Adobe’s global CMO on what it takes to forge a career in technology marketing

Ann Lewnes, executive vice-president and CMO at Adobe, shares the moments that have shaped her career and led to her heading up marketing at a company that made $4.8bn (£3.3bn) in sales last year.


What advice would you give to marketers looking to progress in their career?

Look for companies where a pivot is about to happen because I think that’s when things are most exciting. Look for an opportunity at a company that is transitioning or starting from scratch. That’s personally what I like to do.

The other thing I would say is learn new things. Marketers are not always the fastest to adopt new things. We’ve seen that with digital marketing, it’s probably taken some companies longer than it should have. You can’t resist.

This is a great time to be in marketing. Everybody should embrace it and move quickly. Don’t avoid risk.

What are the key moments that have influenced your career?

I’ve been blessed to work at two great technology companies, which is unusual, especially in Silicon Valley, as people move around a lot. I worked for 20 years at Intel and now almost 10 years at Adobe.

At Intel the biggest success was coming in at the right time because the PC industry was just starting to take off. I had the good fortune of working under [former CEO] Andy Grove who unfortunately passed away recently.

He had a great vision for what marketing could do to a very non-marketing-oriented business like semiconductors. His chief lieutenant, my boss [former CMO] Dennis Carter, instituted the whole ‘Intel Inside’ programme [that targeted consumers] and the branding of microprocessors – things that seemed completely crazy at the time.

What did you learn from Carter’s strategy?

Under him I was able to learn everything about marketing. We started off as a small team – four or five of us – I learnt at the hand of the master how to do everything. It was an on-the-job MBA. At a time when a business is really scaling there’s no better experience. Over time the company grew to be quite large and I felt I had stayed long enough and felt like I wanted to try something new.

Why did you decide to join Adobe?

With Adobe it was slightly different because it was about taking a brand that was already quite healthy, transforming it and expanding its value into new spaces. We’ve taken it from a creative packaged software business, and transformed it into a subscription business, and created a whole new adjacent business in digital marketing.

What is the best advice you have ever received?

My personal mantra has always been ‘no doesn’t always mean no’. That’s my career path and it’s not for everyone perhaps, but I get excited about trying things that people don’t think can work because that to me is a challenge.

That is a good philosophy for marketers now because there have been a lot of organisations that have completely transformed themselves. It isn’t easy and you may say we’ll never be able to do this, our people won’t change, our technology won’t change, our processes won’t change. But it’s very motivating to employees to be able to transform themselves, even if they are a little resistant at first.

I’ve seen PR people become social media people, I’ve seen traditional market research people become web analysts and everyone comes out the other end feeling better. You learn new skills and you have impact on the transformation of a company.

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