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Getting a seat at the top table

Posted: 17 May 2017


Brits appear to be less intent on getting to the top of the corporate ladder than their US counterparts – or at least that’s the impression you get when searching online. Type ‘Getting a seat at the table’ into Google and you get served up pages upon pages of content about how to secure a place in the C-suite. However, filter the results for UK-only and you’re more inclined to see tips on how to get a table at a popular restaurant.

Perhaps it’s to do with the British psyche – to aim high, just not too high, as that will only end in disappointment.

In our experience, however, it’s more a case of Brits not wanting to disclose their ambitions than not having any ambitions at all. Isn’t it about time that changed?

There’s nothing wrong in unabashedly aiming high. In fact, you might argue that you’ve got to tell yourself that, one day, you’re going to become an executive if you want any chance that it’s ever going to happen. Unfortunately, rarely do the modest and meek get into the C-suite.

Marketers, too, can now viably harbour aspirations to get a seat at the top table. Over one fifth (21%) of all FTSE 100 CEOs now come from a sales or marketing background, reports Heidrick & Struggles.

So, what does it take to make the progression from marketing manager to CMO? We’ve identified five things that will help you stand out in the eyes of the executive committee.


Show marketing’s impact on the whole business

One person who has recently taken up an executive role having previously worked in marketing is Santander’s Keith Moor. The financial brand’s chief marketing officer now has a greater say in corporate decisions having been honoured with a seat at the top table.

He credits his promotion, in part, to being able to “speak the same language as the finance department or tech department”. Speaking to Marketing Week, he explained that a CMO must be able to show the impact the marketing department is having on the whole business:

“Gone are the days where it was just enough to deliver a great campaign in a separate wing of the building, instead you now need to be fully aligned with every division on a daily basis.”

Get experience in a range of roles…

A major study of 459,000 one-time management consultants by the social network LinkedIn, conducted last year, showed how important it is to gain experience across departments, in a range of roles.

The findings revealed how a person who spends all their years working in a single department stands less of a chance of reaching a top executive job than someone who has taken up roles in different areas of the business. It makes sense: the person will be left with a better understanding of business operations that way.

… Just don’t move too much

All that said, too much chopping and changing of roles and industries can actually be counterproductive to climbing the corporate ladder, according to the same LinkedIn study.

In order to gain the trust of the C-suite, a marketer will likely need to develop a nuanced relationship with them over a number of years. Moor, for example, has been with Santander since the mid-1990s – that’s 20 years’ worth of trust that’s been built up.


Work on your charisma

There are certain traits that a marketer must possess if they are to make their way into the C-suite. Of course, they’re going to need the ability to do a lot of things well, but just as important is charisma.

Various different studies suggest that charismatic executives are more able to get employees committed to a shared vision of success, thus improving the bottom line. Reason enough, then, for the business hierarchy to favour those with magnetic qualities.


Flex your creative muscles

This is one department where, in theory, marketers should have an upper hand. As a marketer, you are often defined by your creativity – to generate ideas that can yield business value.

Leaders know that a creative executive can set the tone for an entire organisation. Indeed, a C-suite might be considered incomplete without a creative head encouraging executives to see things in a new and forward-thinking way.

So, go ahead and make yourself known to the powers that be. It might not hurt to voice your ambitions while you’re there, too.


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