We all know that the CMO is the most volatile position in the C-suite. So I wanted to get some perspective on what a CMO should do to prepare for the day when his or her tenure ends. Here are some insights from three executives who have recently found themselves in a transition.
Nigel Dessau was CMO at AMD for four years, a much longer-than-average tenure and a fact in which he takes pride. When a new CEO was brought in from the outside, Dessau acknowledged the possibility that his new boss would want to make changes that could affect him. After helping the CEO craft a new plan forward it was obvious to Dessau that it was going to be time for a change, so he initiated the discussions that led to an amicable separation. His advice, “Even before the new CEO was announced, I began saving to prepare for the possibility that I may be out of a job.” He is now using his free time to write a book based on the blog he’d been writing for the past three years, called The 3 Minute Mentor. He plans to travel and consult with companies on developing their value propositions while he contemplates his next move.
Julie Ann Robertson’s departure last summer from her CMO role at the National Wildlife Foundation was precipitated by the ill-health of her father. “He is very close to me and I felt I needed to spend time with him as he recovered.” Looking back on her time at NWF, she believes that moving the organization into the digital era was the best thing she did to help her prepare for the future. “We had four print publications that we moved onto the Nook. We reduced our fundraising dependency on direct mail through the Postal Service by testing a highly successful text-to-give campaign after the Gulf oil spill.” She believes building her digital expertise was an important complement to her consumer marketing credentials earned at Burger King, 7Up and Ringling Brothers Circus. She and a former colleague are consulting for other consumer marketers as she looks for her next role.
Charlie Lawrence didn’t anticipate his end at Franke last fall as clearly at Dessau did his. After all, he’d been promoted from CMO to General Manager three years ago and was running a profitable division of the Swiss company. But when the CEO who promoted him was replaced, things changed and Lawrence found himself the victim of “corporate restructuring.” Yet he had been preparing himself for his new job search his whole career. “Networking is something that must be central to who you are and how you approach your career as a CMO. Networking includes helping recruiters when they call even if you aren’t interested. Then keeping a record of those you helped so you can ask for help when you need it. The recruiters will remember those who help them because most people don’t. If you do this starting early in your career, you will develop a reputation as a good guy who is helpful. Having said, I agree with the data that says you will find most of your new opportunities through your professional network, not recruiters. Former bosses, peers, subordinates, suppliers, customers, etc. These people will help you only if you were a good employee, did good work, were fair, honest, etc. This speaks to doing good and being a good person as the best way to get help. Don’t burn any bridges.”
Lawrence also agrees with Robertson that honing digital skills is critical. “As a marketer by training I believe finding a job is classic marketing — I am now the product. With that context, I have been spending a great of time sharpening my skill set. I’m reading, investigating, networking and researching the new world of digital, mobile, social marketing. I have been on a dozen interviews in the past four months and in every interview this topic came up. That was certainly not the case six years ago. To link these two goals (marketing me and sharpening my skills) I developed a personal website, a blog and have become active on most social media channels. I participate in webinars and am moderately active in blogging. I also retweet and comment on other bloggers posts, all with the goal of learning something and staying visible and fresh.”
So how does a CMO prepare for the day the pink slip comes? Build and nurture your network, hone your digital skills and create a “rainy day fund” to tide you over until the next opportunity arises, all these seem to be part of the formula. What else would you add?