Leadership Organizations Careers Nov 2, 2015
How to Succeed as a Chief Growth Officer
Five ways leaders can challenge the status quo to encourage growth.
The title “Chief Growth Officer” implies a fairly straightforward mandate. Whether by focusing resources, seeking untapped markets, or broadening a company’s sights, Chief Growth Officers are there to discover new pathways to growth.
For more insights on growth, explore the Kellogg Executive Education Delivering Business Growth program.
“In today’s global, digital world, there’s suddenly this imperative to focus on growth at the highest possible level,” says Sanjay Khosla, a senior fellow in the Kellogg Markets and Customers Initiative and former President, Developing Markets of Kraft Foods.
But how exactly does a Chief Growth Officer implement new growth strategies? Here are a few touchstones to consider.
Mine for gold. Too often, companies think about growth in the context of quarterly earnings, or in terms of meeting current demand. The benefit of having a CGO is the ability to develop a long-term vision. “When I think about growth,” says Scott Davis, a Kellogg alumnus and Chief Growth Officer of the brand and marketing consultancy Prophet, “I think about what customer segments I want to go after, which geographies I want to enter, and what kind of experiences I want to create. It’s not just about growing two to three percent; it’s about taking dramatic leaps—ten, fifteen, twenty percent.”
For this kind of growth, a CGO must look for opportunities across all functions and geographies. Khosla calls this “mining for gold.” “You find your company’s hidden strengths—those islands of excellence—and you figure out how to expand them, how to make them scalable.” These islands of excellence could be unusual products, surprising processes, or business units or markets that are beating benchmarks.
Be ready to write blank checks. Part of the CGO’s job is to build cross-functional teams that can meet shifts in global demand. But he or she should also be willing to invest heavily when the timing is right and the vision is clear. “I call it the ‘blank check’ approach,” Khosla says. “When you offer the leader of a team unlimited resources, often that leader becomes more accountable, and they are even more likely to achieve the impossible.”
“You have to think of yourself as being an advocate for the consumer.”
Khosla experienced this first hand while serving as president of Kraft Food’s developing-markets group. When Kraft decided to put more resources behind its most promising brands—Tang in Brazil, Cadbury in India, Oreos in China—profits soared in just a few years.
But these projects were not sure-fire wins from the outset. For example, in the early 2000s, Tang had fallen mightily from its heyday as the drink of astronauts. Efforts to revive the brand by selling pre-mixed Tang, even Tang-flavored yogurt, had only limited success. And yet Kraft realized that Tang nonetheless had a lot going for it—including name recognition and an on-trend “green” supply chain—and invested anyway.
“Pursuing growth is about being able to take those kinds of risks,” Khosla says.
Be an advocate for the consumer. Growth is not just about identifying new markets to enter. It is also about staying in tune with the customers you already have, or could have. “You can’t have growth without demand,” Davis says, “so you always have to be asking yourself, What is the market looking for? What kinds of offerings don’t exist yet? You have to think of yourself as being an advocate for the consumer.”
As Davis sees it, part of what it means to be an advocate for the consumer is to find out what the pain points are. “It’s amazing how much this can unlock growth,” he says.
Consider Prophet’s campaign to help turn T-Mobile’s fortunes around. In 2011, following a failed merger, T-Mobile was struggling to keep up with the competition, shedding customers left and right. “When we came in, we developed a growth strategy specifically around pain points,” Davis says. “We found there were major problems with trust and there was frustration over contract policies.” This focus on the customer led to T-Mobile’s “Un-carrier strategy,” which eliminated long-term contracts and promised a more flexible wireless service. T-Mobile’s revenues increased dramatically over the next three years.
“When there’s someone in your organization whose job it is to listen to customers—including customers across the entire industry—it’s easier to see what needs to be changed,” Davis says. “This is something we began to see with the shifting role of the [Chief Marketing Officer]. CMOs are finally being offered a seat at the adults’ table. The rise of the Chief Growth Officer is an extension of that trend.”
Know your business. Khosla points out that, contrary to popular belief, the role of CGO does not necessarily require a marketing background. As an example, he points to Mark Clouse, the CGO of Mondelez International, who never served as CMO. “Companies look for people with commercial experience, people who can actually run a business,” Khosla says.
Davis agrees that the CGO should be someone with a finger on the pulse of the company. “You had better understand how the business works, because you have to be able to work with the entire leadership team. Your case for change will need to pass the CFO test.”
Compel and inspire. “But you also have to compel,” Davis says. “It’s an interesting blend of strategy and inspiration,” he continues. “Your ideas need to be economically viable, but they also have to be visionary. You have to convince your organization to make changes based on demand, which sometimes means being a provocateur.”
In many ways, Davis says, it can be liberating to concentrate on growth alone. “You don’t always have to be thinking about the same trade-offs that other executives might have to think about.” Ideally, this means the CGO is free to challenge the status quo in order to discover new pathways to growth. But it also leads to a heightened sense of responsibility and purpose. “You always have to be listening, and thinking about what’s next,” Davis says. “And you have to make a very strong case.”
Sitting Near a High-Performer Can Make You Better at Your Job“Spillover” from certain coworkers can boost our productivity—or jeopardize our employment.
Podcast: How to Discuss Poor Performance with Your EmployeeGiving negative feedback is not easy, but such critiques can be meaningful for both parties if you use the right roadmap. Get advice on this episode of The Insightful Leader.
2 Factors Will Determine How Much AI Transforms Our EconomyThey’ll also dictate how workers stand to fare.
Will AI Kill Human Creativity?What Fake Drake tells us about what’s ahead.
How Are Black–White Biracial People Perceived in Terms of Race?Understanding the answer—and why black and white Americans may percieve biracial people differently—is increasingly important in a multiracial society.
5 Tips for Growing as a Leader without Burning Yourself OutA leadership coach and former CEO on how to take a holistic approach to your career.
Will AI Eventually Replace Doctors?Maybe not entirely. But the doctor–patient relationship is likely to change dramatically.
What Should Leaders Make of the Latest AI?As ChatGPT flaunts its creative capabilities, two experts discuss the promise and pitfalls of our coexistence with machines.
Today’s Gig Workers Are Subject to Endless Experimentation“It raises the question, do we want to be a society where experimentation is just the norm?”
How to Make Inclusivity More Than Just an Office BuzzwordTips for turning good intentions into actions.
China’s Youth Unemployment ProblemIf the record-breaking joblessness persists, as seems likely, China will have an even harder time supporting its rapidly aging population.
The Psychological Factor That Helps Shape Our Moral Decision-MakingWe all have a preferred motivation style. When that aligns with how we’re approaching a specific goal, it can impact how ethical we are in sticky situations.
How to Manage a Disengaged Employee—and Get Them Excited about Work AgainDon’t give up on checked-out team members. Try these strategies instead.
Why Do Some People Succeed after Failing, While Others Continue to Flounder?A new study dispels some of the mystery behind success after failure.
Why Are We So Quick to Borrow When the Value of Our Home Rises?The reason isn’t as simple as just feeling wealthier.
One Key to a Happy Marriage? A Joint Bank Account.Merging finances helps newlyweds align their financial goals and avoid scorekeeping.
What’s at Stake in the Debt-Ceiling Standoff?Defaulting would be an unmitigated disaster, quickly felt by ordinary Americans.
Take 5: Research-Backed Tips for Scheduling Your DayKellogg faculty offer ideas for working smarter and not harder.
The Second-Mover AdvantageA primer on how late-entering companies can compete with pioneers.