‘Avoid management babble and think like a customer if you want to be a CEO’

Allan Leighton, the former Mars marketing director who went on to become chief executive of Asda, has advised marketers wanting to make into the C-Suite to avoid talking “management babble” and keep their approach to leadership “simple” by thinking as customers. 

Marketer turned CEO Allan Leighton offers his tips for success.

Leighton, one of the UK’s most respected business leaders, told delegates at a lecture hosted by mentoring organisation The Marketing Academy – of which Marketing Week is a founder partner – there are no barriers to entry to the C-suite for marketers, in fact their insight into customer needs puts marketers in a good position to progress as long as they do not lose sight of what is important in their pursuit of promotion.

“Never forget the customers and don’t complicate. Customers are simple. You don’t think in complex ways when buying and neither do they.”

He adds: “Don’t speak in management or general babble. They [board members] will think you are too complicated and leave you where you are”.

Completing his three tips for marketers looking to progress to the management or executive board, Leighton warned delegates of over relying on data. “Data will get you 70 per cent of the way there. Intuition will bring you the sizzle”.

Leighton, who was Asda marketing director before being named chief executive and is now chairman of several companies, said marketing was integral to the success of an organisation because of the discipline’s connection to the customer.

“Marketing is about satisfying the customers better than the competition – the same as business objectives.”

He described is management approach as “customer, customer, customer”, the same as that of marketers. “All board meetings, whether management or group started not with minutes from previous meetings or profit and loss statements but with customer data. Everyone knows what’s important because of it”. 

Latest from Marketing Week


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and inspiration that will help you develop as a marketer and leader.

Register and receive the best content from the only title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work, so we can make Marketing Week more relevant to you.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team and columnists will ask the biggest questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we will be your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Dedicated to developing your skills and helping you achieve marketing excellence. Find guidance on leadership, professional development and the latest industry jobs.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3711 or email subscriptions@marketingweek.com

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here