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CMO to CEO: the future of a business-critical role on the executive board

Rising to the top, from CMO to CEO

In a world progressively focussed towards technology, digitisation and the delivery of a curated customer experience, the role of the CMO is both increasingly demanding and critical to business success. While CMOs have traditionally sat on the C-suite, their transition to CEO has been an exception rather than a rule, with CFO and COOs largely favoured for promotion into Executive Board roles. A lack of positive role-models and commercial focus has often been attributed as preventing CMOs from making the move to CEO, so how do we change this precedent and encourage businesses to recognise the multi-dimensional role of the CMO and its potential to lead the organisations of the future?

A business-critical role

Firstly, CMOs need to ensure that businesses understand the criticality of their role in the wider context of the organisation - and this goes far beyond marketing and branding. In a landscape where companies are continually searching for innovative and personalised ways to engage with customers through new technologies, products, and experiences, the CMO and their team are pivotal in facilitating that relationship with a brand. A high-performing CMO has the agility to quickly react to changing consumer demands and patterns of behaviour, and the ability to strategise accordingly – both in the short and long-term.

With responsibility for growing budgets as marketing and digital is pushed to the forefront of the business agenda, so the CMO’s role becomes more multi-dimensional; incorporating strategy, smart investment, analytics, and the need for a broader understanding of the wider business. With new methods and tools to measure the impact and effectiveness of campaigns and strategies, the CMO is also more accountable and able to quantify the influence of their activity on the bottom line in a way that has never been achievable before.

A commercially-focussed strategic vision

This evolution in the role of marketing and expanded remit of the CMO creates a necessity for a wider engagement with multiple functions and leaders within a company. In positioning themselves at the centre of the business, working across functions, driving culture and organisational transformation, and engaging in a broader commercially-focussed strategic vision, the role of the CMO expands from micro to macrocosmic level, augmenting many of the competencies sought in a CEO.

Communication is key

Seeking strong mentorship, shadowing CEOs, and networking with the wider industry to broaden knowledge and gain a ‘big-picture’ perspective can help in building a CMO’s confidence to move to the next level. Ultimately, CMOs should be the best communicators in their business and need to apply those key skills to themselves and their own personal profiles, as well as to the brand.

While there is often still a perception that a foundation in marketing does not provide a solid grounding for a CEO role, the CMO is increasingly instrumental in both connecting the customer with the business, and also the many pillars of the organisational chart within the business itself. This, in combination with the demonstration of strategic, financial and commercial understanding, positions the CMO as an integral member of the C-suite with the strong potential to progress to CEO level.

What are your thoughts?

We’d welcome any input from CMOs and CEOs on this subject. And if you are a CMO and would like to have a confidential chat about your career, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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Author: Nikki Samson

Nikki has over twenty years of experience in 360 integrated marcoms, having worked in the corporate world both in-house and in agencies for international groups in Paris and Dubai.

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