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Searches for the “Super-CMO” are on the rise

From The Wall Street Journal’s CMO Today

Proven leaders are in demand as the CMO’s roles and responsibilities expand into broader business and technical areas.

Greg Welch has been helping companies fill executive positions for more than two decades, conducting more than 600 executive searches for consumer product manufacturers, restaurants, and retailers. As a senior partner at Spencer Stuart, Welch is the founder of the firm’s marketing officer practice and the co-founder of the M50 marketing group. He also organizes the firm’s annual CMO Summit.

Though the firm’s most recent research puts the average CMO tenure at 44 months (up from 28 months a decade ago), Welch says he’s never been busier. He notes that 20 of the 100 CMOs surveyed in the company’s annual research are new to their jobs in the past year, and more than half of them are first-time CMOs. He says the best candidates are those who have demonstrated experience taking on the job’s expanded responsibilities for driving growth.

“It’s not unusual for the most talented candidates to have three or four opportunities right away,” Welch says. “The demand is definitely outstripping the supply when it comes to talent at the moment.”

In the following interview, Welch discusses what companies are looking for in their CMO searches, how current CMOs can prepare the next generation for the job, and why culture is an important piece of an organization’s operations.

What trends are you seeing in CMO searches?

Welch: The biggest trend I’m seeing is an emergence of demand for the “Super-CMO,” whose job straddles both traditional marketing functions and a general manager role with broader responsibilities. Many other departments and functions, from data science teams to content creators and e-commerce groups, now report to the CMO. Crisis management, social responsibility, and PR, which sometimes fall under marketing, also are becoming more important. A lot of our clients are looking for the balance between “science,” or data, and “magic,” which is the creative side. What they want is a charismatic storyteller who can bring a brand to life using both creativity and data.

What makes candidates attractive to a company? What should they have on their resumes?

Welch: Management and leadership experience carry the day right now. Some CMOs now have people with Ph.D.s in rocket science reporting to them. There’s no way the average CMO is going to know more than these experts about their domain expertise; the job will be to communicate the overall mission, get everyone on the same page, and motivate people to follow the designated path. When I look at the career paths of great CMOs, I often find nonlinear routes that included some adversity, which made them stronger in the end. They’re also people who have periodically taken a sidestep—or even a backward step—to diversify their skills. I try to get young marketers to think about how they can gain experience in IT, operations, or finance earlier in their careers. Unfortunately, today’s age of deep specialization has created a shallow talent pool for those top marketing jobs. Companies are looking for the CMO to add value beyond marketing. If candidates can’t add value to the broader company strategy or capital investment decisions, they aren’t going to be considered.

Do successful CMOs share any other qualities?

Welch: The best CMOs seem to exert influence across the entire organization. Regardless of which areas report through marketing, the most effective CMOs gain support from everywhere. They quickly build relationships with peers within the C-suite and throughout the entire company. Great CMOs can communicate the direction of an organization as well as the consumer insights driving that direction and everyone’s role in getting there. They are master collaborators and influencers who make it about the company winning and not about themselves.

What is the CMO’s role in developing the next generation of talent?

Welch: I often recommend CMOs take their highest-potential internal people and place them with an entirely new team from time to time. That way, they can gain exposure to other aspects of the company, and that experience can help them develop as leaders. Unfortunately, many younger candidates who want to have a wide range of experiences aren’t being groomed in this manner. Young employees want to know the boss has their back, cares about their career, and is investing time and money in them. Developing high-potential internal talent means there are possible leaders at the ready when needed, so a lengthy and expensive external search can be avoided. We also know that fitting in with a company’s culture is an important part of overall success.

What do you mean?

Welch: When a placement doesn’t go well, about two-thirds of the time it’s because there was a bad cultural fit. Getting the team culture right is more important than it has ever been. We spend a lot of time thinking about the drivers of team success, and the one thing that sticks out is having a sense of culture and belonging. People want to be a valuable part of a team. They also want to have a shared sense of purpose, where sacrifices are acknowledged, and there’s a commitment to accountability across all teams. We now see a direct correlation between a positive team culture and better business results. We view culture as a business discipline. It’s not just nice to have; it’s critical to an organization’s sustained success.

Is there a sense that CMOs want to move into the top job?

Welch: Some do. I suspect we’ll see more of this movement in the future, particularly as many CMOs gain the experience necessary to handle it. Many are held back right now because they lack the deep financial expertise they need to be considered strategic partners, both within the company and in the boardroom. The best CMOs are mini-CEOs in training who are functional in their current positions and have a point of view on other topics that will help the business.

by Aaron Baar, writer, Deloitte Insights for CMOs

Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing series of interviews with industry executives. Mr. Welch’s participation in this article is solely for educational purposes based on his knowledge of the subject and the views expressed by him are solely his own. This article should not be deemed or construed to be for the purpose of soliciting business for client Spencer Stuart, nor does Deloitte advocate or endorse the services or products provided by them.

This content was originally published on the Wall Street Journal CMO Today.

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