Too lazy to break the glass ceiling?

It has long been the cry of marketers that there should be more of their ilk holding board-level positions. But despite all the noise, there were just eight companies within the FTSE 100 with marketers on their main boards – BP, Imperial Tobacco Group, Mitchells & Butlers, Morrisons, Rentokil Initial, Safeway, Tesco and mmO2 – according to research conducted by the Chartered Institute of Marketing in May.

CIM chief executive Peter Fisk claims that this is partly because many marketers lack the necessary ambition and skills to attain a place on the board, preferring to continue to tackle strategic and customer-focused issues rather than assuming responsibility for day-to-day general business problems. Using this analysis, it appears that few marketers are prepared to cross the line and take the strain of business management by getting to grips with the less glamorous, weighty issues of finance, distribution and sales.

Those that are, such as Coca-Cola Great Britain’s Charlotte Oades, find themselves pushed into such as roles as commercial director with responsibility not only for marketing, but also other disciplines such as sales.

For some companies the discipline of marketing alone warrants a place on the board. And so it should, given that marketers possess knowledge on new product development and other market intelligence that is invaluable to chief executives wanting to make an impression on City analysts.

But some companies that have, in the past, allocated a board position to their chief marketers have sadly taken the regressive step of relegating marketing. Alan McWalter, former group marketing director at Marks & Spencer, stepped down from the board position after a company restructure which removed the marketing function from the board. And Boots did not hand Ann Francke a board position when she became strategy and development director after the retailer’s former chief marketer and board member Barry Clare was ousted.

That said, Boots obviously values marketers: its new chief executive, Richard Baker, cut his teeth at Mars then moved to Asda, where after a stint as group marketing director he was promoted to chief operating officer. And there are other encouraging signs that marketers are being taken seriously. WH Smith has recently poached Argos managing director Kate Swann, a former Homebase and Curry’s marketer, to become its new chief executive. But Baker and Swann were marketing high flyers, both of whom quickly moved on and acquired skills in addition to marketing in order to get ahead.

If marketers want to be taken seriously and given a place on the board, they must also be prepared to get to grips with other disciplines and to speak the language of the boardroom. But the real question is do they?

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