Marketers cast aside shadow of Saunders

Stuart%20Smith%2C%20EditorCongratulations to Seamus McBride and Lance Batchelor on the all-too-rare accomplishment in marketing circles of making it to chief executive.

There are plenty who will rightly see them, in their different ways at Bacardi and Tesco Telecoms, as role models, but few will match their achievement. The interesting question is: why?Why do the overwhelming majority of ceos in heavyweight companies still hail from a financial background? Why isn’t marketing taken more seriously in boardrooms as a school for corporate leadership?This is not a new issue, and for that reason it’s tempting to look back a little to the long shadow cast by Ernest Saunders, the Nestlé marketer who became chief executive of Guinness, only to end up in clink after an over-enthusiastic takeover bid for United Distillers that involved fraud and insider trading.

Saunders was the unscrupulous exception that proves the rule, but he certainly gave marketing a bad name. He did nothing to dispel the popular notion (in City circles) that marketers were insubstantial, mercurial types not entirely to be trusted.

The man who did dispel those notions is Sir Terry Leahy, chief executive of Tesco. He, more than anyone else, has demonstrated that there is a lot more to profitable retailing than mastering the detail. Tesco has brought a marketing flair to almost everything it has touched over the years, including financial services (what happens, post-buyout of the RBS stake, to Tesco Financial Services should be watched with great interest).

While Sir Peter Davies’s stint at Sainsbury’s sprinkled no magical marketing dust, elsewhere in retail Mark Price at Waitrose and Kate Swann at WH Smith have left their mark.

Nor has the break-out been confined to retail. Media is a good area to move into, following in the footsteps of Andy Duncan at Channel 4 and Reed’s Sir Crispin Davies (once of P&G, via Aegis) – who is regarded by the City as one of the FTSE 100’s most able executives.

And then there’s telecoms. Batchelor may, in some small way, owe his promotion to the trail-blazing example of Peter Erskine at O2, as well as his own successful stint as UK marketing chief at Vodafone.

Interestingly, marketers do not always rise to the top in sectors where creating successful brand images is a prerequisite of growth. The drinks industry is a prime example: McBride is the only chief executive among the big four with a marketing pedigree, and the appointment of a marketer is itself a first for Bacardi.

It has been suggested that McBride’s unusual sobriety of manner (as well as his undisputed marketing flair) helped get him the job. There may be something in this. Some of the most successful ceos combine both marketing and financial skill-sets. Sir Anthony Greener (Dunhill, Guinness, Diageo) is well-respected as a marketer, but in fact trained as an accountant. Sir Martin Sorrell’s mixed pedigree is widely known. For other talented individuals without the benefit of a financial background, it can be a much harder graft learning to bond with the investment community. Mastering the skills takes more than a sabbatical at a well-known business school. Cover story Page 16, Analysis Page 8

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