In their own words - Marketing Leaders of the Year 2016 shortlist

Marketing Leaders of the Year
We asked the shortlisted marketers for The Marketing Society Marketing Leader of the Year 2016 a few questions about being brave and what they would say to their 17-year-old self. Read on and cast your vote by 5pm on Friday 20 May.

Matthew Barwell - Chief marketing officer, Britvic

 
What does bold marketing leadership look like?
Inspiring your team to trust in their beliefs and passions, and not to be afraid to take risks.

What's the best advice you've ever been given?
Surround yourself with brilliant people and help them to understand the context and bring out their brilliance. 

What has been the tensest moment in your career?
As a young brand manager working on Snickers at Mars I had the “opportunity” to present to John and Forrest Mars – the owners of the business on a project that wasn’t going as well as it could have been. I don’t think I slept at all the previous night!  I survived however and actually enjoyed the experience and looking back feel proud to have had the opportunity. It taught me that keeping things simple and being true to your values is all people really want to see.

What are the best and worst parts of your job?
I feel really fortunate that I have always loved what I do. Working on brands like Snickers, Mars, Guinness, Smirnoff, Robinsons, J2O and Tango is I suspect more fun than being an accountant! I love the thought of building and nurturing brands and people, and creating growth. I am very fortunate to work with creative and inspiring people and find I learn new things about myself every day. The worst part is not being able to go after all of the opportunities that we see.

What's the bravest thing you've ever done?
Asking my wife to marry me, I thought she would say no.

What single thing would improve the quality of your life?
Having less traffic on the M4 in the morning would be great!

What would you say to your 17-year-old self?
Take a year out and go skiing and travel the world.

Where would you most like to be right now?
Having just come back from a long weekend skiing, I would have to say back on the Alps. I love to ski and a perfect day for me would be on the slopes on a cold, crisp, sunny morning with my wife Harriet and three boys.

What are you reading? 
I am reading ‘A Brief History of Seven Killings’ by Marlow James.  A great read based on true events in Jamaica, have only just started it so please don’t tell me the end.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
I think the biggest thing I have learnt is the importance of enjoying the journey… Do the things that are important to you and everything else will take care of itself.


Nina Bibby - Marketing & consumer director, O2 UK

 
What does bold marketing leadership look like? 
For me, bold marketing leadership is about being ambitious on behalf of the customer and business and inspiring the organisation to deliver against that. It means giving people the freedom to take risks and even fail in pursuit of that ambition and the support to then turn it around and deliver.  At O2, we set ourselves stretching targets every year in customer engagement, loyalty and experience. We know achieving our goals depends on unlocking killer consumer insights. 2015 demonstrated the success of this approach: we broke through the 25 million customer mark, reduced churn by over 3 per cent, and raised customer satisfaction across the board.
 
What's the best advice you've ever been given? 
Know that you are going to fail sometimes and it’s not the end of the world. I was reminded of this at this year’s SXSW: being daring and courageous and making ourselves vulnerable to mistakes is the only way we can truly innovate. Embracing that vulnerability is difficult to do, but crucial to success.
 
What's the best part of your job? 
Easy: the people.
 
And, the worst? 
As always, getting stuck in traffic on the M40!
 
What has been the tensest moment in your career? 
It’s always that moment just at the launch of something new when you are about to find out if all the hard work, the insight, analysis and instinct were right.
 
What's the bravest thing you've ever done? 
Running the London Marathon in 2012? And I’ve just done it again. Yikes!
 
What single thing would improve your quality of life? 
A bit of sun wouldn’t go amiss. The British weather is undoubtedly a struggle occasionally.
 
What would you say to your 17-year-old self? 
Don’t worry. I was extremely conscientious at that age, so I’d probably tell myself to try to relax a little and have the courage to be confident and forthright in my opinions. 
 
Where would you most like to be right now? 
On a ski slope – I have had to sacrifice skiing for running this spring. 
 
What are you reading?  
I am a bit of a bookworm, so I usually have two or three things on the go. I have just finished ‘A God in Ruins’, by Kate Atkinson, and am a few chapters into ‘Red Notice’, the autobiographical tale of Bill Browder’s experiences in Russia. 

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
I’d have to say the importance of empathy. Understanding and sharing the feelings of another is invaluable, particularly in marketing, whether it be your stakeholders or customers. Always being in dialogue with the inner voice in your head can be exhausting and restricting. Get into someone else’s head and you’ll get to a much better outcome ultimately.

Mark Evans - Marketing director, Direct Line Group

 
What does bold marketing leadership look like?
I was a very keen rugby player, now turned Under 10’s coach, so rugby has had a defining influence on my outlook on business and life in general. Therefore I identify with the New Zealand All Blacks as great exponents of bold leadership. They have arguably been the most successful team in the history of sport by virtue of the fact that they continually strive for improvement when others have long since convinced themselves that things were good enough. Therefore I see bold Marketing leadership as pushing beyond conventional thinking. It’s about having the courage and appetite to zag when everyone else is zigging. What is the killer insight lurking around the corner that can transform a brand or a business model? In the case of Direct Line we had to create a burning platform in order to galvanise the organisation for a big struggle ahead that would ultimately lead to the turnaround in performance that has been seen.
 
What's the best advice you've ever been given?
On the day that I graduated from university my best friend’s father made a speech over a celebratory meal. He said:
 
"I envy you since you have a world of possibility ahead of you. But at the same time I pity you because inevitably you will spend 20 years seeking success and only too late realise that it’s about significance rather than success. However, if you are smart you will work out how to achieve success and significance simultaneously".
 
In many ways this is why I decided to work in insurance four years ago. It may not be the most glamorous of sectors but it plays a critical role in peoples’ lives. Its virtuous origin has been obscured by a decline in trust in the sector.  At Direct Line we are seeking to revolutionise insurance again, reversing the commoditisation of the last two decades and restoring trust. This inherently combines success and significance although we still have more to do in the years ahead.
 
What advice would you offer a marketer at the beginning of their career?
Stay curious! Be curious about your brands, about your customers and competitors, and also about your own development. As Einstein said, “the important thing is to not stop questioning”. It is often the case that the breakthrough that you are seeking is hiding in plain sight. This was the case with Direct Line in that being a “fixer” brand now seems so simple and obvious but it had never been articulated in this way ever before.
 
What has been the tensest moment in your career?
Relaunching the Direct Line brand in 2014 was a huge “sliding doors” moment. Get it right and we could make a great brand famous and successful again - get it wrong and the systemic decline of an iconic brand that reinvented insurance many years ago would continue. Thankfully we nailed it with the "fixer" thought, dramatised by Harvey Keitel as Winston Wolf as the epitome of our intent. But this was no easy ride. Having a gangster as our spokesperson whilst residing in the least trusted sector was not a straightforward sell internally and we needed to be bullet-proof in our consumer testing. There are many, many reasons why it might never have happened but we persevered. As a result, the brand is back into healthy growth with improving brand and customer metrics and it has re-galvanised the Marketing team to believe that we can achieve more great things. 
 
What are the best and worst parts of your job?
The best part of my role is to see a team buzzing with adrenaline Rugby has had a defining influence upon me and so it is great to see a diverse team coming together in the last couple of years to fulfil individual and collective potential. Indeed we have moved from bottom decile employee engagement scores in the organisation in 2013 to top decile scores in 2015.
 
The worst part is that I work in a highly regulated, financially technical and technologically dependent sector and so it is neither quick nor easy to effect change. For example, in launching a market leading proposition to replace lost, stolen or damaged household items such as mobile phones, we knew that people look at their phones every four minutes on average so we had to think radically. By ‘Amazonifying’ the entire process, we are now able to ship items within eight hours compared to an industry standard of days, if not weeks. As you can imagine this complete process re-engineering effort was considerable, so we could only move at the pace of our collective capability.
 
What's the bravest thing you've ever done?
Turning my back on a career in Finance was a big decision. I was lined up to work in Corporate Finance as a graduate within an investment bank but, such is my love of sport, I deferred it to do an Athletic Union sabbatical year after graduating. During that year my graduate job disappeared in a puff of smoke with the merger of Lloyds and TSB. I took this as a sign and instead decided to take a completely different career path into Marketing. That decision was based on the experiences of friends of mine who were a couple of years into their careers.  The bankers were not particularly happy at the monotonous nature of their work, whereas the marketers were excited and enthusiastic at the diversity, the energy, the pace, and the somewhat heroic nature of meeting customer needs. This turned out to be a fantastic decision since I have loved my career in Marketing and probably wouldn’t have even been very good as a banker.
 
How do you achieve a work-life balance?
It is a constant struggle but my wife is a nurse, which keeps me very grounded. When I come home a bit stroppy she asks me if anyone died at work today. Thankfully the answer is no, and it reminds me not to take myself too seriously. Also, I find that having kids helps to stay a little child-like yourself which is no bad thing.
 
What would you say to your 17-year-old self?
Don't worry too much about the decisions that you make. Every decision that you make gets less perfect as time goes by because you get more information. Hence in the end you have to continue to make decisions right. Oh yes - and one day you will meet a girl called Lorna. Make sure that you marry her!
 
What are you reading?
‘A Peacock in the land of Penguins’ by Gallagher Hateley and Warren Schmidt. It's about achieving a balance between driving change in an organisation whilst fitting into the culture. It's a great metaphor for pushing a Marketing agenda in an organisation that perceives it as a non-strategic function. However, if I could recommend one book to young marketers it would be, ‘Oh the Places You'll Go’ by Dr Seuss. I read it as a child and then, it was given to me by my first mentor when I joined Mars as a graduate. The story is a metaphor for life's undulating journey - you will be brilliant, happy and successful - but not every day, and the inevitable bumps in the road are what spur you on and ultimately make for a more interesting story

Tell us a secret
I am a "quantified self" junkie. I am somewhat obsessive about hitting my Fitbit and Apple Watch targets every day. At the time of writing, I average 22k steps per day on Fitbit and have achieved all three Apple activity goals for the last 58 days.

Anna Hill - CMO The Walt Disney Company UK

 
What does bold marketing leadership look like?
It’s making decisions based on sound insights and putting the consumer at the heart of everything you do. It’s being brave and trying new things.  And it’s encouraging people to think big and instilling confidence in your team. 
 
What's the best advice you've ever been given?
I have two pieces of advice that I think are really helpful to me:
 
Do a few things brilliantly that will make a significant difference, rather than lots of things that don’t.
Learn from what doesn’t work – if you haven’t had things go wrong, you haven’t tried hard enough.
 
What advice would you offer a marketer at the beginning of their career?
Be brave with your thoughts and instincts and speak up - your ideas are just as valuable as those of the most senior person in the room. 
 
What has been the tensest moment in your career?
It was when we created a live experience with a partner.  The problem wasn’t ‘will people show up?’, the problem was ‘too many people showing up’ and ensuring that they all have an great experience. Dealing with children and ensuring that they all have an incredible time is so important to us. 
 
What are the best and worst parts of your job?
The best: Because Disney is such a positive brand that is relevant to so many families, it allows us lots of opportunities to surprise and delight our guests. Whether it’s talking about a Star Wars influenced fashion show, a nursery project with Disney Junior, or a programme encouraging girls and boys to get healthier, there are always so many brilliant projects going on.
 
The worst: It’s related to the best.  Having so much opportunity means we have to prioritise and we can’t push all projects forward. I find it really hard to make the call on what we should put on hold. I am so enthusiastic so I have to remind myself of our focus on ‘fewer, bigger, better’ all the time. Because if I had it my way, I would do it all!
 
What's the bravest thing you've ever done?
I still find presenting to large audiences daunting, particularly when social media allows people to comment live on everything you say.  The hardest presentation I did was to 1,000 people in Poland when I had to have an interpreter – I was so worried that my humour would not translate well!  People always tell me nerves are good, once I have got past the first few minutes, I generally really enjoy it.
 
How do you achieve a work-life balance?
By having perspective.  I love my job, I work really hard and have really great people to work alongside. But my family are everything to me, so when I am at home, I put everything in to them.
 
What would you say to your 17-year-old self?
Be positive.  Get along with people, be prepared to put the hard work in and offer to do anything that is thrown at you. Ultimately people want to work with people they can get along with – you will be given more opportunities based on your attitude than your aptitude.
 
What are you reading?
‘The Disclaimer.’ It was a book club choice.  It’s a thriller, which I love, I just struggle to keep up with all the characters in it…but I have got past the first 70 pages, which is always the decider for me.  So far so good!

Tell us a secret
I don’t have secrets,  – I am very open and honest, as anyone who knows me would testify. I would love to have been a headteacher.  I love order.  I am passionate about kids and them pursuing their dreams.  I think your most incredible years are during school and I would love to be able to do more to inspire kids and make them realise that.

Kenny Jacobs - CMO, Ryanair 

 
What does bold marketing leadership look like?
You have to use the right amount of insight and use it in the right way. Not being afraid to use your gut and your experience is key. Going for big change and trying to make change very quickly. Don’t always wait for perfect insight, try to go for big change and customers often say ‘so what?’ it might mean something]
 
If you want cutrhrough nowasayds, put on a bigger change for customers to take notice and change very quickly. It’s always 18/24 month – I don’t think people have that anymore
 
The speed at which you have to demonstrate change, initial results is a higher priority
 
Speed, don’t wait for perfect insight and bigger change not incrementalism 
 
What's the best advice you've ever been given?
From Terry Leahy, the former CEO of Tesco, who talking about leadership, said – ‘try to be the best version of yourself.’ It’s about focusing on where you have skills, and working on those skills until you become a Jedi at them. If your personal values are aligned to the business and brand you’re responsible for, it makes life easier. So someone who wears a Rolex will not make a great marketing director for Lidl and vica versa…
 
What advice would you offer a marketer at the beginning of their career?
Don’t just do marketing - go to the extreme of technology and digital marketing. In fact, go digital first. Find an environment where you can learn loads and be sure that you think, ‘wow, this is an impressive person I can learn from.’ 
 
What has been the tensest moment in your career?
I have lots. It’s not a good week if you don’t have tense moments. At Ryanair, it’s a good thing, it means you’re centre scrum, it means you’re leading change. I thrive on it because it’s about making change happen. Some you win and some you lose. But if it doesn’t go your way, just get on with it. Don’t take to heart. Often marketing people can become prima donnas, but everyone needs to take a pragmatic approach. Marketing is more rational than in the past, and with that shift, marketers need to change their style of leadership. 
 
What are the best and worst parts of your job?
Best – I’ve got a CMO brief with everything – sales force, customer service, digital and traditional marketing. That whole set is in my area, so that’s the best bit. I’ve also got a CEO who wants and accepts rapid change. No one calls me a marketing genius for saying let’s be nice to customers, but the speed at which we’ve made these changes is what I’m most proud of. 
 
Worst – we’ve done a good job on digital but if you think you’re doing a good job on mobile you’re still not doing enough. If I had my time again, I would invest more on mobile and then desktop follows. I also would have looked to have done more in the content area. 
 
What's the bravest thing you've ever done?
I repositioned Tesco Ireland as a discount shop and it grew 25% in terms of market share. Also, taking this job at Ryanair. I had two responses, some people said,  “You must be nuts,” others who said it was a low hanging fruit. To take that role was a brave decision, but look how it’s turned out. At the moment we’re having a fight with Google, and I’ve stopped spending with them. We’re going to be heading to court with them. Taking on Google is interesting, people say you can’t do that, it’s like taking on the Roman Catholic church in the 1980s. I don’t think enough CMOs take on Google, and I think businesses need to be willing to take them on – they’re just another ad channel. Business needs to be brave. 
 
How do you achieve a work-life balance?
I exercise a lot. I’m an early starter, disciplined with time. I’m at the office by 7:30am, leave at 6pm, exercise in the day and have family time at evening. Holidays are family time. 
 
What would you say to your 17-year-old self?
Go and do tech at university, and while you’re there, go and find a little retailer or hotel in the neighbourhood without a website and build it for them. Be their free marketing resource and know what a good website and mobile site and app looks like.
 
What are you reading?
‘The Spy Who Came in From the Cold’ by John Le Carre.

Tell us a secret
I used to be drummer in a punk band. Now, I have a drum kit in the basement which I play one evening a week. 

Alistair Macrow - Senior VP, CMO, McDonald’s UK & Northern Europe


What does bold marketing leadership look like?
For me, confidence, clarity and consistency are vital, but I think letting ourselves be led by our customers and understanding how they want to engage with us is the hallmark of good marketing leadership. What makes it bold is showing the courage and commitment to stick to those principles amidst a wealth of distractions - the new buzz thing, short term sales need, competitor tactics or budgetary challenges to name a few. Cutting out the noises and telling the stories our customers want to hear.
 
What's the best advice you've ever been given?
There's one piece of advice that influences me more than any other. Always be true to yourself; it's central to my personal values. Always do what I believe is right, treat people the way they deserve to be treated, say what needs to be said, trust my own instincts. It doesn't always make me popular but it displays integrity and promotes trust. And I can sleep at night!
 
What advice would you offer a marketer at the beginning of their career?
Never stop asking why - if you ask it often enough you'll have the best plans, based on the most meaningful insight and you'll execute them in the most motivating way. Always ask why before asking what.
 
What has been the tensest moment of your career?
A few years ago when we took the decision to break the stream of retail promotional campaigns that McDonald's had relied on and get back to investing in brand campaigns. Waiting for the first sales and brand results was a pretty nervy time.
 
What are the best and worst parts of the job?
Spending time with my team talking about customers, insight and marketing - it's stimulating, fun and I always come away feeling that I've learned something. Those are always the best days. By contrast, it's never enjoyable when I don't share the same enthusiasm for a piece of work as my team do. Disappointing people who have put in a lot of hard work is always difficult but it's an important part of making sure we always deliver the best activity and we develop together.
 
What's the bravest thing you've ever done? 
Criticise my wife's driving. There's a fine line between bravery and stupidity.
 
How do you achieve a work-life balance?
The most important thing for me is ensuring that whatever I'm doing (work or home life) I'm fully focused on it. Giving the people I'm with, albeit family, friends or colleagues, my full attention. I'm clear about what’s important to me, what's important to doing my role well and knowing the priority at any given point in time. That clarity helps manage being flexible without the pendulum swinging too far in either direction. Unfortunately I don't always get it right, so I'm very lucky to have a family who are understanding, supportive and ensure we make the most of the time we have together.
 
What would you say to your 17 year old self?
There's nothing wrong with being a bit different - relax and enjoy it. Be more confident.
 
What are you reading?
I'm not a big reader but I do love a glass of claret so the 2015 Bordeaux En Primeur reports are grabbing more than their fair share of my attention.

Tell us a secret
I’m on Twitter but I've never sent a tweet – maybe I’m more of a reader than I thought!

Sarah Manley - CMO, Burberry
Sarah has been travelling but we’re hoping to interview her soon. We’ll let you know when the article is in the Clubhouse.

Alison Orsi - VP marketing, communications and citizenship for IBM, UK and Ireland


What does bold marketing leadership look like?
For me bold leadership embodies what I now know as 'agile' principles.  It's important to set a vision and then get on and do stuff.  To worry less about perfection and more about learning what works and what doesn't.  In a world of instant feedback we need to be more comfortable with experimenting - don't be afraid to try something new, be honest with yourself about the outcomes and course correct as necessary.
 
What's the best advice you've ever been given?
To remember that you always have a choice... You have the power to make a decision to change your job / skill / attitude / whatever.  It's in your hands.

My other favourite, from a colleague who grew up in the outback, is that the grass is only green where you water it!
 
What advice would you offer a marketer at the beginning of their career?
To always be clear on WHY you are doing something, not just how.  People can sometimes get lost in the excitement of the creativity of their idea or the technological wizardry of their solution... and forget about the purpose or outcome that they are trying to achieve. Ultimately we need to be clear about what value marketing delivers - and being able to articulate that to business sponsors is a skill we all need.
 
What has been the tensest moment in your career?
I once turned down a job opportunity and prestigious international assignment because I didn't feel the job was the right one for me.  The response from the business executive was lukewarm and I thought I had blown my career prospects. However six months later I was offered a better role, and spent three very happy years living and working in Paris.
 
What are the best and worst parts of your job?
Best - helping the team to develop new skills and watching people flourish.  Creating learning opportunities as we transform how we do marketing has given the team a chance to try new things and reveal hidden talents - be that a flair for digital marketing, social media expertise or a gift for storytelling.  Watching them grow in confidence, capability and ambition is really rewarding.
 
Worst - not having enough time to follow through on all the creative and brilliant ideas that cross my mind / desk.  It's frustrating!
 
What's the bravest thing you've ever done?
Probably take on this job! Especially, as I took over from an incredibly talented lady who also happens to be one of the Top 50 Most Social CMOs globally. She left big shoes to fill...
 
How do you achieve a work-life balance?
I try to make sure my weekends are mine.  I cram them full of family and friends and so there's not much time for an awful lot else.  And using down time commuting to catch up on mail and reading.  
 
What would you say to your 17-year-old self?
Be confident in your own ability and don't limit your thinking - dare to dream.  Get out and talk to people for inspiration, explore, ask what they do and how they got there.  I never thought I'd be able to achieve what I have, and struggled to look beyond what I knew.
 
What are you reading?
A book called 'The Demon's Call' by Kim Gravell ...who happens to be one of my team and writes in her spare time.  One of those hidden talents I mentioned.

Tell us a secret
It turns out I quite like sci/fi and fantasy, which will please my husband who has spent many years trying to convert me!