Can marketers build successful careers without big brands?

One of the worst feelings for the leader of a business team – much like the manager of a sporting team, I’m sure – is when one of your stars announces they are resigning to go to a competitor.

This is especially true when it is someone you have nurtured, taught them everything you know and pencilled in as key successor. This is what happened to me this week – not once, but three times.

The first inclination is that it is something personal, that the wheel has fallen off your wagon, although detailed conversations with all parties suggest this isn’t the case and it is more to do with the economy – these are people who would have moved on months ago had the country not still been in deep recession. Now that green shoots are in view, the headhunters are getting fat and there is churn right across the market.

As a taxpayer this is good news for me, but as a business leader it is a kick in the pants.

On closer interrogation of my defectors, I am more alarmed. I work for a market-leading brand and all these individuals have been with us since university, so all have had a solid grounding with a big brand.  But all – without exception – are going to brands I have never heard of, although they are in my sector. They are start-ups or smaller niche players. What’s more, my staff are all going to 30 per cent-plus pay rises.

Two things surprise me – first, that people I believe have real talent and a big future are shunning a known brand for a new entrant. In comparison, I have been careful to populate my CV with big brands – a version of the estate agent’s motto ‘location, location, location’. Has the world really changed so much that people can build successful careers with a more tenuous background?

The second surprise is that these brands are prepared to pay what I believe to be well above market rate salaries to get the best. In some respects I can understand why they need to offer such an incentive to entice top people, but is such a strategy sustainable?

Maybe it’s time I started charming back some of these turncoats.