Marketers as CEOs

It’s been a while since I last looked into the likelihood of Marketers in East Africa reaching the C Suite, or even holding the top job in our biggest companies. My methodology tends to be qualitative, picking up data from what I read and what senior business or academic colleagues tell me. But I have to say that I don’t yet discern a surge of CEO candidates with marketing backgrounds. Instead I am aware of several senior Marketers who have left the corporate world to become entrepreneurs and apply their experience and talents to their own businesses. If that is the most likely destination for decades of practical marketing experience, then one has to say that the corporate sector is missing a trick. But maybe the few really top Marketers want it that way. Preferring to test their skills in the commercial arena, backed by their own money … to arm-wrestling senior colleagues from Finance, Procurement or Operations for the rest of their careers.

But the net effect seems as true today as it was when I touched on the subject nearly a decade ago. In our biggest companies, the direction of Marketing may rest in the hands of discipline leaders who have reached their limit of their career development.

In America,  Kimberly Whitler from the University of Virginia has run a number of comparative studies on the subject. She’s interested in which kind of companies create conditions for Marketers to lead the whole enterprise. Her work is based on data captured from LinkedIn. Whitler notes that what distinguishes the Top 15 such firms is:

  • They regard Marketing as a P&L function, not a staff or discipline function.
  • They operate in the most competitive categories.
  • They have a sustained track record of investing in Marketing talent
  • They promote enterprise-wide learning and leadership training for all discipline heads.

Procter and Gamble (P&G) came top, providing over 20% of all the CEOs from marketing backgrounds in the LinkedIn sample. For example, Patrice Louvet served as the Group President, P&G Beauty (in brand management) and is now the President and CEO of Ralph Lauren.

The eight industries best at developing marketing leaders are: non-food FMCG, food production, food retail, financial services, consumer technology, clothing, healthcare and retail (non-food). Brands like Yum!, Starbucks, Amex, Apple, Nike, J&J and Amazon are where they cut their teeth.

I’d certainly be interested in some objective data on leadership provenance in East Africa. It would be good to see whether there’s any variety emerging in the skills and experience sets of our newest business leaders.


Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside in Africa


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