Key takeaways from a CEO conversation with Carolyn McCall

There is no doubt that Carolyn McCall, who was in conversation with John Lewis’ CMO Craig Inglis on Thursday at Asia House in Marylebone, operates at the highest levels of business. CMO of The Guardian, CEO of GMG, CEO of EasyJet, CEO of ITV and Dame of the British Empire.  But despite the titles, she shared some very grounded advice which most of us could easily apply to our own business lives. 

  1. Get good advice. Dame Carolyn is hugely well connected.  Her advisors include Mervyn Davies (former Chairman of Standard Chartered) and John Bartle (Founder of BBH). But the tip applies to us all.  Go to people you like and trust, no matter how senior, and ask for advice.  Family is hugely important too. In her view, if they are not on board you can’t take on the big roles. 
  2. Align your top team. A high performing executive team is key to success.  Align over the purpose of the business and the problems that need to be solved and go from there. 
  3. Start at the bottom. At EasyJet she spent her first weeks talking to people who were on the front line.  As she put it, they knew the problems, and they also had solutions. This applies to all of us.  Do we regularly talk to people at all levels of the business, particularly our client or customer facing people, not just our peers?
  4. Don’t be a know-it-all. Dame Carolyn admitted that as CEO you feel you need to know the answer to everything. She recommended to focus on the things you do know and to seek support from experts in things that aren’t your area. 
  5. Prepare. The secret of feeling less nervous is to do your research.  ‘Know your brief’ as she put it, whether that applies to a talk you are giving or a Board meeting. 
  6. Prioritise. The pressure on CEOs is immense, and you get pulled in multiple directions. Try to do the right things, rather than doing everything right.  
  7. Be the voice of the customer. Although CFO or COO is an established route to CEO, McCall believes that CMOs ability to understand the customer and build the bridge to what the business should be delivering, means they are well placed to lead it.   
  8. Be a business person, not just a marketer. She believes Marketers must move out of their comfort zone and engage with business as a whole.  Join business groups, talk to business people. Don’t just go to marketing dinners.  

Like many highly successful people, Dame Carolyn makes it sound simple. We will no doubt find out easy it actually is when we attempt to apply it ourselves! 

By Fran Brosan, Chairman & Co-Founder at Omobono



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