Best companies for developing C-level marketing leaders in 2016

August 22, 2016 | Forbes

by Kimberly A. Whitler

Which firms have the best reputation for developing marketers that can reach the C-level? What makes them better than their peers? And how do some of the “hot,” newer firms in tech stack up against some of the more mature firms?

To answer these questions, I collaborated with Christine DeYoung, Partner at DHR International, a leading senior-level executive search, management assessment and succession planning company, to survey executive recruiters who specifically place C-level marketers.

While there are a number of different methods for determining the best firms, executive recruiters have a unique perspective that makes them ideally suited for such a study: 1) their job is to work with boards, CEOs, and CHROs to understand the skills needed in C-level marketing roles, and 2) they understand and can compare the training and development culture that exists across firms and industries. As DeYoung explains: “To be a true valued partner to our clients, it is our job as recruiters to understand how different career paths can develop different skills and competencies in executives. Executive recruiters have a birds-eye-view and can compare companies across industries; this provides us with a unique vantage point from which to identify the companies that develop the top C-level marketing leaders.”

In aggregate, the 2016 survey includes executive recruiter responses who represent 19 different firms (including boutique, mid-sized, and large recruiting firms) and have placed over 2600 C-level marketing leaders during the course of their careers.

The 2016 Best Companies for Developing C-Level Marketing Leaders

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Procter & Gamble led the pack, by a large margin, with more than twice as many recruiters ranking them #1 over the second best firm—Pepsico. Respondents suggested that Procter and Gamble’s “systematic and disciplined” P&L training, their emphasis on holding marketers accountable for total business results, and the firm’s track record for developing successful C-level leaders puts them at the top of the list.

Deb Henretta, former Group President at Procter and Gamble and current board member of Staples and Corning Inc., indicates: “Procter & Gamble’s Brand Management organization has proven to be a great training ground for marketing executives and C-suite executives alike. Deeply rooted in the consumer, P&G marketers learn how to glean powerful business insights, and use them to create leading edge product and marketing innovations that drive sustainable top-line and bottom-line results. These experiences produce powerful business and marketing leaders capable of building iconic brands and empowered organizations that produce sustainable results.”

The balance of the top 5 ranked firms were consumer packaged goods (CPG) firms: Pepsico, Coca-Cola, Unilever, General Mills, etc. Of note, while we listed Kraft according to its current company name (KraftHeinz), almost all executive recruiters who identified Kraft as one of the best companies only used the Kraft name.

Interestingly, all of the top 15 firms are large with a decades-long track record for developing talent. One recruiter suggested that while emerging tech firms, such as Google and Facebook show promise, they haven’t yet demonstrated a consistent ability to develop marketing talent internally, versus bringing it in from other indusries.

DeYoung suggests: “Part of the challenge with tech companies is that they are still young. It is unclear whether they can develop, on a sustained basis, a system that develops top marketing talent. Importantly, the best companies tend to put marketers in strategic roles, rather than marketing communication roles. In some industries, marketers are relegated to communicating the strategic innovations led by others. In the best firms, marketers are in the driver’s seat in terms of developing the direction for innovation. This is a big difference. The former tends to prepare marketers to be communicators while the latter prepares marketers for the C-suite. It is still unclear what type of role tech firms want marketers to play—leaders of strategy or followers of strategy.”

However, while Google and Facebook didn’t make the top 15 list, Apple and Amazon did. Reasons cited for Amazon included “analytical rigor,” and “rotational opportunities that provide exposure to a lot of different areas”.

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When asked to describe the attributes of the firms that are best at developing marketing talent, the open-ended responses centered on 7 factors:

1. The best firms recruit the top talent. Consistently, respondents indicated that these firms start by hiring the best-of-the-bes from either top MBA programs or companies.

2. They provide the best training. The top firms are known for having developed systematic, rigorous, and disciplined approaches to development. Managers are often held accountable for the development of those beneath them. Some firms provide cross-functional training while others provide cross-brand training.

3. They have a long track record for developing successful C-level leaders. A reputation is built over time and executive recruiters consistently mentioned the importance of firms’ having demonstrated that they have a “system” for developing talent that transfers well to other firms and industries.

4. Marketers at these firms are trained to be strategic, P&L leaders who “own” brand results. As one executive recruiter suggested, to reach the C-level, you must have P&L management experience. Not all firms believe marketing should be such a central function and therefore don’t provide marketers with enterprise-wide training and preparation. The top 15 firms, in contrast, generally value marketers and train them to be enterprise-wide, P&L leaders who are accountable for total business results—not responsible for just a cost center.

5. Marketers at the best firms have superior consumer-insight generating, analytically-centered skills. The executive recruiters consistently indicated that marketers from the best firms were “consumer-centered” and could generate “innovation-creating insights”.

6. The best firms are big. Many executive recruiters indicated that the best firms were global, with many brands, and were large enough to be well resourced—including budgets that enabled marketers to make investment decisions to drive growth.

7. The best firms have created a purpose-driven and values-based culture. Executive recruiters acknowledged that marketers at these firms have been exposed to brands built on values and purpose. P&G’s mission is to provide products and services of superior quality that improve the lives of the world’s consumers. J&J’s credo is to put the needs and well-being of the people they serve first. Starbucks’ mission is to inspire and nurture the human spirit—one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time. And Coca Cola’s mission is to refresh the world in mind, body, and spirit. These companies all put the consumer at the center of the firm, have very lofty, aspirational mission statements, and have created cultures that stand the test of time.