Which CMO Skill Is More Valuable: Industry Expert Or Versatile Leader?
Interview of Bruce Rogers, editor and Chief Insights Officer at Forbes.com with Dick Patton, head of Egon Zehnder’s Global Chief Marketing Officer Practice.
Bruce Rogers: Can an executive who is new to an industry effectively lead a company’s marketing function?
Dick Patton: More and more we are seeing major companies entrusting top marketing roles to leaders with diversified industry expertise– not necessarily in the corporation’s direct business proposition. The real expertise driving the talent selection is in finding deep experience in the primary brand or marketing problem to solve. Consider Citi and AutoNation.
Citi’s Chief Brand Officer, Dermot Boden leads brand strategy and ensures that branding and marketing are effective across the world’s largest financial services network. Yet before he joined Citi, Boden had never marketed in the financial sector. He was previously Global Chief Marketing Officer at LG Electronics . Boden had also held marketing roles with Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson.
Greg Revelle, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at AutoNation, is a similar story. Prior to joining America’s largest automotive retailer, Revelle was VP of Global Online Marketing for the travel website Expedia. Earlier in his career, he was an Investment Banking Analyst at Credit Suisse.
Bruce Rogers: As the marketing landscape continues to evolve, what should a CEO look for in a potential CMO?
Dick Patton: Intuitively, it always made sense to prize deep industry knowledge in top marketing officers. The common presumption was that a CMO must come up within the industry in which the company competes (or one closely related). In contrast, so much is now changing so fast, the central question many CEOs face is: “Can we change fast enough?” How will the company respond to the digital revolution? Far flung markets? The sudden emergence of entirely new product and service categories? Shifting consumer demographics? Today, CEOs need CMOs who can help make sense of all that is unfolding in the wider world, not just within their own industry. They need CMOs who can be full business partners in crafting and executing a whole new breed of growth strategies.
In an environment that continually compels companies to move in new directions and make great leaps forward, marketers who have spent their entire careers within the company’s own industry may be viewed as bringing “more of the same,” when what the company urgently needs are fundamentally “new” growth strategies. In shaping the spec for their CMO, then, CEOs increasingly put aside traditional considerations and want to know, ”Who is pushing the edge?”
Bruce Rogers: Can you give a few examples of CMOs that are “pushing the edge”?
Dick Patton: AutoNation recognized that a growing number of car buyers (especially millennials) prefer to shop online, and so it sought an untraditional CMO with cutting edge expertise in customer acquisition and e-commerce. Analysts lauded the hiring of Greg Revelle as the right choice to oversee development of AutoNation’s new digital storefront.
When Citi brought Dermot Boden in from LG Electronics, Vikram Pandit (then Citi’s CEO) praised Boden’s “creativity, thoughtfulness and the ability to execute a strategy over the course of a career during which he has contributed to the building of many different and successful brands.” In other words, what made Boden attractive to Citi was not long experience and deep expertise in financial services (both of which he lacked), but rather his proven versatility as a brand strategist and leader.
At Virgin Group, valuing versatility is nothing new. Richard Branson’s sprawling conglomerate spans mobile telephony, travel, financial services, leisure, music, holidays and health & wellness. Virgin CMO Ian Rowden had previously served as CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi Asia Pacific. Before that he was CMO of Wendy’s International as well as VP-Worldwide Advertising at Coca-Cola. In announcing Rowden as Virgin’s Chief Marketing Officer, Co-CEOs David Baxby and Josh Bayliss cited a rationale that transcends industry boundaries: “Expanding the strength and reach of the Virgin brand is at the core of our strategy. Ian has a unique mix of marketing and entrepreneurial experience to help grow our existing companies and develop new markets and industries.” Once again, it was the mix of experience that proved decisive.
Bruce Rogers: How can a CMO breathe new life into his or her role?
Dick Patton: If you spend your entire career as a marketer in one company or industry, you increasingly risk being seen as unqualified to become a CMO – even in your own company. To optimize your qualifications, you must accumulate a range of knowledge and insights that arise from experience working in multiple industries. And in each successive role, you want to always be the one who is breaking new ground. (For example, if you are working for a traditional retail business, pioneer online retailing).
Above all, you must demonstrate that you can navigate and innovatively lead others through territory that is foreign to you because most companies now recognize, their future success is hinged on mastering an environment that is foreign to them.
Bruce Rogers: What embodies the ‘Versatile CMO’?
Dick Patton: A few key traits come to mind:
- Respectful persuasion. Personally aligns organization behind groundbreaking vision, yet honors the company’s heritage and existing strengths.
- Natural leadership. Effectively leads people who have deeper industry knowledge and experience. Inspires confidence, energy and focus, even while leading organizations through uncharted waters.
- Curiosity. Constantly refreshes insight and perspective on an intellectual, experiential and personal level.
- Agility. Effectively anticipates changes in market environment. Quickly adapts.
- Integration and Synthesis. Blends diverse, previously separate talents and technologies to create entirely new capabilities.
- Business orientation. Drives top and bottom line growth. Makes marketing’s contribution to financial performance unmistakably clear.
This article was first published on forbes.com and is republished on this website with kind permission of Forbes.