Wanted: The CMO of the Future

A pair of executive search consultants weigh in on CMO hiring trends, in-demand skills, and the opportunities and challenges facing today’s top marketers.

The Wall Street Journal | September 26, 2016

The Wall Street Journal article, “Wanted: The CMO of the Future,” quoted Russell Reynolds Associates' Richard Sanderson and Norm Yustin about CMO hiring trends, in-demand skills as well as the opportunities and challenges facing today's top marketers. They cited findings from the firm’s recent research, From CMO to C-Uh-Oh and Marketing Moves 2016: Q1 – Q2.  The article is excerpted below.

As co-leads of the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) practice at executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates, Richard Sanderson and Norm Yustin have an informed perspective on the changing role of the CMO.

Both executives have led high-profile CMO searches for clients seeking to increase the strategic impact of their marketing organizations. Sanderson recruits global marketing, digital, growth, communications, and customer experience leaders for clients in the consumer product and retail sectors, among other industries. Yustin, a former retail CMO, advises and recruits C-suite clients in Russell Reynolds’ global retail, marketing, and digital transformation practices.

Sanderson and Yustin share their opinions about CMO search trends, the skills top marketers need to succeed, and how marketing executives can land their dream jobs.

What general trends are you seeing in CMO searches?

Yustin: The conversations we’re having most often are about the CMO of the future. Companies are more interested in a candidate’s vision for marketing in a digital, omnichannel, growth-oriented, innovation-driven world than they are in what the candidate did five or 10 years ago.

CMO tenure is currently around three years, and about two-thirds of publicly reported CMO appointments are external.¹ That might seem high, but it likely reflects fast-moving change in the business world. If a company is looking to transform, chances are they don’t have the talent they need in-house, or they would be farther along in that transformation journey.

Internal candidates have been at their company for almost 10 years, on average, before assuming the CMO role.² They’re steeped in the organization, which is a double-edged sword. They bring invaluable knowledge about the company and industry. But they may not see the forest for the trees, or rely too much on the way they’ve done things in the past, or have a hard time cutting through bureaucracy because they have established relationships to consider.

You recently examined CMO turnover in the retail industry. What’s going on there?

Sanderson: Among the Top 30 retailers based in the U.S., 23 have an enterprise-level CMO. Eleven of those 23 positions had turned over in the previous 12 months.³ That’s a 48 percent turnover rate, which is shockingly high. We have identified several factors contributing to this excessive turnover, including misalignment between operators and marketers, a lack of interconnectedness across the C-suite, loss of brand control, and difficulty keeping pace with the rapidly evolving skill set necessary to be successful. Many of the forces affecting retail are relevant across industries, but they seem to be coming to a head in retail in particular.

What qualifications do you think today’s CMO needs to be successful?

Sanderson: The days of the brand-oriented, marketing-communications-focused, creative-led CMO are waning. Executive teams expect their CMOs to have a balance of left-brain and right-brain skills. Chief marketers are expected to play a leadership role in data analytics, customization, personalization, and optimization, and to drive highly targeted, sophisticated, complex, digital-led campaigns and activities. It’s no longer simply about who has the greatest ad.

Yustin: And that’s because the brand is now about the customer, not the marketer. Marketers used to curate beautifully articulated brands down to the finest details through advertising, which they could fully control. Now consumers are in the driver’s seat; they can elevate or decimate your brand with one social media post that goes viral. Embracing this new marketing dynamic takes a very different set of skills. Marketers now curate the brand collaboratively with customers. Not every marketer is comfortable with, or capable of, that kind of engagement. 

To read the full article, click here.


1. Russell Reynolds Associates, Marketing Moves 2016: Q1-Q2, Aug. 1, 2016, p. 3, accessed on Aug. 2, 2016.

2. Ibid.

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Wanted: The CMO of the Future