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Not The Usual Suspects: More CMOs Take Winding Paths to Their Next Jobs


AdAge | October 17, 2017

The AdAge article, “Not The Usual Suspects: More CMOs Take Winding Paths to Their Next Jobs," featured findings from several of the firm's research pieces and quoted Russell Reynolds Associates Consultant Richard Sanderson. The article is excerpted below.

Sicily Dickenson was on vacation last year when she got a call from a recruiter. The 10-year veteran of energy companies, most recently power company NRG Energy, was surprised to hear the job being pitched was chief marketing officer at Mattress Firm. "I was like, 'That's weird, I'm a renewable energy kind of girl,'" Dickenson says. But after dining with the executive team, the motivation became clear. "They thought I would bring to the culture something positive in a company where outside hires are few and far between."

At marketing departments across America, outsiders are in and insiders out. While CMO turnover has been rising for years, open posts are filled by people from outside the company, even if it means hiring a CMO with zero experience in the industry in which their new company competes.


In a recent report, executive recruiting firm Russell Reynolds Associates calls it a "CMO succession crisis," suggesting that "succession planning continues to be a major challenge for most businesses." The trend, it says, also implies that the "aspiring next generation CMO leaders will need to change employers to reach the next level of their career." External hires represented 72 percent of all CMO appointments in the first two quarters of 2017, up from 64 percent in the year-earlier period and 63 percent the year before that, according to the firm, which tracked 187 marketing-leader moves in the first half.


But it's not that easy to find replacements who meet today's business demands. "Marketing has become a series of highly specialized subdisciplines, and the days of being a generalist are almost gone," says Richard Sanderson, co-leader of the marketing officers practice at Russell Reynolds. He equated today's career paths with a series of strictly defined swim lanes, each one focused on a particular skill, like creative, innovation, insights or trade channel marketing, to name a few. "The challenge is you don't see many marketers through their career be rotated through different subdisciplines and have that broader, rounded training that makes them ready to take on a senior leadership role," he says.


Some sectors are especially ripe for turnover. For instance, in retail only 45 percent of marketing appointments came from inside the industry in the first half of 2017, compared with 73 percent in the six months prior, Russell Reynolds found. That's because retail is undergoing rapid change, as e-commerce slowly eats into brick-and-mortar traffic and shopping habits change. For CMOs, relationships with merchandising and operations departments traditionally meant the most, but today executives must build bridges with chief information officers and chief financial officers, according to a Russell Reynolds report called "From CMO to C-Uh-Oh." Working across the C-suite is "a very different skill than simply evaluating a TV campaign's impact on branding," the report says.


Avon to Ancestry

Tech companies are especially averse to promoting from within. In the first half of the year, 89 percent of the CMO appointments in the sector came from external companies, according to Russell Reynolds. One of the hires included Vineet Mehra, who was named CMO at, which uses DNA and historical records to build family trees. He came from packaged-goods giant Johnson & Johnson, where his roles included global president of baby care and president of global marketing services. Before that he was global VP of cosmetics and color at Avon.

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Not The Usual Suspects: More CMOs Take Winding Paths to Their Next Jobs