In Professor Mingfeng Lin’s Business Data Preparation and Visualization course (MGT 6655), MBA students learn how to use, prepare, and visualize data appropriately; explore patterns and relationships; and convey those findings effectively. Every semester Dr. Lin invites one or more industry executives to bring those concepts to life and show how data visualization tools like Tableau, Tableau Prep, Power BI, Power Query, and Excel are used in the corporate world.
“Industry guests are extremely valuable for students’ learning experience because they are inspirations for our students,” said Lin. “Their presentations show students that what they learn in the class is highly practical. It is also a great opportunity for students to network with industry leaders and receive advice from them.”
This fall, he invited The Home Depot’s Decision Analytics Director Michael Carpenter to share his experiences. The Home Depot is a long-time Scheller Business Analytics Center Executive Council partner.
“I truly had a great time!”, said Carpenter. “As someone who is passionate about business, the power of analytics, and developing talent, I always welcome the opportunity to share my experience with aspiring analytics professionals in the classroom. I take great joy from having an opportunity to speak to students and hopefully make an impact.”
Entitled “How to be an Effective Storyteller with Data,” Carpenter’s talk began with information about his career path and how he ended up in business analytics at The Home Depot.
“After graduating with my MBA from FSU, I actually began my career in finance. The Home Depot is absolutely a company that wants to build careers and 16 years later, I’m leading a team of 20 + business intelligence and data science associates. Our team consistently identifies valuable business insights and then we are empowered to run with those insights and deliver collaborative problem-solving efforts across all levels at The Home Depot.”
He further illustrated his point with a real-world example demonstrating how his team dives into the data—and makes a difference for Home Depot.
“When we see an opportunity where our skillsets can solve a problem, we raise our hands and get to work,” said Carpenter. “A good example is how we helped drive utilization of our stores’ interconnected pick-up lockers. The order pick-up experience is much better for the customer and associate if the order is placed in a locker. When we first launched the lockers, utilization was low. We immediately saw an opportunity to develop a solution that could dramatically increase usage. We partnered cross-functionally and blended the art with the science by going into the stores to test and iterate on the solution. In the end, the solution was implemented across all stores and we’ve seen great results since.”
Carpenter explained that as part of his job, he frequently speaks to C-Suite executives and his first lesson in effective storytelling is that PowerPoint is the most accepted medium to communicate with stakeholders. He then provided examples of what to do (see sidebar for a list of best practices) and what not to do when putting together an executive briefing.
“If you know what the data is saying, say it! Don’t leave it open to interpretation. The last thing you want is a stakeholder going away with the wrong impression of what you are trying to say because you did not spell it out,” said Carpenter.
Next, he demonstrated how to set up an effective dashboard with Tableau when presenting to executives. He explained that some of Tableau’s biggest benefits include:
- communicating data in an understandable way to a non-technical audience; and
- enabling leaders to answer their own questions instead of having to go back to their team for additional answers because of Tableau’s interactive capabilities.
Students appreciated Carpenter’s candor and the opportunity to learn more about what it’s like to use data visualization tools in a real-world setting.
“What stood out to me is that Mr. Carpenter affirmed that business analytics goes beyond pure tech and puts you at the forefront of strategic decision-making.” Ross Doelling, Full-time MBA student graduating in May 2025.
“The session was very insightful and broke down some of the misconceptions I had about how data analytics teams are run in large corporate settings. We got practical advice on best practices and a sneak peek at how dashboards are presented to executives.” Charles Fatunbi, Evening MBA graduating in December 2024.
“It’s one thing to learn something in the classroom, but especially fascinating to see how what you’ve learned applies in the business world. Hearing about the best way to present to the C-Suite was fascinating.” Narin Smith, Full-time MBA student graduating in May 2025.
“I especially enjoyed seeing some of Home Depot’s actual data in Tableau form. Seeing how he uses the data to first explain a business problem, then show how he aims to solve it was extremely valuable.” John Jonas, Full-time MBA graduating in May 2024.
Throughout the presentation, Carpenter stopped to allow students to ask questions. The class ended with the question: What does a student need to do to stand out in an interview?
“Show why you are passionate about the business and company,” said Carpenter. “Spend time on the company’s website; all of their info is there, from company history to earnings releases and investor conference presentations. I would rather have someone who shows they want to work for us and took the time to understand our business than the “perfect candidate” on paper who doesn’t show the same level of enthusiasm.”