The Rodney Dangerfield of the C-suite

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Marketing executives aren't getting much respect in corporate America-thwarting their true ambition to move into general management.

A survey of 500 marketing managers by executive recruiting firm Spencer Stuart found only 30% of respondents want to be chief marketing officer someday, while 44% aspire to become president or CEO. Another 26% are eyeing some other rung of general management.

Though most marketing executives want to move into general management, they feel they're held back because they're perceived as not really being "business" people or lacking financial acumen, said Thomas Seclow, a San Francisco-based consultant in the consumer practice of Spencer Stuart.

"We speculated that many marketers, since the CMO title and the position as senior-most marketing officer at a company had evolved, would see this as a bona-fide career path," said Mr. Seclow. "The surprise to me is that most of the marketers out there instead have aspirations to become general manager or CEO." Such factors as lack of a generally accepted role and lack of generally recognized return-on-investment yardsticks for measuring a CMO's impact are among those keeping some marketers from aspiring to the CMO title, he said.

"Over the past decade, there's been almost a devaluing of marketing and what it brings to a company," said Ian Rowden, exec VP-CMO of Wendy's International. "A lot of that has to do with the definition of marketing, and in some cases it's very narrow. I think the issue for marketers is to make sure it's as broad as possible and that they have the opportunity and desire to move outside marketing to get the skills that they don't have."

One problem dogging CMOs, he believes, is lack of a firm understanding with senior management on what constitutes success and how to measure it. "The metrics are just imperative," Mr. Rowden said. "Part of the going-in discussion should clearly be understanding what the success criteria are and therefore what the metrics are to measure it by-and that should include some return on investment based on what you spend."

Mr. Rowden began his career as a marketer before moving into general management for Coca-Cola Co., overseeing markets in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Korea at one point. He later headed Omnicom Group's DDB Worldwide in Australia before taking CMO posts with Callaway Golf and then Wendy's.

He believes his wide range of experience has served him well in the CMO posts and finds the role defined broadly at Wendy's to cover the full range of consumer contacts, from advertising and public relations to in-store marketing. As a result, Mr. Rowden said he doesn't feel a move back into general management will be difficult if the opportunity arises.

But for many CMOs, the problem isn't just being viewed as unsuitable for general management, but also losing out in the pecking order to other functional areas, such as sales and finance.

"The sales function has strengthened as a result of the consolidating retail environment and the need for that customer interface to have all the pieces that are necessary," Mr. Rowden said. That's not a factor at Wendy's, but the all-important area of franchisee relations is analogous, and one where a CMO at any franchisor must succeed if he hopes to last or advance, Mr. Rowden said.

Jan Murley, a former marketer at Procter & Gamble Co. and Hallmark who's now CEO of the closely held collectibles marketers The Boyd's Collection, Gettysburg, Pa., said the relative regard with which marketers are held can vary widely according to the organization.

At P&G, for instance, all general managers come up through the ranks of the brand-management system to marketing director before making general manager. But at Clorox Co., where Ms. Murley is a board member, she said sales has a clear upper hand. And in much of the non-consumer-goods world, finance is the path to power, Mr. Seclow said.

In consumer companies, where marketers are still more likely to rise to the top jobs, Mr. Seclow believes that executives may hold marketing in higher regard. Still, they are less likely to aspire to the CMO role, which is seen more as a staff function than one that drives strategic direction.

But in non-consumer companies, where most managers don't have marketing as part of their skill set, marketers ironically sometimes get more respect, Mr. Seclow said. "It's seen as a shining light in an engineer-driven culture."

Another surprise in the results, he said, was that 53% of respondents wanted their long-term aspirations-be they in marketing or general management-to unfold either at a mid-size to small company.

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

Ms. Murley made the transition from global behemoth P&G to the smaller Hallmark and smaller-still Boyd's Collection, where she was lured by former P&G CEO Ed Artzt, now on the board of private equity firm KKR, which is majority owner. Heading a smaller company was "something I had in the back of my mind for some time," she said.

But while she's a CEO today, she doesn't rule out a return to more of a pure marketing role someday, noting she admires fellow P&G alum John Costello, a CMO with several companies, most recently Home Depot.

"It really comes down to understanding where can you make a difference, and where can that difference be meaningful," she said. "In some CMO roles, you can touch virtually everything across the company as the right-hand of the CEO." She cites Mr. Costello's expansion of the CMO duties to include being chief merchandising officer.

59% of those whose goal was to be a top marketing officer said it was because their passion lies in marketing

36% said their CEO regards marketing as adding significant value to the company’s planning process

40% of respondents said the marketing function is regarded as a business driver in their organization; another 42% cited it as considered a "strong contributor"

39% said their next career move would be to a more senior marketing role in a new company; another 39% said their next move would be into general management

Source: Spencer Stuart

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