Cheryl Hayman FAICD
ASX Non-Executive Director | Chair Remuneration & Nomination Committee | Marketing | Digital | Communications | Growth & Transforation | Global | Customer Engagement | Mentor
For my first article in quite some time, I’m writing about the foundations of my corporate career and how the expertise I gained enables me to deliver value, an outside-in perspective and growth-focussed thinking to any board. I’m inspired to write on this topic because many people who share “non-traditional” backgrounds, like mine from marketing, have asked me how they can break into more of the boardrooms in Australia and beyond.
Prior to my board career, I was a Director of Marketing for large, consumer-facing, global organisations. Ironically enough, my career expertise has sometimes been the reason I’ve been overlooked for a board role with companies that I would have been thrilled and equipped to serve. Executives from non-traditional backgrounds (like me) are often pigeon-holed into a sector of expertise in a way that other traditional executive skill sets aren’t.
So, why are some skills and roles considered industry transferable in a boardroom setting and others not?
There are many respected chairs, talented fellow non-exec directors and dynamic and progressive CEOs who appreciate the diverse skills senior marketers bring to the board table. Some of these people I’m fortunate to call colleagues, confidants, mentors and friends. Sadly, however, there are some business people who still think that executives with a marketing background come from the “colouring-in department”.
Of course, the other misconception, now being disputed and disrupted by enlightened boards and Chairs, is that to add value in a boardroom you must have been a CEO, lawyer or accountant because only people from these backgrounds can understand the numbers and, for a long time, that’s been the reason non-traditional candidates have been overlooked.
While I could talk about the attributes senior-level marketers bring to the board table for hours, below are some of the key deliverables that successful marketing executives and fellow creative, non-traditional and innovative thinkers bring to the boardroom.
We drive growth
As this HBR article says, when marketing is aligned with corporate strategy it delivers growth. Senior marketers have spent their career doing just that and in a boardroom we can ensure growth is wholly integrated with corporate objectives. We know how to identify opportunities, we know the importance of digitisation to facilitate and enhance customer experience, and we know the importance of rigorously testing everything to ensure it will deliver market share.
These skills are particularly relevant to a business looking to grow, innovate, digitise or disrupt. And, in my opinion, following 2020, a company that isn’t looking to achieve at least one of these things is at high risk of missing the changes required to sustain performance.
We bring the customer into the Boardroom
Marketers have the capability to draw insights from information, observation, listening and data to drive decision making. We know the questions to ask. We think from the “outside-in”. We possess innate curiosity and we intuitively put customers at the heart of everything.
We use data and insights to drive decisions
Sophisticated marketing is about numerics. Marketing thinking delivers outcomes using data-based decision making. It’s about smart people driving a business to target and engage more customers via targeted, effective messaging to get the most value from a company’s budget. Marketers can understand, draw insights from and report on live campaign metrics enabling the redeployment of budgets to revenue generating activities and results to be tracked and activities adjusted in real time.
Marketers are the engine room of a business
Marketers are the front end of a company’s operations, tasked to drive maximum transformation, driving the business forward and achieving customer growth. Senior marketers touch almost every aspect of a business - from production and manufacturing to supply chain, finance, legal and product development, all with the customer front of mind. It is the one function in an organisation that has line of sight across all aspects of the business, with a focus on delivering sought-after products or services to the customer alongside profits for the company.
Marketers can read a P&L
There can also be a perception that marketers don’t know how to read a P&L or deliver returns or manage risk. Naturally, financial acumen is a critical skill in any boardroom and in a strategic plan. My counsel is that believing senior marketers don’t have any of these valuable boardroom skills is like assuming January in Australia won’t be hot.
A 2020 study by the AICD found that Australian boardrooms are struggling to innovateand that many boards function with a ‘skills gap’. When the word diversity is mentioned, we think more women on boards, broader ethnic diversity and greater LGBTQI representation, which should be treated as critical by companies and boards. However, there is also skills diversity, which is equally crucial for boards. Expert marketing people on boards deliver skill diversity in spades. We should consider the non traditional in all ways if companies are truly striving for enhanced board effectiveness.
Good marketers think about business in terms of all the stakeholders in the frame and consider a variety of perspectives when making strategic decisions. A benefit of this skill is that it minimises board member “group think”. Just a few of the outcomes I have witnessed from having a diverse board are enhanced productivity and business sustainability, as well as improved brand and reputation.
The mindset that is innate for a marketer can be a lesson for all directors and boards as they navigate the journey ahead in a new light and with new thinking.
First published September 2021
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