Seven ways to carve a path to CMO from those who have done it

Godiva CMO John Galloway’s journey to the c-suite began on day in New York City when Galloway was an intern for p.r. agency G. S. Schwartz & Co. He drove a pick-up truck filled with sand, pretty models, palm trees and surfboards to promote a game called VCR (yes, VCR) California Games. The stunt got picked up by ABC News and made a stop on “The Howard Stern Show.” In his hotel room, the client saw the coverage live and was thrilled.

“From that day on, I was hooked on the power of marketing,” Galloway says.

Every CMO has a story about how they got to the c-suite. Chief Marketer asked six CMOs to share their journeys, and in particular what lessons they learned, the skills required and the steps along the way that helped them get there. Read on for your roadmap to the corner office.


CMOs have to understand the many different disciplines that roll up to marketing—brand marketing, consumer behavior, marketing analytics, data and human sciences, technology, communications, digital and mass media buying and other disciplines. CMOs are change agents, moving at the speed of light—nimble and quick to pivot. Hone these skills as you move up the ladder.

“You really have to have a very broad view of the market,” says Kimberley Gardiner, VP and CMO, Mitsubishi Motors North America. “You have to have a very good understanding of culture, of consumer trends, of technology and understand what is important to your consumer set, what they need and how can you help them.”

John Galloway, CMO of Godiva

John Galloway, CMO of Godiva


Volunteer for—or offer to start—big projects without being asked.

As an example, Gardiner kicked off a much-needed digital transformation focused on experiences designed around how to sell cars in a different way—without being asked to.

“I will not only create it, I’ll sign up for it. I'll spirit it. I'll get people to get behind me because I think people then see that’s a skill set for the CMO,” she says. “These actions show leadership and allow up-and-coming marketers to expand their knowledge and reach by building relationships with other leaders across businesses and departments.”

Gardiner makes it a priority to work with the retail and field organizations and sales teams. She sits in on incentive planning discussions and field calls.

“I think that's one of the things that I've brought to the table here at Mitsubishi—being that person [to go to the meetings] that my predecessor or other folks in marketing don't usually join. I'm there at every single meeting I can possibly be at because marketing is all those things and then some. I think that helps people see marketing differently,” she says.

Kimberley Gardiner, VP and CMO, Mitsubishi Motors North America

Kimberley Gardiner, VP and CMO, Mitsubishi Motors North America


As marketers know, marketing is both art and science. Getting the right training comes in many forms—formal and informal—and it’s up to you to make it happen and to take advantage of every opportunity.

In the case of Bacardi Ltd. CMO John Burke, the science of how to influence consumer behaviors was learned during a night course at the London School of Business. The art side of the role, he says, was much more about immersing himself in culture, in marketing and in the life of his consumers.

Bacardi walks that talk. Earlier this year, the brand launched its second annual global initiative “Back to the Bar,” that spanned from New York to London to Shanghai to Dubai where 7,000 employees pulled up a barstool alongside customers to encourage them to try a signature Bacardi cocktail.

“We are building a culture which is much more focused on putting consumers at the heart of everything we do, to encourage everyone at Bacardi to speak to the consumer—it is built into their roles,” Burke says. “We have invested a lot of time and effort in training to support and build marketing capability, which for me is one of the most rewarding parts of my role when I can help people to grow.”

On-the-street training may not be offered at the brand you work on, but it’s educational, fun and a great way to network with other employees. Take the initiative to suggest new ways to learn about your customers—and make it happen.

“Some organizations are training cultures. Some are not,” Godiva’s Galloway adds. “I was told early on, ‘You are responsible for managing your career, not the company.’ You need to understand what you need to grow and get that internally or externally.”

Mitsubishi’s Gardiner keeps a stack of books on her nightstand. She reads up on the economy, consumer behavior, cognitive science, marketing, how to position a product in a down economy and other topics. She listens to podcasts and TED Talks, all to enhance her performance as a marketer.

“You want to understand what's relevant to consumers. You have to know what keeps them up at night, what they worry about and how to frame something in a way that feels like you’re really providing a great solution, not just that we have a product to sell,” she says.

John Burke, CMO, Bacardi Ltd.

John Burke, CMO, Bacardi Ltd.


Whether you take leadership over a single small brand, or a collection of mega brands, you have to have a high sense of ownership and the adaptability to continuously change quickly with shifting consumer behavior, new technology developments, cultural shifts and other changes that inevitably pop up.

Godiva’s Galloway always lives the brands he markets. For example, when he worked for Mountain Dew the team jumped out of an airplane and learned how to snowboard together. At the Hard Rock, he attended Rock n’ Roll Fantasy Camp and “marginally improved my singing skills.” At Godiva, that means gifting and experimenting with lots of world class chocolate.

“Marketing brings together all aspects of the business so having a broad understanding of the business is important alongside having a restless curiosity,” Bacardi’s Burke says. “As a family-owned company for 158 years, one of the core cultural values is to have a ‘Founder’s Mentality,’ so running the business with the passion and dedication as if it was your own. This also means taking full accountability for every decision while respecting the freedom the team needs to own their decisions.”

Jaya Kumar, Global CMO, Capital Group

Jaya Kumar, Global CMO, Capital Group


The ability to understand and have empathy for consumers as human beings, and to reflect that in your marketing is a key skill set.

Investment management company Capital Group debuted its first brand marketing and television campaign in the company’s 87-year history in September. The campaign made a conscious effort to eschew traditional banking language and instead keep it simple, straightforward and easy to understand.

“We learned to use language that human beings use, not the kind of difficult to understand language used by financial services,” Jaya Kumar, Capital Group global CMO, says. “The insight for me was that we’ve got to make it human and that’s the differentiating characteristic. It’s simple English. It stirs, hopefully, the heart as much as the mind.”

An equally important skill set is “marketing human” internally—an area often overlooked by many brands. It’s a skill embraced by Clorox SVP and CMO Stacey Grier.

“’Human-centered’ is really about understanding the consumers of the brand and people who might use it,” says Grier. “But this is also about understanding your organization in a really human way. When you're leading people, you have to understand how to motivate them, how to connect with them and how to bring them up. That's really the important part of being a marketing leader, not creating the ideas but empowering people to create the ideas and I find that that really comes with human empathy. That's been a really big significant part of what I believe makes me a better CMO.”

Nobody wants to follow somebody who is only interested in their own career and developing it. What they're really interested in is signing up for something bigger and participating in that.

“It's exactly like a purpose-driven brand. People are attracted to something that has a goal that's higher and more meaningful for them,” she says.

Stacey Grier, SVP and CMO, Clorox

Stacey Grier, SVP and CMO, Clorox


Identify colleagues who possess the skills and qualities you want and then strike up conversations with them.

“It’s very important to observe their behavior, because it's not always what people say but it's very often what they do that really characterizes them,” says Jochen “JK” Koedijk, CMO at electronic security systems company ADT.

Godiva’s Galloway says he’s fortunate to have had lots of great role models during his career, including an “old boss,” former PepsiCo. CMO Dave Burwick.

“He challenged me early in my career not to think about myself as a brand manager, but to think about myself as the CEO of whatever portion of the business I was working on—

simple, but meaningful advice that has stuck with me through the years,” Galloway says.

Bacardi’s Burke agrees. “I haven’t ever had just one mentor. I constantly learn every day through my interactions with the people around me; from the global leadership team to the bartenders,” he says.

Gardiner spends lots of time networking with executives and others outside of her department and discussing how to grow the business, how to differentiate the brand position and business model among competitors. She also champions being an advocate and helping junior marketers.

“Especially for young women these days, find networks, find mentors, find advocates but also find that one person on the team that you're working alongside that will not only be there to help you, but will advocate for you,” she says. “They will be your champion, whether or not the next job you want is internal or external. They will help you with your resumé. They will put your name out there and they will advocate for you proactively.”

Jochen “JK” Koedijk, CMO at ADT

Jochen “JK” Koedijk, CMO at ADT


When you move into a role where hiring is one of your responsibilities, hire smart and think about the impact your decisions will make from a diversity and inclusion perspective. Marketing departments today need to reflect the diversity of the population in order to be successful.

“You have to be about personalization, you have to really understand how to develop inclusive language, inclusive visuals, inclusive points of view that are welcoming to new people across the board,” Gardiner says.

And don’t be afraid to hire those subject matter experts that know more than you.

“You need different people to really excel at each discipline,” says ADT’s Koedijk. “You need to find the right leaders and you need to understand that in many cases those people will be smarter than you are.”

Because while the role of today’s CMO does demand an education in data, analytics and technology in addition to brand and consumer marketing, smart marketers rely on strategic hiring decisions to help bolster the organization as a whole—and, in so doing, pave their own roads to the top.

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