C-suite sees flurry of changes

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Recent shuffling of CMO and CEO titles at b-to-b companies points to a continuing rise in C-level turnover.

Among the most notable changes, Cisco Systems named Susan Bostrom exec VP-chief marketing officer, and General Electric Co. promoted Dan Henson to CMO.

Bostrom succeeds James Richardson, who was named senior VP-commercial business, a new position responsible for overseeing Cisco's marketing to the small and midsize business market.

Henson succeeds Beth Comstock, who was named president of NBC Universal digital media and marketing development, a division of GE.

CEO turnover is even more pronounced, with companies including 3Com Corp., Dow Jones & Co., FedEx Corp., Valero Energy Corp. and Autodesk naming new CEOs in January.

Other companies, including Vignette Software and, announced the resignations of CEOs and are now searching for successors.

"When you get to the C-level jobs, there is so much more complexity and pressure that there tends to be growth in turnover overall," said Richard Jacovitz, senior VP-director of research at Liberum Research, which tracks C-level turnover at more than 4,500 publicly traded companies in North America.

"The Sarbannes-Oxley Act has created a great deal of pressure on those executives," he added, pointing to legislation passed in 2002 that requires much more rigorous financial reporting for publicly traded companies than previously.

According to Liberum, there were 291 CEO changes and 19 CMO changes during January at publicly traded North American companies.

By comparison, Liberum reported 172 CEO changes and five CMO changes in January 2005.

Changes include resignations, terminations, departures for other reasons, new hires and internal moves.

Jerry Noonan, senior director-managing partner of the Boston office of executive recruiting firm Spencer Stuart, said companies are looking for a new breed of CMO with more analytical skills.

Last year, Spencer Stuart reported that the average tenure of CMOs at the top 100 branded companies in North America is just 23.5 months.

"At b-to-b companies, marketing has played a much narrower role than we're starting to see it emerge to be," Noonan said.

"Historically in b-to-b companies, the marketing role has been a combination of corporate communications and sales support activities. Marketing hasn't been a strategic function-a function that defines the market and directs the overall strategy of the company."

However, with new pressure on companies to prove ROI on marketing, b-to-b companies are looking for CMOs with a strong track record in strategy, analytical skills and the ability to articulate the marketing vision to top executives, Noonan said.

Michael Gerard, research director of IDC's CMO Advisory Research service, agreed.

"Companies need a strong marketing leader who can establish the trust of the CEO and CFO," he said. "The CMO has to be empowered to establish a global marketing organization and develop the processes necessary to ensure marketing's global execution."

Bostrom, who previously led Cisco's Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG), brings strong strategic skills to her new position. She created and built IBSG from the ground up, with the goal of bringing Internet best practices and strategies to Fortune 500 companies. She also leads Cisco's worldwide government affairs organization, which develops thought leadership on global issues around vertical segments.

Bostrom said marketing will continue to play a key role in building Cisco's corporate brand awareness and driving growth in key target markets. "Marketing's role is to be the voice that successfully connects customer needs to integrated technology solutions that deliver value," she said.

GE's Henson also brings strong strategy and analytical skills to the job. Previously, he was chief commercial officer for GE Commercial Finance, where he led the global expansion of the businesses' enterprise sales efforts. He was also instrumental in implementing a new marketing measurement program called the Net Promoter Score. (See story, p. 27.)

"I'm focusing on two priorities," Henson said. "First, I want to bring the marketplace into our businesses by enhancing and evolving GE's customer listening skills and tools.

"Second, we want to provide our commercial team with everything they need to win. Making sure we have the appropriate sales training and compensation plans is critical." 

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