Are leaders born or made?

Is there a personality type which particularly suits the CMO role? Or is it more a case of obtaining the right skills? Maeve Hosea asks seven CMOs about how far they have had to change themselves to meet the challenges of the position.

Gut reaction: People who work in drinks need to be instinctive rather than analytical, says Diageo’s Andy Fennell

The panel:

Andy Fennell, CMO, Diageo
Rick Vlemmiks, CMO, Direct Line Group
Kerris Bright, CMO, Ideal Standard International
Dee Dutta, former global CMO, Sony Ericsson
Jeffrey Hayzett, former CMO, Kodak
Anthony Marsella, former CMO, Samsung
Lisa Arthur, CMO, Aprimo

Marketing Week (MW): How does your own personality fit with your brand?

Rick Vlemmiks (RV): Creativity and innovation are the things I get most excited about in my work. Although I started life as an engineer, people tell me that I’m most engaged when discussing and inputting creative ideas, and it’s this that I believe keeps the best brands in front of the pack.

I believe the brands that form the Direct Line Group are some of the most creative, not just in their own sectors, but also in the UK market as a whole. Churchill has the biggest Facebook fanbase and Direct Line is consistently number one in recall and cut through.

Andy Fennell (AF): You can only measure these things by degrees, but people who work in drinks and other emotionally driven categories need to be more instinctive than analytical. It is an attribute to focus on creativity, rather than looking to the past to see what will be successful in the future.

Kerris Bright (KB): I think about my three senior marketing roles. [At Dulux] my passion for colour and interiors certainly allowed me to flourish. [At BA], as a seasoned global traveller I had a strong desire to help it redefine its sense of purpose and restore pride in our national airline – which I hope the overarching To Fly: To Serve strategy has started to do. Now, at Ideal Standard International, I have the opportunity to rebuild another great brand and I hope my enthusiasm for great product design and creative communication can support us in our mission.

Jeffrey Hayzlett (JH): I was the biggest cheerleader. Kodak became a corporate brand, and I tried to bring it back to its roots by telling stories and developing themes. To get through the transition of trying to make Kodak a successful company once again, it needed to move away from being totally associated with film – a great but dying product – and to connect with the emotional technology – making, managing, and moving images and information. I lived the brand; I wore yellow everywhere I went.

Anthony Marsella (AM): My tenure as CMO at Samsung was about creating market differentiation and leadership through leadership in sales, style and brand. I am very sales and results-oriented as well as a lateral thinker when it comes to brand and business development, so the fit was good.

Dee Dutta (DD): I have held the CMO role at both Sony Ericsson [now Sony Mobile] and Visa. Technology fits my personality because I have a passion for innovation. I also like the idea of being able to influence aspects of the everyday, so financial services – one of those areas where you can alter the way people shop and influence consumer behaviour to make things better – appeals to me.

MW: What is your remit as the CMO?

AF: All marketers in Diageo are accountable for the growth of the business. I look after sales, marketing and innovation globally, which is a spend of £2bn. There are 400 people in my direct team and thousands in my communities. I spend a lot of time on people development on a day-to-day basis as well as corporate and brand strategy.

JH: At Kodak, I reported to the chairman and oversaw the worldwide marketing organisation and all marketing functions within the company. This included business-to-business, business-to-consumer, corporate communications, strategy, operations, and branding – which included public relations, advertising, web and social. I had over 1,200 team members located in the regions, business units, corporate headquarters, and throughout the world.

RV: I’m responsible for setting the strategy and delivering the marketing across all our brands – Churchill, Direct Line, Privilege, Green Flag and Brand Partners – for both the UK and our international markets. I’m also the voice of the customer on our executive committee.

KB: I am part of the seven-strong executive management team leading the business and have functional accountability for the full marketing mix: brand strategy, product and innovation, channel strategy, communication and customer engagement, and pricing.

Call of Asia: Life at Samsung was a cross-cultural challenge for Anthony Marsella

MW: What attracted you to the CMO role at your organisation?

AF: I have been in the role for two-and-a-half years and with Diageo for 15 years. It is the most senior job in the function that I work in and for a company that I love, so it was a logical aspiration to want to do this role.

RV: Direct Line Group has a fantastic combination of brilliant brands and people, yet with a huge ambition to be better still. Being part of a leadership team charged with taking the business forward as a separate entity is hugely exciting and the international element adds a further interesting dimension.

AM: For me, it was the opportunity to take a brand that had a good product line-up and the willingness to invest in marketing and talent, from a second-tier player to number one.

KB: I was attracted to the role because the business is on a journey of significant transformation and marketing is a key driver of this change. I’m at my best in broad marketing roles with brand-led transformation at the heart and I enjoy the challenge of seeking out the key strengths within the organisation, defining an inspiring purpose and vision for success, and building teams to craft brand strategies that will drive growth.

JH: To become the CMO at a Fortune 100 company is one of the biggest dreams come true for a marketer. To deal with those challenges that a CMO is presented with, is an opportunity few professionals get to tackle. That in itself attracted me.

DD: I was attracted by the tremendous opportunity of the dream combination of Ericsson’s strong ability in the mobile telephony space and Sony’s technology and marketing abilities. The chance to truly innovate and build a great digital and technology brand from scratch is very rare.

MW: How would you describe your working style and the leadership methods you employ?

Lisa Arthur (LA): I am genuinely passionate about marketing and my enthusiasm only increases when I sense that same passion and commitment from those around me. I believe it’s important to lead by example, so I do everything I can to keep our customers top of mind while encouraging our staff to do the same. During this unprecedented time of rapid change in marketing – where companies are consolidating yet technologies are proliferating – we are all challenged to push the boundaries of traditional marketing.

DD: I am not in favour of overly tiered structures. By being available to people as much possible and travelling over 30 weeks of the year, I was as much in Sony Ericsson’s markets as in our London headquarters. An open, honest and direct style of working is always preferable to me.

RV: I love to set vision and strategy, employ and energise brilliant people and then give them the freedom and accountability to deliver against it. My job is to enable everyone around me to be successful. Saying that, I often need to get down into the detail and that’s what makes the role so rewarding – the real variation between long-term customer-led strategy and day-to-day execution of campaigns.

MW: How have you grown and developed with the CMO role?

AF: With any job you grow with experience and never stop developing. The most significant dynamic during the course of the last three years is that we have gone through a financial crisis and therefore leading people through that crisis, being agile in our shift of resources and our focus on innovation and core brands, so that we could still find pockets of growth, has led to better performance. That is not about me but it is the volatile and dynamic backdrop of my learning.

LA: At Aprimo [a software brand], I saw – and still see – the opportunity to not just observe trends in the marketing industry, but to shape them. As I’ve grown in this new role, I’ve accepted the responsibility to be more of an ‘industry-disruptor’ and ensure that our marketing solutions lead the way in innovation.

MW: Have you had to change anything about yourself to suit the CMO role?

KB: For me, the transition to a CMO role required a significant shift in emphasis from focusing on ‘the what’ of marketing to ‘the how’ – as the role is a leadership role where much of the content creation and delivery is done by others. The CMO’s task is to inspire and engage the organisation, support others in the delivery and then celebrate their success.

LA: Absolutely I’ve had to change, and that comes with the territory in a marketing leadership role. In my case, however, I’d say it’s more likely to be because of the marketing industry’s rapidly changing landscape. Every CMO – at least every successful CMO – has had to drastically change his or her outlook and methods because of tighter budgets, increasingly fast-paced business developments and the explosion of myriad new channels.

Best fit: Ideal standard’s Kerris Bright says that ‘magic is created’ when a CMO has empathy with the company’s culture

JH: I had to learn to be much more collaborative than I normally am, in a company that had a very rigid formula. In a bigger corporation, it’s sometimes more about driving cooperation and cohesiveness in getting the teams to do what you need them to do. I come from more of an independent leadership role of running my own companies, so it took a while to get used to.

The biggest change I needed to make was to get them to take risks. The company was extremely risk-averse, and to get them to believe that no one was going to die from our marketing activities was a challenge.

AF: My job is global and only eight per cent of Diageo’s sales are in the country I was born in. This means I have to put a lot of energy into understanding cultures in the four corners of the world and how our brands can be built in those cultures, as well as how sales people work locally and what innovation does and doesn’t work.

AM: I had to adjust to an Asian autocratic management system at Samsung. Korean and Asian culture is very different to Western culture and the hardest for Westerners to adapt to, which is why the turnover in senior management at Samsung is so high. I had to change my working style in order to work in that structure and still make a contribution. If you are going to go into a CMO role at a non-Western company you have to consider it as a challenge equal to the challenge of the CMO role itself.

MW: Is there a personality type that is particularly suited to the job of CMO?

RV: You’ve got to be passionate about delivering big improvements for customers through creative ideas and get your energy from seeing this turn into business success. If you’re like that then the job never gets tiring.

AF: No. However, there are some skills or attributes that good CMOs share. It helps to be good at marketing, good at motivating people, good at initiating things and good at driving performance otherwise there is no legitimacy for the marketing innovation activity. But being good at those things doesn’t require one personality style and it would be a dull old world if it did. I also think that if you are good at those things [it doesn’t mean] the only job you can do is the CMO. At Diageo, we look for and embrace diversity in the people that we have on the team.

DD: I don’t think there is a specific personality type but there are some principles relating to sectors: With technology the key thing is that you have to have a passion for innovation in the way that you are doing things, and to take the relentless pressure that you are only as good as your last product. Within financial services, where more of the work is involved with being on the right side of understanding the legislation and audit requirement, attention to detail is perhaps a bigger requirement.

AM: Yes, but the facility to adapt your working style is as important as marketing talent. This is especially true of CMO roles in international companies where local cultural differences have to be fully recognised.

LA: To me, a great CMO will have a split personality, and it’s almost a split now between the ‘arts’ and ‘sciences’ of marketing. CMOs today must be passionate but prudent, creative but numbers-driven. Good with words and good with data. And you must know that there is a time and place for each personality to take the stage. These two sides should be wrapped around a belief that unless you actively collaborate across the organisation – with chief information officers and chief technology offices, for example – it’s impossible to be truly revolutionary.

JH: I’ve seen successful CMOs at numerous companies, all with different personality types, based on the culture of the company and its brand promise to the customer. But it takes different personalities for the different stages of growth and change in the company. For instance, if you have a more analytical personality, you’re probably not the most helpful person in a very creative stage of the company, as would a more expressive or more amiable professional be in an analytical stage. My personality is suited more for companies that are in start-up transition or high-growth mode, as opposed to steady or harvesting mode.

KB: I’m not sure how I ‘fit’, however, I believe that a CMO is more likely to be highly successful when they have a strong engagement and empathy for the category in which they are working and there is an alignment with the values and culture of the company – this is where the magic is created.

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Alison Hand


Alison Hand
Partner and deputy chairman

What makes a great CMO?
Being instinctive and analytical might seem like incompatible characteristics, but really great CMOs have both and are skilled at understanding when and how to deploy them.

Most people would say instinct is an essential quality in a great marketer. And I agree it’s massively important. But sometimes there’s a fine line between using your instinct (or intuition) and simply acting on impulse.

The best CMOs don’t do this; yes, they have the confidence – rooted in experience and knowledge – to back their gut, but they are also skilled at setting frameworks within which hypotheses and ideas can be explored and developed, which helps them get the best out of the people and agencies they work with.

The most interesting CMOs I have worked with all possess a complex mix of capabilities and qualities – almost as if they have dual personalities. They know how good they are, but they also have humility. They think at lightening speeds, but are considered in their approach. They see the big picture (of course), while having absolute command of the detail and resisting the temptation to micro-manage. They are comfortable with ambiguity, yet decisive. They know how to embrace the rational and irrational.

It’s a rare being who has all of these capabilities, but the best CMOs are always able to read a situation and know what the right response or mode of behaviour is.

The other thing that marks the great out from the good is business literacy. The best CMOs are strong business leaders, highly commercial, and passionate about creating value for the business and for customers. This makes them genuine role models, respected across the business.

At Quadrangle, we’re privileged to work with some world-class marketers who definitively display the type of personality traits that make them the best of the best.

They always challenge us, but they are also willing to be challenged. They work with us, rather than simply calling the shots. They have great charisma and real depth. They see themselves as value creators rather than as cost centres. They want their departments to create growth and success for the business. And that’s what we want too.



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