Maggie Chan Jones, CMO at SAP, on leading the way for women in the tech sector

The software group’s marketing boss talks diversity, strategy and nurturing talent.

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Female marketers have been making headlines this month. Last week, tech giant IBM named Michelle Peluso, the former CEO at flash-sale website Gilt, as its first-ever CMO. A week later, former L’Oréal marketer Emma Walmsley was named CEO of drugs group GlaxoSmithKline, making her one of just seven female CEOs in the FTSE 100.

It is positive news in the context of Marketing Week’s investigations into diversity within the marketing profession, which have uncovered evidence of ongoing career barriers and pay disparities that unfairly affect women.

Maggie Chan Jones, CMO at business software provider SAP, has long been an advocate for female leadership, particularly within the technology sector. She took on her current role in November 2014, having previously held positions at Microsoft and telecommunications firm Level 3 Communications.

Under Jones’s leadership, SAP has increased its investment in brand marketing, including a sponsorship tie-up with Manchester City FC last year and by providing new technology services to entertainment properties such as Cirque du Soleil. The brand is also investing in TV, outdoor and online advertising aimed at pushing its long-term ‘Run Simple’ brand campaign.

Jones explains how her priorities are shifting in the highly competitive tech sector, and how she hopes to encourage both women and marketers from ethnic minority backgrounds to take the top jobs.

Do women working in the technology sector still encounter barriers in their career?

I think the sector is trying. We are all looking for ways to increase women in technology, in business and in leadership as well – I think that’s critical. SAP has made a commitment that by the end of 2017 we want to have 25% of management [roles filled by] women. We are at 23% right now, so we have line of sight to get to that target, but we’re not going to rest there – we want to continue growing it.

As a female and an Asian-American, it’s definitely something that’s top of mind for me. Fifty per cent of my leadership team in marketing are women and 50% of my leadership team are also from ethnic minorities. We see the difference from bringing together different cultures, backgrounds and experiences to help us make better decisions. The way I look at it is ‘how can I lead by example?’

Have you encountered any barriers in your own career?

Many times growing up in the technology sector I was the only female in the room. Often I’m still the only Asian woman in the room. I talk a lot about how to challenge the statistics [by referring to] my own path. You’ve got to tune out the noise, because you’ll hear a lot of noise about ‘she is too aggressive’ or ‘she is too quiet’. You have to stay focused on what you want to accomplish. So, how do you find not only mentors but also sponsors, and how do you build your support systems? All of those things are very critical, at least for me personally in terms of how I grew my career.

What advice do you give to young people trying to forge a career in technology or marketing?

When I visit our offices and employees I always have lunch or coffee with early talent. When we were recently at the UK office there were about 40 to 50 people there, early university graduates and [those] doing internships, and I was talking to them about my career journey. That’s something I always find energising because I wish when I was growing up and was in my early 20s I’d been able to hear more executives talk about their journey and the things that I could have watched out for.

What are some of the core marketing priorities for SAP at present?

We launched our ‘Run Simple’ campaign back in 2014, the whole premise of which is how can we help customers take the complexity out of their day-to-day operations and how they service their own customers. This year we evolved that campaign into what we call ‘Live Business’. We see from customers now that they want to run live businesses, which means having infinite insights for making decisions.

I remember 10 to 15 years ago when you wanted to drop a campaign to customers you’d have to mail it out and it would be a month or two before you had any indication of whether it had been successful or was hitting the mark with customers. Now everything can be instant and live, so you can adjust and make sure that what you’re doing with your customers is contextual. We’re really focused on telling that story of how we are helping companies around the world to ‘run live’ so that they can ‘run simple’.

What do you think are the key skills CMOs need today?

You have to be really agile – the industry and technology is changing, and your competitors are always looking at how they can continue to improve the customer experience, so you have to stay ahead. Also you need to understand what technology, analytics and big data can do for you. You have to be part-artist and part-scientist because there is a lot of art in the storytelling, but there’s also a lot of data available now that you as marketers can get hold of to help you make your business case. Another [skill] is to do with people – how do you grow your team for the future? At SAP we look at the core skillsets that marketers have to build and nurture for [the year] 2020 and measure their development against that.

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