LONDON: Marketers are still generally underestimated in the boardroom despite their growing value to modern companies, according to Sir Terry Leahy, ceo of Tesco, the retail giant.

Leahy, who was speaking at an event hosted by the London Business Forum, became the first communications practitioner to sit on the Tesco board in 1992.

He stated that the profession's unrivalled insight into consumer behaviour meant its proponents were a highly valuable asset for any organisation.

"The customer is a great place to build a business from and so understanding the customer and how to win and keep them is a terrific strength for a business," he added. "There should be more marketers as ceos."

Having joined Tesco in 1979, Leahy has served as chief executive since 1997, and he revealed the lessons learned from marketing have been essential.

"All I had was the voice of the customer and made my argument to the decision makers on their behalf, which proved to be incredibly powerful in terms of persuading colleagues how the business needed to change," he said.

"It's hard to argue with what the customer is saying and if you can bring that into the boardroom, it's a very powerful tool."

Upon his departure from Tesco next year, Leahy will be replaced by the chain's international and IT director, Philip Clarke, who has held marketing roles within the firm.

Leahy's view was lent credence by a new "Handbook for Marketing Directors", which stated marketing tends to be less valued than financial or technical backgrounds when making senior appointments.

Co-authors Tim Arnold and Guy Tomlinson noted only 14 companies in the FTSE100 have a marketing director on their board, suggesting "the importance of marketing is surprisingly still not fully understood".

More favourably, McDonald's recently promoted Jill McDonald, its UK chief marketing officer, to the position of ceo and president, Northern Europe.

Home improvement specialist B&Q has also reinstated marketing to a board-level discipline following the naming of Katherine Paterson, previously of supermarket group Asda, as marketing director.

Data sourced from Marketing Week; additional content by Warc staff