A successful move from CMO to general management depends on a variety of factors, writes Helen Kimber, Global Chief Growth Officer at The Talent Business.

The fact that ‘CMO’ can mean very different things in different organisations – which directly impacts how different CMO need to evolve or apply their skills to transition – is the single biggest determinant.

At one end of the spectrum, a CMO is primarily about shaping brands and engaging consumers, media engagement and implementation of strategies, campaigns, and tools to drive awareness, brand preference and in turn performance.

At the other end, it’s operational and commercial – where product development, price, packaging, distribution, trade, and production agreements are the primary drivers of share and growth.

The operationally focused CMO tends to have a more commercial skillset which typically lends itself more naturally to the position of CEO.  But in most marketing-led organisations, the CMO (or Chief Growth Officer) straddles all of these, as well as having acquired breadth and depth of evolving skills – including performance and transformation. Such expanded CMO roles encompass the entire remit of customer experience with more complex requirements. 

The generalist CMO increasingly owns the end-to-end brand, product and service experience and delivery. As such, data and technology also come under their remit. And, with this, they also have increased fiscal responsibility and accountability with larger and more multi-faceted teams – and therefore, when stepping into general management, a more generalist view.

The most successful marketing leaders transitioning to CEO are experts in developing brand strategy, conveying a compelling vision and understanding how brand perception can impact business success. They are also skilled at building and evolving a brand over time.

A well-developed customer-centric mindset creates an umbrella view of a business’ future direction and purpose. Marketing careers often span multiple sectors, products, and services and broad a range of customer needs not siloed by industry or sector.

More specifically, the best and most rounded CMO is accomplished at disseminating and simplifying volumes of disparate information. They bring a deep understanding of all areas of the business, market trends, the consumer and competitive set. And they are trained to align business objectives and measurable impact and deliver on both soft and hard metrics direct to bottom line impact and long-term strategic objectives.

Moreover, in a marketing landscape increasingly driven by data and innovation, marketers have become increasingly literate in data and analytics – including keeping up with technical advances to measure campaigns, track and develop effectiveness and inform strategic decision making. 

This data-driven approach can be invaluable in making business-wide decisions as a CEO, as the business and commercial environment becomes similarly data led. Likewise, innovation, constant evolution of channels and technology developments give the CMO a curious and evolving mindset and approach to shifting business needs.

Similarly, experience in communication, collaboration, and iterative working – and a talent for storytelling and commercial narrative – facilitates buy in from multiple stakeholders, particularly where there may be conflicting agendas.  

Marketing leaders consistently lead best practice collaboration with all departments and gain experience of working cross-functionally crucial for achieving consensus. These communication skills and relationships develop a network of advocates across the business over time, as well as with key partners, shareholders and stakeholders facilitating smooth integration with a C-Suite team.

Finally, broad leadership skills are well developed in marketing roles at all levels, bringing together a breadth and depth of multi-disciplinary teams and suppliers. 

The same is true for decision making at pace, wherein they are used to navigating rapidly changing landscapes, instilling an innate ability to adapt and redirect. And alongside this, marketers’ own, personal brand strategy and vision is often established in early career with well-developed career goals, vision, ambition, and trajectory.

The step from CMO to CEO is most effective in businesses where marketing, innovation and creativity drive the product and commercial success of the business such as within entertainment, FMCG, drinks, fast food, and consumer-centric product and service innovations.  

Notable and high-profile examples transitions include Carolyn McCall (CEO at ITV); Kevin Hochman (who rose from US CMO of KFC to President of Pizza Hut within Yum Brands, US president of KFC and into his current position as President and CEO of restaurant group Brinker International); Sarah Warby at Lovehoney; and Cheryl Calverley at Eve Sleep.

Similarly, within data and technology businesses, where being on the front foot of innovations will be key to growth and where marketing has driven the brand from concept. Renowned advertising and marketing leader, Gav Thompson is both architect and founder of Giff Gaff and more recently Paraspara in the telecommunications space.

All these examples are powerful demonstrations of how it’s a blend of commerciality and entrepreneurialism with a focus on details and results combined with a large dose of charisma, energy and bandwidth which leads to the CMO seat at the boardroom table.