CMO marketing executive search

2024 Will Be the Year of the CMO, Just Not at UPS

Two months ago, United Parcel Service (UPS) announced the departure of their Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) and the elimination of the role. Since then, a variety of reports and information have come out, none of them really get to the heart of the challenge we are seeing with corporations, CMO’s, CMO job candidates, and how to hire a CMO.

Historical Context: Similar Situations in Other Companies

As other companies have tried eliminating the CMO role, only to change their mind, why are we seeing this troubling trend continue? History as our guide when this has been tried before it has not worked out well. Both Coca-Cola, in 2017, and McDonalds, in 2019 eliminated their CMO role. They brought the role back in 2019 and 2020 respectively. These two great marketing companies brought back a CMO when growth lagged without one. Since bringing the CMO role back, the CEO of McDonald’s has highlighted marketing excellence within the organization and the job of the CMO has done as a key growth driver.

We are using the UPS story as an example, multiple other large companies got rid of their CMO role in 2023, so they are not the only ones. The trend is troubling as companies eliminating this role are choosing to sacrifice growth, profit and organizational stability.

MarketPro’s Insights and CMO Executive Search Experience

MarketPro is the leading marketing executive search firm and about forty percent of our work is CMO executive search. We did not work with UPS as a CMO Recruiter in filling their last CMO role and have no inside knowledge into the situation. All our insights come from observing the situation from the outside and over twenty-five years’ experience as CMO headhunters.

Marketing Executive Search Expert Analysis of the CMO Role at UPS

So, what went wrong with the CMO role and more specifically, UPS marketing and brand which used to be powerful. Who can forget, “What can Brown do for You?” UPS’s marketing has seemed to be on a downward trajectory since they retired that slogan in 2017.

The recently departed CMO at UPS was hired in after a thirty-plus year career at Xerox. When we think about companies that are great at marketing or have great brands, Xerox is not on the list. Coming from Xerox alone should have ruled him out from contention for the CMO job at UPS. But it is worse than that. He was not ever in a pure marketing role at Xerox. His last role was Chief Commercial Officer (CCO), which included marketing among his duties but had many other responsibilities. Prior to the CCO role, he spent an extended period as President of various business units and geographies, where he looks to have been very successful. The lack of previous success in a pure marketing leadership role and the lack of a marketing foundation to his career also should have also ruled him out from contention for the role.

Ultimately, due to his lack of marketing experience, he was set up to fail as the CMO of UPS. Which leads us to who is at fault and we have lots of blame to go around. If UPS utilized an executive search firm for this role, they failed by putting forward an unqualified candidate, for CMO roles this is a frequent occurrence if the search firm partner themselves do not have a marketing background.

The candidate failed, as an executive you need to have enough self-awareness and emotional maturity to realize when you are in over your head. Great background, qualified to do many high-level roles, but not this one.

With UPS, the CEO, CHRO and Executive Leadership Team (ELT) at UPS all failed. The CEO did not understand marketing or appreciate what great marketing looks like enough to identify what they needed in a successful candidate. The ELT who interviewed this candidate and voted for him to be hired also did not understand marketing or what it would take to be successful in the role.

Rather than reevaluate the process, learn from past mistakes and make a better decision going forward, UPS decided to eliminate the role and roll marketing up under an executive who now is responsible for global revenue, product management, global strategy and transformation. In light of UPS current declining market share did they just set another executive up for failure?

The Bigger Picture: Implications for the CMO Role

As we said earlier, UPS is not the only company going through this. What does this say about the CMO role, still the shortest tenure in the C-Suite and those responsible for hiring?

First let’s look at current CMO’s and candidates for CMO opportunities. To be successful you need to be a strategic driver of marketing, what it can do for the organization and how it is going to enable growth. While driving success, you need to be able to educate the organization on the power of marketing and allow marketing and the vision you have for the organization to uplift the companies culture. While doing this you need to be a life-long learner who is future proofing the company, a current example of this is great CMO’s are leading their companies with regards to artificial intelligence. As fast as marketing in changing it is now more important than ever to have an “A” player in your CMO role. In our view, “A” player’s make-up less than fifteen percent of current CMO’s or marketers who are ready to step up and be a CMO. How you structure your hiring process is critically important.

Switching to the CEO and the company doing the hiring, we see many challenges. The CEO did not eliminate the CMO role at UPS due to confidence the role could be successful or had value. Quite the opposite. The role was not adding value, so it was viewed as a cost center, not a strategic driver of growth. In reality the CEO made a bad hire and did not understand enough about what marketing is or its power to drive growth to create a better hiring process this time around. Which is unfortunate because based on current market conditions and business challenges they are facing, the CMO role is the most important job at UPS today.

Over 90% of CEO’s do not come from marketing, finance and operations are much more likely paths to the CEO role. Non-marketing CEO’s, which is almost all of them, need help in understanding the power of marketing, understanding what marketing can and should be doing for the organization and most importantly what a great CMO candidate looks like.

The Chief Human Resources Officer can and should be offering guidance, but they won’t have a marketing background. Certainly, they can lead the selection of an appropriate CMO executive search firm. Interestingly about twenty percent of the CMO searches we work on come after another search firm has tried and failed to successfully fill the role.

Organizations and executive search firms are failing to find the right candidates, why? Marketing is complex, it is not like finance, operations or IT where candidate identification is more straight forward. Additionally, for the CMO role more than any other C-Suite job, you are more likely to have an interview process where none of the interviewers are subject matter experts.

In marketing you have different pathways to the CMO role, that could include brand, digital, communications, lead generation to name a few. Aligning how a candidate got to the CMO role with the marketing goals of the organization is critical for success. To do that you need someone with real expertise in marketing. Using the same search firm, you chose to find your last COO or CFO is going to create a process where no one has the expertise to help you win.

The key to a successful CMO executive search starts with a marketing executive search firm that has former marketers doing the recruiting, screening and vetting of talent. Marketers, especially at the senior level, are great storytellers and it takes a marketer to separate fact from fiction in the interview process. Going down this path is risk mitigation for the CEO, how do I hire the candidate with the highest possible upside while minimizing my downside risk.