CMO Summit: A Really Big Show

June 15, 2008


“Good show,” I said to actor Alec Baldwin as I entered the elevator bank for the Rainbow Room on the 65th floor of Rockefeller Center in Midtown Manhattan.

Arms folded across his chest, Baldwin, who happened to be in the elevator, nodded slightly to acknowledge my offhand compliment as the doors closed. Thinking I might see Tina Fey, Baldwin’s co-star on NBC’s 30 Rock, I took the elevator up. My expectations were high.

Instead of a room full of comic actors, I found some of the world’s greatest marketers. They were convened in the Rainbow Room for Spencer Stuart’s sixth annual CMO Summit. It was positively the best show a marketer could attend. There was occasional, light-hearted laughter, but this meeting was all about content. The one-liners at the CMO Summit provide wisdom that can make a young marketer’s career. It was more valuable than any skit on Saturday Night Live.

The session objective was simple. Talk about what it takes for marketing leaders to succeed in today’s environment. What skills and traits, what DNA makes for a great CMO?

“We need to understand the functional space of marketing in order to do our best work,” says Ben Machtiger, CMO of Spencer Stuart, the global executive search firm that places many of the world’s leading marketing executives. “We learn every day. It’s great to have this dialogue. The world of marketing is constantly changing. That’s why we put on these CMO Summits.”

At the dais stood Wharton professor David Reibstein, arguably one of today’s top academic thinkers on the issues of marketing management. Astride from Reibstein sat four top global marketing practitioners: Lee Ann Daly, EVP and CMO, Thomson Reuters; William McDonald, EVP of brand management, Capital One; Mark-Hans Richer, CMO, Harley-Davidson; and Stephen Quinn, EVP and CMO, Wal-Mart.

The audience was filled with the cream of the marketing profession. It was a Procter & Gamble alumni fest. Top marketers from packaged goods, retail, high fashion, industrial goods, financial services, professional services and automotive looked on. Top marketers from Wrigley, Kodak, Aon, Sak’s Fifth Avenue, Google and Trane listened.

“What does it take to be a great CMO?” Reibstein asked.

“Customer focus,” said Daly.

“Customer focus is critical to CMO success,” agreed Richer.

“I’m a content-driven CMO,” said McDonald, “I love to pick up the color pencils and get hands-on.” He must drive his agencies crazy, I thought.

“Circumstances benefitted me,” said Quinn, who spoke of customer focus and alignment with his CEO.

“What else do you need?” Reibstein asked.

“Courage and stomach to take care of the business for the long term,” said Richer.

“Never lowering the bar,” said McDonald, who strives for break-through creative work.

“Trust your people. Let good work happen,” said Daly.

What do CEOs expect of CMOs?” Reibstein asked.

“Most CEOs want their CMOs to drive growth. Be seen as the person who can drive growth,” McDonald said. “Strategy and tactical plans are easy,” he continued. “Figure out the endgame.”

“Courage,” Richer said. “My CEO is the ex-CFO. He started as an elevator operator with the company 39 years ago.”

“How should marketers deal with the changing marketplace?” Reibstein asked.

“Have an immense curiosity about the customers and what their lives are like. Remember, it’s not about us and our experience,” Daly said.

“Realize customers are smarter, [that] the marketplace is shifting around us. There is an explosion in complexity,” McDonald said. “Avoid the tyranny of the in-basket—I get over 120 e-mails a day. Identify the difference makers. Remember, you can’t take PowerPoint decks to your customers.”

“What about the downturn in the economy?” Reibstein asked.

“It’s affecting all of us, but it’s what you do with the pause [it provides] that matters,” Richter said.

“What’s one word that describes your day?” Reibstein asked.

“Frantic,” said Quinn.

“Energetic,” said Richer.

“Passionate,” said McDonald.

“Optimistic,” said Daly.

There was much more. The session lasted nearly 90 minutes, but the time flew by. Near the end, Wal-Mart’s Quinn offered a marketer’s epiphany.

“Marketing is a craft,” he said. “It takes five minutes to learn and a lifetime to master.” The room grew silent.

The panel was asked how prepared CMOs are to become CEOs, yet these CMOs seek fulfillment in their current roles.

“I’m in the present,” McDonald said. “I’m going to my grave as a marketing guy.”

“That’s not the traditional path, CMO to CEO. I don’t wake up with the desire to be a CEO,” Richer said. “The best CMO in the world is Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple. He’s got the skill sets in spades.”

“For a lot of really good CMO’s, it’s a choice not to be a CEO,” Daly added.

“Why would you want that job (CEO)?” Quinn said. “I love this job.”

As a child I watched The Ed Sullivan Show each Sunday night. Sullivan would proclaim, “We’ve got a really big show.” For marketers, the Spencer Stuart CMO Summit was bigger and better than any Sullivan extravaganza, even the shows featuring The Beatles and The Doors.

30 Rock star Tina Fey never materialized. Tracy Morgan, Jane Krakowski, Scott Adsit and Jack McBrayer were nowhere in sight. It didn’t matter to me. I was too jazzed listening to Reibstein, Daly, McDonald, Richer and Quinn to care. Listening to the world’s best marketers makes me smile in a way no comedian can.

Michael Krauss is president of Market Strategy Group, based in Chicago, and can be reached at or



 ©2008 Marion Consulting Partners