How a CMO Sees the World
Week after week in Classroom A53, Yale SOM students heard directly from chief marketing officers at some of the world's most successful companies. One dominant theme emerged from this seminar in contemporary marketing: global dynamics and technology are reshaping the marketplace as never before, and marketers today need a sophisticated and broad understanding of their teams, their clients, and the world stage.
The course is Strategic Marketing Leadership: The Role of a Chief Marketing Officer. First offered in the spring 2012 semester, it aims to give students a complete view of the CMO role. Co-taught by Ravi Dhar, the George Rogers Clark Professor of Management and Marketing and director of the Yale Center for Customer Insights (YCCI), and Arun Sinha, senior faculty fellow and YCCI executive-in-residence, the course offers what Sinha calls the "C-suite perspective"—the overarching, holistic understanding of an organization that a top executive needs.
"This course is a real differentiator for Yale. I haven't seen this being done at any other schools," Sinha says, explaining that what's missing from most business schools' curricula is a conceptual framework that illustrates the vital relationships between functional departments. "The moment you start thinking horizontally across an organization, when you start aligning and connecting functions, the job becomes very complex," says Sinha, the former chief marketing and communications officer for Zurich Financial Services. "In my old job we hired hundreds of MBAs and post-graduate students worldwide. Then we put them through three years of learning from the different groups—marketing, finance, all the elements. This course is trying to cut those three years into seven classes. It's impossible to teach everything, but we're holding up a roadmap of the complex interactions involved."
The course reflects the spirit of Yale SOM's integrated curriculum by crossing interdisciplinary boundaries to provide a more complex view of the challenges organizations face. Weekly guest speakers, drawn from a spectrum of sectors, addressed big questions in marketing, citing real-life examples from their workplaces. Sinha and Dhar then led in-depth discussion of each topic.
Discussing global brand management, Antonio Lucio, CMO of Visa, told the class that he looks for a "global mindset" in job candidates. "You are going to be judged by your ability to move between global and local," Lucio said. "We're becoming more global and more local at the same time. There has never been a greater need for the marketing function than now."
Similarly, while addressing customer insights, David Calhoun, CEO of Nielsen, stressed the importance of understanding today's rapidly shifting demographics, including streams of migration that are altering "countries you think you know."
Kayo Osaka '12, one of the students who took the course, appreciated the speakers' frankness. "Being able to hear about first-hand experience and get advice from these C-level executives was just an amazing opportunity," she says. In particular, Osaka valued the descriptions of essential qualities in job candidates. One of the top traits many speakers mentioned was global experience, or at least interest in marketing with a global framework. "This ties in really well with the SOM curriculum, which includes an international experience," says Osaka, who is now working for Nielsen as a senior analyst on the analytic consulting team.
Other speakers included Brian Fetherstonhaugh, CEO of OgilvyOne Worldwide, who addressed digital marketing; John Hayes, CMO of American Express, who discussed portfolio management; and Satish Korde, global client director for WPP, who discussed transformation within a company.
Beth Comstock, senior vice president and CMO of GE, focused on innovation and the increasingly complex role that data plays in marketing. "Big data is the era of big marketing. You've got to think big," she said, describing the difference between technology-led innovation and market-led innovation and stressing the need for a diverse and versatile marketing team.
The digital and data themes were especially relevant to Patty Devlin '13, who took the course as she was preparing for a summer internship at Google. "It was affirming to hear that we need to wrap our heads, and our hands, around this notion of big data," Devlin says. "You've got to be comfortable with data. You have to be able to simplify it." Devlin also valued the speakers' comments on corporate transformation and understanding the composition and dynamics of a strong marketing team. "We started to see why the collaborative process matters so much. Sitting down and reading can only get you so far, but being able to speak face-to-face with a CMO is part of the value of coming to Yale," she says. "We all felt really privileged to have access to this group of leaders."