Eve’s Cheryl Calverley on becoming a CEO: What if I don’t like it?

Calverley believes her experience as a commercially-driven CMO will stand her in good stead for the move to CEO, but admits to a fear that – after years in marketing – she might not like the change.

It is towards the end of our conversation that Eve Sleeps’s Cheryl Calverley reveals her greatest fear about moving from CMO to CEO – that she might not like it. Having worked in marketing almost all her career, it’s big shift that takes Calverley out of her comfort zone.

“I haven’t had a job without marketing in the title since I was 23. What if I don’t like it? Can I get back to doing the advertising?” she questions. “I’ve been reassured that I will like it and so far I’m enjoying it a lot. And I’m sure if I had to go back to the ‘colouring in’ someone would probably give me a job.”

Calverley was promoted to CEO last month after her predecessor James Sturrock stepped down. She officially took on the role last week, having joined Eve in early 2019 as CMO. Prior to Eve, Calverley had a 15-year career in marketing at companies including Unilever and The AA.

That experience, she believes, will stand her in good stead as a CEO. She may have referenced marketing as “colouring in”, but that couldn’t be further from her true views on the discipline.

She also baulks at the idea that somehow marketing is not general management. “The top marketer at Unilever is a general manager. I grew up in Unilever where the P&L, the general manager of the business has marketing in their title,” she recalls.

“In those days, [Unilever] was set up in business units so my unit had supply chain, finance, sales, marketing and was headed up by someone who was a commercial marketer. As you go up the business at Unilever you are expected to run a business unit. There is no job at Unilever which is ‘do the advertising’. I’ve always seen marketing as everything in the business because I’ve always seen general management as marketing.”

That is why she sees becoming CEO of a smaller business such as Eve Sleep as a “natural” step.

“It’s a fairly natural thing for me to do, to CEO a smaller business and be fully involved in the mix that derives the brand and derives the customer,” she says.

“I’ve always been a relatively commercial marketer. People look at me and go, ‘she’s all brand-y’, but I’m quite driven by encouraging customers to buy things or spend money on things. I like being in a trading role, in a commercial role. When I was at The AA one of the things I really missed was being close to trading. I’m quite happy sleeves rolled up and in the trading and the finance.”

I’ve always seen marketing as everything in the business because I’ve always seen general management as marketing.

Cheryl Calverley, Eve Sleep

That doesn’t mean she thinks any and all CEO roles would be right for her. Calverley shows some trepidation about one day taking on a CEO job at a very big business because it would “probably involve spending too much time not doing stuff that affects the customer and customer is what I love”.

But in a brand and customer-led business she believes marketers can be the perfect candidates to take on the CEO role.

“In a customer-centric business, [a marketer’s] perspective is about the simplest, clearest and generally most commercially effective perspective in the room,” she says.

“You need to stand and say, ‘obviously we should do this with our supply chain because the implications on our customer are X’. It is very hard for others to disagree with that and it cuts through a lot of complexity in the business and brings real clarity to the strategy. That is what businesses value most in a marketer and what marketers can bring much more widely across the business.”

3 questions I wish I’d asked as a junior marketer: Eve Sleep’s Cheryl Calverley

To ensure businesses see that value, Calverley believes marketers need to make sure they have holistic impact across the business, rather than just influencing the communications.

“I would say to any marketer, rather than thinking about customers and how they respond to communication, think about customers and how they respond to every bit of the marketing mix. And in doing that you will naturally have a view on other bits of the business which is grounded in your capability and skills,” she advises.

“People think they need to step out of marketing and into something else. No. If you’re a marketer you’re a marketer. No ops director would step out of ops and into marketing. You are a marketer – that’s your skills, that’s what you’re trained for, that’s what you’re brilliant at. How do you use those skills and training to bring value to a wider bit of the business and be in the wider conversations, but from your area of expertise in marketing?”

Making the step up to CEO

Calverley has stepped up to CEO at a difficult time for many companies as the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact business. Eve has been “lucky”, she says, because it has few fixed overheads and sells primarily through ecommerce. That means many people in the market for a mattress are naturally finding their way to Eve Sleep

“While demand is depressed because everyone is sitting tight not knowing if they have a job, the demand that is there is coming into ecommerce so it’s quite a good time,” she says.

“It’s a black swan moment for ecommerce and some of the categories that were slightly behind in the transition from bricks to clicks, it’s going to rapidly accelerate that. It gives it a real leg up.”

The pandemic has also changed her priorities as a leader. While under more normal circumstances there might be pressure to lay out a to-do list or fix things, what is most important now is supporting the team and Eve’s customers and “ensuring we come out of this in good shape”.

“If you speak to anyone near the top of any business right now they will tell you their team and customers is pretty much all people are thinking about right now,” she adds.

But it will involve a shift for Calverley. In marketing, she felt she could answer 95% of questions instinctively, but she can’t do that as CEO because there will always be someone who better knows that answer.

“My role as a CEO is to make sure I am bringing all the people who are brilliant at [finance, operations, marketing] together – so it’s about creating a really good team. And setting a really clear agenda and strategy which is rooted, hopefully, in commercial success. And then energising, inspiring and giving people enough freedom, support and encouragement that they can crack on and deliver that,” she states.

“I don’t need to be good at finance, I just need to make sure I’ve got the right finance director in the room who has the right freedom to deliver and the direction is really clear. That’s what I’ve got to get really good at – not doing stuff!”

One thing Calverley will probably do is hire someone responsible for marketing. She has been tasked with building a “sustainable and profitable future” for Eve Sleep and with growth a priority she will need a marketer on the exec team.

“We have the house in order, now we need to grow and grow in a sensible way – inches rather than yards – but with some real growth momentum. The growth engine comes out of the marketing team for a business like this,” Calverley says. “But good luck to my CMO!”



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