armin Van Buuren.
Deep-sea fishing. Not practically productive, but I love it. I don’t do it enough!
How would you like to be remembered?
As an early pioneer in IBM of really understanding consumer behavior and applying that to our clients. I was one of the first in IBM to take that field seriously — the mathematics of the customer. Beyond that, I enjoy lifting weights and if I had my druthers, I would want to be remembered as the “world’s strongest quant.” Since most of the quantitative types look like the cast on The Big Bang Theory, I think I’d have a shot at it!