When Marketers Step into the C-Suite
Skip to content
The Insightful Leader Live: What to Know about Today’s AI—and Tomorrow’s | Register Now
Leadership Marketing Careers Sep 2, 2014

When Marketers Step into the C-Suite

Four top executives on building credibility with company leadership


Homi B. Patel

Rick Lenny

Matthew Paull

Mary Dillon

A marketing manager with an eye on the C-Suite might wonder how best to manage the transition and be effective with boards of directors.

Through the Kellogg School’s CMO Program, top executives Homi B. Patel, Rick Lenny, Matthew Paull, and Mary Dillon offer marketing leaders advice on what they can do to foster effective team and board interactions.

Homi B. Patel: Provide the big-picture view

Homi B. Patel is retired Chairman, Chief Executive Officer, and Director of Hartmarx Corporation.

Let’s face it: as a chief marketing officer, you don’t get a lot of face time with boards, but when you do, you want to be effective. How you utilize that face time is as critical for board members as it is for you. When you get face time as a CMO, you may naturally approach that interaction from the position that you have, while the board is evaluating you from the position you could have, because the most important job of a board is succession planning at the top levels of the business.

If you aspire beyond the CMO position, what the board wants to hear is that you have a holistic picture, that you have the ability to break down silos, and that you can make marketing ubiquitous throughout the company—which means cross-functional in many ways.

When presenting to the board of directors, don’t try to cover everything. If you try to cover everything, you risk losing board members’ interest because you can go way into the weeds. Board members are not interested in the weeds because they have acquired the ability to deal with ambiguity. They meet, they go away, and three months later they come back and they capture the current picture. So it’s critical to avoid burrowing too deep into the particulars of a single topic or trying to cover everything under the sun.

Rick Lenny: Focus on the perspective of your board of directors

Rick Lenny served as CEO and Chairman of The Hershey Company. He serves on the boards of several major corporations, including McDonald’s.

When building board presentations, the biggest challenge for a CMO is to make sure to keep the board’s perspective in mind. When listening to a CMO’s presentation, I ask myself: “Does this CMO understand what drives superior marketplace and financial performance?”

“The CMO is the best person to take the insights from a clinical standpoint and relate them to winning in the marketplace from market-share-growth and financial standpoints.” — Rick Lenny

In my role as a board member, what I expect from CMOs is that they frame their presentations in terms of understanding the value drivers across the business. Think about it this way: the CMO is the best person to take the insights from a clinical standpoint and relate them to winning in the marketplace from market-share-growth and financial standpoints.

CMOs like to play offense—it’s what they do to build brands into the marketplace. But board members have a healthy level of skepticism about things that work versus things that don’t work. They’re thinking about the risks. They may approach the CMO with questions about competitive situations and competitive response as a way to understand the risks associated with the business. This is a great opportunity for a CMO to foster a deeper understanding of the company’s marketing concept.

Matthew Paull: Know your CFO

Matthew Paull served as Executive Vice President and CFO of McDonald’s before retiring. He has served on corporate boards including Best Buy and KapStone Paper and Packaging.

In some companies, tension might arise over how the CMO is perceived in the C-Suite, especially in the CFO’s office. That may be due to a lack of understanding by members of the C-Suite about what the CMO does or a perception that it’s very hard to measure what the CMO does. Whether this is fair or unfair, the CFO’s view may be that the CMO has the sexy job while they get the grunt work.

Since the CFO in most organizations is the person who puts the metrics in place and makes sure that compensation is tied to achieving those metrics, my advice for CMOs to reduce some of that friction is first to find a metric that can be measured and then to make themselves accountable for that metric.

When preparing board presentations, there’s a decent chance that the CFO and the general counsel will sit in on the entire board meeting except the executive session. They understand the personalities, they know what makes presentations work, and they know the mood of the room before the CMO steps in there. If the CMO has a good relationship with the CFO or general counsel, the latter can offer feedback in advance of the CMO’s presentation and communicate what’s happening in the room.

Mary Dillon: Lead through cross-functional collaboration

Mary Dillon is currently CEO of Ulta Beauty.

I believe new CMOs should consistently apply a cross-functional, collaborative lens to their focus and priorities. My career began in consumer packaged goods—at Quaker and Pepsico—where I learned and began to deeply value that the best business solutions are derived from two points of view: the consumer and a cross-functional representation of the organization.

CMOs should lead the way in asking the business two questions: “Whom are we trying to serve and how can we do that better than anyone else?” and “How do we need to line up to deliver that across everything we do?” This will be appreciated by the CEO and will demonstrate a CMO’s leadership to the rest of the C-Suite and the board of directors.

It’s also crucial for new CMOs to make sure their expectations for their team are understood. First and foremost, you want people with functional expertise: people who can wear an enterprise hat, and people who can discuss and build upon each other’s ideas.


About Kellogg’s CMO Program: The Kellogg School’s Chief Marketing Officer Program, led by professors Gregory Carpenter and Eric Leininger, is designed to train newly appointed CMOs or people who are preparing to assume CMO or equivalent positions. The program’s content is wide-ranging, but one particularly unique element of that content is direct, unfiltered advice from current and former C-Suite executives.

Artwork by Yevgenia Nayberg

Most Popular This Week
  1. What Went Wrong at Silicon Valley Bank?
    And how can it be avoided next time? A new analysis sheds light on vulnerabilities within the U.S. banking industry.
    People visit a bank
  2. 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.
    How are biracial people perceived in terms of race
  3. What Went Wrong at AIG?
    Unpacking the insurance giant's collapse during the 2008 financial crisis.
    What went wrong during the AIG financial crisis?
  4. Will AI Eventually Replace Doctors?
    Maybe not entirely. But the doctor–patient relationship is likely to change dramatically.
    doctors offices in small nodules
  5. Which Form of Government Is Best?
    Democracies may not outlast dictatorships, but they adapt better.
    Is democracy the best form of government?
  6. Podcast: "It's Hard to Regulate U.S. Banks!"
    Silicon Valley Bank spectacularly collapsed—and a new analysis suggests that its precarious situation is not as much of an outlier as we’d hope. On this episode of The Insightful Leader, we learn what went wrong and what should happen next.
  7. What Happens to Worker Productivity after a Minimum Wage Increase?
    A pay raise boosts productivity for some—but the impact on the bottom line is more complicated.
    employees unload pallets from a truck using hand carts
  8. Why Do Some People Succeed after Failing, While Others Continue to Flounder?
    A new study dispels some of the mystery behind success after failure.
    Scientists build a staircase from paper
  9. Marketers, Don’t Be Too Hasty to Act on Data
    Don’t like the trends you’re seeing? It’s tempting to take immediate action. Instead, consider a hypothesis-driven approach to solving your problems.
    CEO stands before large data wall
  10. Why Well-Meaning NGOs Sometimes Do More Harm than Good
    Studies of aid groups in Ghana and Uganda show why it’s so important to coordinate with local governments and institutions.
    To succeed, foreign aid and health programs need buy-in and coordination with local partners.
  11. Understanding the Pandemic’s Lasting Impact on Real Estate
    Work-from-home has stuck around. What does this mean for residential and commercial real-estate markets?
    realtor showing converted office building to family
  12. How Has Marketing Changed over the Past Half-Century?
    Phil Kotler’s groundbreaking textbook came out 55 years ago. Sixteen editions later, he and coauthor Alexander Chernev discuss how big data, social media, and purpose-driven branding are moving the field forward.
    people in 1967 and 2022 react to advertising
  13. How Much Do Campaign Ads Matter?
    Tone is key, according to new research, which found that a change in TV ad strategy could have altered the results of the 2000 presidential election.
    Political advertisements on television next to polling place
  14. How Peer Pressure Can Lead Teens to Underachieve—Even in Schools Where It’s “Cool to Be Smart”
    New research offers lessons for administrators hoping to improve student performance.
    Eager student raises hand while other student hesitates.
  15. Immigrants to the U.S. Create More Jobs than They Take
    A new study finds that immigrants are far more likely to found companies—both large and small—than native-born Americans.
    Immigrant CEO welcomes new hires
  16. Leaders, Don’t Be Afraid to Admit Your Flaws
    We prefer to work for people who can make themselves vulnerable, a new study finds. But there are limits.
    person removes mask to show less happy face
  17. For Students with Disabilities, Discrimination Starts Before They Even Enter School
    Public-school principals are less welcoming to prospective families with disabled children—particularly when they’re Black.
    child in wheelchair facing padlocked school doors
  18. Executive Presence Isn’t One-Size-Fits-All. Here’s How to Develop Yours.
    A professor and executive coach unpacks this seemingly elusive trait.
    woman standing confidently
  19. How Self-Reflection Can Make You a Better Leader
    Setting aside 15 minutes a day can help you prioritize, prepare, and build a stronger team
    Self-reflection improves leadership over time
Add Insight to your inbox.
More in Leadership