Can Marketers Jump to General Management? Two Execs on Making the Shift

It Can Be Hard to Leave Pure Marketing Role -- But Returning to It May Be Harder

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Mike Indursky, president, Bliss World
Mike Indursky, president, Bliss World

Marketing may be the realm of the CMO, but the ultimate marketing decisions are often made by general managers. And for many marketers, their position is merely one stop on a path leading to general management.

To get a better sense of the implications of that step, Advertising Age recently asked two marketers who have made the move about their experience.

Mike Indursky worked in a variety of marketing roles at Unilever and L'Oréal from 1993 to 2005 before becoming chief marketing officer of Burt's Bees, where he worked before and after its acquisition by Clorox Co. In 2010, he became president of beauty marketer Bliss World, shifting to general management.

John Anton started his career in sales at Nabisco, later became a strategy consultant for Kurt Salmon, then spent eight years in marketing at Mars Petcare. In 2010, he joined Valspar to lead that company's shift from a largely private-label brand to one of the leading consumer paint brands in the U.S.

Earlier this year, he moved into general management as VP-general manager of the company's Ace business unit, which makes private-label brands for Ace Hardware.

Mike Indursky: The first question you've got to ask is, "Why do you want it?" You may think that's my natural progression in my career, but it's not the natural progression for everybody. If you look at someone like Sergio Zyman, who could have been a CEO of so many companies, he said, "Why would I want to spend only 10% of my life on marketing when I can spend 100%?" So the advice I always give people is to really understand what the job entails and make sure that's how you want to spend your time.Ad Age: What's your advice for a marketer going into general management?Messrs. Indursky and Anton shared their advice on making the move into general management, whether they'd ever go back to a pure marketing role and whether one can ever really let go of the marketing after becoming a
general manager.

John Anton, VP-general manager, Valspar's Ace
John Anton, VP-general manager, Valspar's Ace

John Anton: You need to shift from a myopic focus on marketing to understanding the overall business and all the different levers that are important. It's not always about the packaging or ad campaign but the whole team and making sure everybody understands what the vision is.

Ad Age: Should general managers be trained as marketers? What are the advantages of marketing over other backgrounds?

Mr. Indursky: One thing that's inherent in marketing that's also inherent in great CEOs is a high level of intellectual curiosity. But marketing in a lot of organizations has changed [in ways that have made it less of a training ground for general management]. Early in my career, marketing was the hub of the wheel. Since then, they've been breaking it up into global brand development and brand activation. The more you specialize someone, the harder it is to become a generalist.

Mr. Anton: By definition marketers should have a very good grasp of the consumer or the end user. Ultimately, knowing the consumer is going to be critical to the success of your business regardless of what function you're in.

Ad Age: Would you ever go back to a pure marketing role?

Mr. Indursky: I could never do a staff job. I'm a line guy. That's what gets me excited. I see some of these CMO positions, and as sexy as the company may seem, the idea of having a staff job isn't appealing. I'm a creative business guy who happened to grow up through the marketing discipline.

Mr. Anton: I like having the opportunity to interact with all the functions. As a marketer, you still do that, but as a general manager you're by definition setting a vision for the whole team and I enjoy that.

Ad Age: Can you ever let go of the marketing?

Mr. Indursky: I think it depends on the organization. The bigger the organization you have, the more you have to let go. Mine is small enough that I can be involved in the marketing. I need that. At first I wrestled with it, because you want to cede as much control as possible. And then I realized, "No, dummy, this is what you're best at." Why hold back on what you're best at?

Mr. Anton: I think you have to let go of the marketing. You can obviously still get involved and have an opinion, but I think it's probably a disservice to the team if you still try to lead the creative and all the brand strategy work.

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