McDonald’s outgoing CEO on being a successful marketer in the boardroom

After announcing that she will take the post of CEO at Halfords in May, Jill McDonald, McDonald’s UK CEO and president of the company’s north west division, explained today (24 March) at Ad Week Europe why speaking the same language as the rest of the business and gaining experience are key to making it in the boardroom as a marketer.

Having made the transition from marketing roles to becoming CEO of McDonald’s UK, McDonald shared her wealth of knowledge on the topic while speaking in a panel at the event today. The CEO suggested that in order to guarantee success, it’s important for marketers to ensure their intent lines up with that of the rest of the business.

“In order to be a successful marketer in the boardroom, you have to speak the same language as your board,” she explained.

She said that an important part of this is being able to quantify marketing efforts whenever possible.

“Marketing isn’t all a science, but the more grounded you can be in terms of numbers the better,” she said. “However, when you can’t quantify things you need to be honest about it.”

Also speaking on the panel, chaired by Oystercatchers CEO Suki Thompson, was Benny Higgins, CEO of Tesco Bank and group strategy director of Tesco PLC, who agreed with McDonald. “In marketing, make sure the balance is sufficiently weighted to data when it can be,” he said.

McDonald added that consumer data should come first and foremost in a business. “Financials flow by doing the right thing by consumers,” she said.

However, while the two CEOs agreed that all members of a boardroom need to be customer-centric, Higgins said he believes marketing directors in particular must become “customer champions”.

“The marketing director has to be at the heart of communicating with the customer,” he said. “Understanding the customer and how we communicate with the customer is an essential part.”

When asked if the industry should expect to see more CMOs become CEOs, McDonald added: “I don’t see any reason why not. In McDonald’s, some of our really successful CEOs are ex-marketers. They can be great and make the transition.

However, she said it’s important for CMOs moving into CEO roles to understand the experiences that will help them get there and fill any necessary gaps in their knowledge.

She added that moving to the role of CEO means “being comfortable with being uncomfortable, asking the right questions, and trusting the people around you to do their part”.

“You have to understand how the business works and how you can be vulnerable to change,” Higgins added. “You have to understand risk.”

McDonald’s announced yesterday that the UK CEO will leave the company to take up the role of CEO at bicycle brand Halfords, following nine years of service at the fast food giant.

She will replace Halfords’ boss Matt Davies, who was appointed as the UK CEO of Tesco earlier this year.

While McDonald declined to comment on her immanent departure from McDonald’s, she did share the main thing she’ll miss from its kitchen: “A Big Mac, fries and a chocolate shake,” she laughed.

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