CommonSense Blog

Power CMOs on Organizational Transformation

By Aaron Strout | Feb 16, 2016

It’s rare that we have an opportunity to find out more about what makes CMOs tick, and more importantly to share what’s on their minds. Today, we had the rare privilege of having our W2o Group President and Chief Innovation Officer, Bob Pearson, sit down with three marketing leaders at Overstock.com, Interstate Batteries and Accel Partners at the Holmes Report’s In2Summit.

Here are quick questions and answers (with a huge infusion of wisdom) from Natalie Malaszenko (Overstock), Dorothy Jones (Interstate Batteries) and Larry Yu (Accel). Enjoy!

in2summit panel pic

 

Background and Thoughts on Being a CMO

Natalie: Over my career I have realized the importance of following my heart. Early on, I underestimated how important it was to be happy and passionate about your work. Having that alignment with your job is critical to getting to the next level. During my time at Hewlett Packard, I also learned how important it was to stay focused. Ignore the politics. Do a great job and concentrate on leading the people you lead courageously.

Dorothy: I have led marketing in three very diverse business. My key learning over those three opportunities has been to work with a purpose and to maintain a work life balance. It took me taking two years off to really understand what I wanted to do. During that time, I realized I had a choice regarding the people I wanted to work with/for.

Larry: The length of time people stay at organizations has changed. Making sure that you are picking companies to work for on paper as much as you are picking the people you will work for is underestimated. I’ll talk more about this later but during my early days of Facebook, it was clear that Facebook had a real mission and I now realize the criticality of this to a successful company.

Scouting Emerging Talent (Keys to)

  • No “one type” of marketer. Key to find story tellers. (Natalie)
  • Find people that have flexibility and multidisciplinary experience. Other key is leadership. Can’t teach people to have drive or to think ten steps ahead. When you see the raw gem, you take it. (Dorothy)
  • I have a communications background with a marketing title which speaks to the ambiguity of marketing these days. I like to look at people’s ability to take in data and translate that into the best possible story. Problem solving is also a needed skill. Do employees have the mental agility to figure things out? (Larry)

As we shift toward digital, what are we learning?

  • Everything is measurable which is a good and bad thing. And we are now looking at experience and journey versus single channels/pathways. Sometimes we can over-analyze and make the wrong decisions. (Natalie)
  • Data is your friend. But you can spin it however you want. And Digital is changing so rapidly, it’s critical to stay on top of it/out ahead of it. The whole purchase life cycle has changed. It is more important than ever to be in tune with what’s happening. Brand trust/positive sentiment can change overnight. I learned this firsthand at Susan G. Komen. (Dorothy)
  • How do you protect certain brand assets online? Example: trying to update your company’s logo on Wikipedia. (Larry)

What do you read? How do you learn?

  • I never miss an opportunity to learn from m,y network. At the same time, time is precious. I can’t read my daily “8,000” emails. Instead, I rely on my team to help me filter/seek out the most relevant topical ideas and news. (Dorothy)
  • When I am teaching classes/companies, I tell teams that if you aren’t willing to say, “I don’t know the answer,” you aren’t really learning. (Bob)
  • I ask experts, “who are three other people I should meet/talk to” about a particular topic. I also leans on social/aggregators to stay abreast of current topics. I have also found out how important it is to pick the people with whom you spend your time. (Larry)
  • Everything impacts ecommerce these days (Superbowl, Star Wars, David Bowie’s death so I am a student of pop culture. I also study business people intensely. (Natalie)

Additional Keys to Picking Best Talent

  • Surround yourself with people that are smarter than you. (Natalie)
  • Keep language simple and being mindful of not using terms like, “change management” while doing change management (it’s construed as a negative term). I also think about using language I would use with my grandmother who was not college educated to explain things. (Dorothy)
  • Great leaders keep messages clear and simple to make them understandable and repeatable. (Bob)
  • Organizations are very decentralized these days. People work from home more than ever. Orgs are also global. So it’s very important for companies to lock down the values and clearly communicate them. As an example, when Facebook did their IPO, it didn’t go well and employees were rattled. What helped keep the troops together was having  values (and a mission) as a touchstone. Even the leaders at the time were scared and didn’t want to let employees down. But the leaders got out there and helped bring everyone along. One other point is that values need to be organic. They can’t be handed down from the top leaders. (Larry)

Most pivotal part of your career

  • Mine wasn’t magical but was pivotal. “Peace in the midst of a storm” during time at Pepsico in the middle of a divorce. Had a baby (single mom) and working 75+ hours a week. Running a $2 billion division. Remembers running to pick up daughter from daycare, went to networking event with her girl. Took her back to office. At midnight, couldn’t find her and panicked. Realized she had crawled up under desk and fallen asleep. This was not a good “mommy” moment. It was pivotal because it taught her balance. (Dorothy)
  • Got to leave everything digital at HP. No politics among digital leaders within all the divisions at the company. Digital people find digital people and work hard to avoid politics. Had one mission and one cause. Lesson was, independent of companies goals/mission, you can always find people with a common cause. (Natalie)
  • Don’t judge people too quickly. Remembers seeing Zuckerburg at Web 2.0. Saw him on stage with hoodie and was wondering, “who is this guy?!?” Fast-forward two years, I followed my boss to Facebook. I remember one of Mark’s first internal Q&A sessions and was blown away by what he heard. (Larry)

What do you want your department to focus on?

  • What is the mission? A lot of time is spent focused on product but not on the “why” of the brand. (Larry)
  • Be idea generators. Money follows ideas. (Dorothy)
  • Don’t be afraid to kill things that are stale. The world is constantly changing so it’s okay to pause and sometimes weed. (Natalie)

How do you mentor?

  • I make time on the front end while being mindful of time and I always try hard to be willing to take calls/emails or even set up 30 minutes meetings at Starbucks on the way into the office. Sometimes I find just referring someone to the right person or providing the right business insight can be enough. (Dorothy)
  • I choose people that I can ultimately help be happy. My message is keep it simple. And then I work to make them feel comfortable with the idea of finding their own path. (Natalie)