BY BENARD AYIEKO The modern corporate world has changed. The role of a chief executive officer has evolved significantly. The CEO is responsible for the organization’s performance as dictated by the board’s overall strategy. The man or woman at the top of a company is no longer the ‘boss’ but the ‘worker’. He or she is a team leader and role model who set right examples for the rest of the team to emulate. Infact, they are colloquially referred to as ‘Chief Examples Officer’ in some quarters. The CEO of a corporation wears so many hats. He or she is a board developer, leader, decision maker, manager and visionary and information bearer. Fervent discussions have emerged to the effect that marketers compared to other professionals are increasingly becoming better placed to take up the CEOs role. Traditionally, marketers have not been top candidates for filling CEO positions. A poll by Korn Ferry – a U.S. global people and organizational advisory firm, involving 53% of business executives found that their current senior marketer could one day become a CEO. Recently, we have seen more high profile marketers take up the CEO’s role. Steve Easterbrook has risen from a marketing position to become McDonald’s CEO. Malaysian telecommunication giant Digi Albert Murty who was once its chief marketing officer rose to become CEO. Similar examples are numerous in Kenya. Mr. Polycarp Igathe has risen from junior marketing positions to become CEO of Vivo Energy Kenya. Ms Rita Kavashe, managing director of General Motors East Africa Limited began her career with the company 20 years ago as a sales representative. The emergence of marketers as potential CEO candidates signals a shift in how shareholders are viewing the marketing function. It begs the question, are marketers becoming clear favorites in the race to become CEOs? Why? It has been observed that most marketers are team players and get acclimatized to the pressures of company performance earlier than other professionals. Today, most companies are focusing on digital transformation, top-line growth and customer experience – deemed to be key growth drivers. On the steering wheel of these growth drivers are marketers and by their side are the CEOs. Marketers have been charged with the responsibility of driving organizational transformation strategy by re-inventing business models and creating new go-to-market strategies. They mobilize teams and grow companies’ sales and revenues. They drive value for the business and create wealth for shareholders. Marketers mobilize teams, marshal company resources and drive change to achieve the objectives of the company — exactly what a CEO does. They also enable every customer to touch point in every channel and delivers on the brand promise. In this role, they are the brand ambassadors for their companies. There is no corporate leader more connected to the marketplace than the marketer. As more companies become market-driven, it’s only natural for companies to seek skills in a CEO that marketers possess. Marketers tend to have extensive experience collaborating across functions, inside and outside the company. They have people management skills, which makes them to effortlessly work with, motivate, lead and communicate with employees, systems and data. This puts them at the pole position for consideration to the CEO’s role. They also possess change management expertise, which is critical for companies seeking enterprise transformation. Because of the marketing functions dynamism, they are often the change agents in most companies. When firms need a CEO who understands how to position the firm to succeed in the broader marketplace, who can create a vision and plan to deliver on that positioning, and who can understand, appreciate and influence others within the firm, then they have the marketers to look up to. Marketing is the perfect training ground for tomorrow’s CEOs. Marketers have emerged to be the perfect choice to lead companies where sales growth, client recruitment and retention are key priorities. No one is better placed to drive growth in a competitive marketplace. Since the CEOs role is to ‘position’ the company strategically in the industry – a function that marketers do best, it goes without saying that their skills at the CEO level are highly needed and demanded. Marketers offer new lens through which to formulate a strategic direction: ‘the customer point of view’ for companies whose business model relies heavily on minimum operation costs. They help in turning a corporate mission into programmes, activities and product ideas. Marketers are known to be results-oriented, have razor-sharp business acumen and capable of planning strategically. As they continue to own customers across all channels and the business data that drives corporations’ growth, it is only logical that the person to own and drive the company’s growth agenda as a CEO should be a marketer. However, this does not in any way imply that other professionals are incapable of becoming CEOs. Everyone, regardless of professional background and orientation has an equal chance to become a CEO, and a successful one for that matter.
The writer is an economist, consultant and a commentator on trade and investment