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Egon Zehnder at the 2018 Kellogg Marketing Leadership Summit

Three biggest lessons from the 2018 Kellogg Marketing Leadership Summit

Transformation is a word we’ve heard a lot in 2018. Whether it’s a digital transformation of your company, a pivot in business strategy, or a personal transformation you’re undergoing, what’s clear is that change is the only constant.

At the 2018 Kellogg Marketing Leadership Summit – the eighth-annual conference of the top 120 marketers held by The Kellogg School of Management, in collaboration with Egon Zehnder and McKinsey & Company – the theme was transformation. Because marketing changes so quickly and the CMO function is known as the most bespoke role in the C-suite, it’s imperative for leaders to come together in an exclusive space to share stories of the challenges and risks associated with transformation, and how they overcame obstacles to achieve positive outcomes. This is what we seek to achieve at the Summit and why we meet each year. The experience aids in reflection, perspective, and adds a depth of conversation that can only be met by engaging in frank discussion with peers.

Some of the themes that consistently came up were personal transformation, business transformation, and the role that risk plays in becoming a better marketer:

1. Personal Transformation

According to Carrie Bienkowski, CMO of, “we're so focused on the skills and the knowledge that we build all the time, I think sometimes we might have a blinder to those things that we need to unlearn. Not necessarily because they're bad habits, but industries have changed or the paradigms have changed. It's all part of being an adaptive, evolving individual and a great leader.”

A key insight from the Summit was that marketing leaders experience constant personal reflection throughout their careers. What’s important is to understand as part of the reflection that growth doesn’t always mean adding knowledge or skills.  While there is always more to learn and understand, it can also be powerful to unlearn certain elements of the role.

2. Business Transformation

Business challenges requiring a major strategy shift due to shareholder pressure can often be even more of an uphill battle, especially in a risk-averse organization that’s getting back to its DNA while learning how to work with evolving buying trends.

Kevin Hochman, president of KFC U.S., shared his story of business transformation: “Five years ago when I started, the stock analysts were saying we should spin off and sell the U.S. KFC business. What a shame that would have been. Today, I'm going to tell the story about how we resuscitated the brand, and more importantly, brought it back to relevance here in the U.S.”

"Growth doesn’t always mean adding knowledge or skills. While there is always more to learn and understand, it can also be powerful to unlearn certain elements of the role."

3. Becoming a better marketer

What many of the Summit attendees also expressed interest in was risk. For example, the idea of becoming a culture that welcomes and rewards risk – and by extension, failure – is fashionable in today’s business world, but the opposite is usually true.

Eric Reynolds, CMO of Clorox, notes that in a legacy CPG business, failure can be an extremely difficult subject to broach. “Our culture of is one of certainty and rigorous testing, and that's for a reason. It produced a lot of great results over the years, but it's a created an inherent slowness, a risk aversion.”

2018 Takeaways

Marketing is one of the most rapidly changing functions in the C-suite, and it’s likely that the job you are doing, the strategies you are executing and the way your organization is structured will be different as quickly as next month. As CMOs continue to face obstacles in the dynamic business world, it’s important to remember the primary takeaways, gleaned while surrounded by peers who have faced or are facing similar situations, from the 2018 Marketing Leadership Summit.

As one attendee said, “I have to change myself as much as I'm asking my organization to change.”

To view the conversations with leaders of Coca-Cola,, Chromebooks, and more, visit


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