Mondelez International recently promoted Anil Viswanathan, a senior marketing executive to lead the firm as managing director for Vietnam, South East Asia. This appointment affirms a strong hiring trend where an increasing number of companies – both multinationals and startups – are relying on marketing and sales talent to lead their operations.
In August, Santosh Iyer, vice president - sales & marketing, Mercedes-Benz India, was elevated to the position of managing director of the company. From January 1, 2023, Iyer will be taking over the position from Martin Schwenk who is all set to take over a global role. Iyer has been heading the marketing and customer service efforts of the luxury German carmaker in India for close to seven consecutive years.
Sukhleen Aneja believes career marketers bring an in-depth understanding of consumer trends coupled with strong execution abilities to leadership roles. Not too long ago, Aneja, who comes with two decades of experience at legacy FMCG firms, took over as the CEO to head the brands and FMCG business at beauty and personal care unicorn The Good Glamm Group. Her career file includes successful stints at Hindustan Unilever and L'Oréal Paris. Aneja's last job was at Reckitt where she was chief marketing officer of the hygiene portfolio across South Asia.
Aneja joins the bandwagon of career marketers who are making a bold and confident transition to lead organisations as CEOs and in key business roles. While legacy companies have a fair number of C-level marketing leaders, new-age companies and startups are catching up now, taking bets on people who come from marketing and sales backgrounds.
Legacy companies and leadership
For decades, legacy companies, especially in the FMCG space, have been tapping and grooming marketing and sales talent for C-suite positions.
Take a look at the C-level business leaders at legacy companies who have held marketing and sales-oriented roles and/or transitioned from CMO/marketing chiefs to CEO.
Marketers in C-suite (Currently in position)
In 2018, Colgate-Palmolive India elevated its chief marketing officer Mukul Deoras as chairman of the company. Deoras has held several leadership positions at the global FMCG major.
Colgate-Palmolive India’s former MD, Ram Raghavan also had roots in the marketing and sales functions. He recently took on a global role as President, Enterprise Oral Care, for Colgate Palmolive Company. His successor Prabha Narasimhan, too, had held several marketing positions during her long career at Hindustan Unilever before joining Colgate as MD this year.
In a previous interview with Storyboard18's editor Delshad Irani, Raghavan had said, “My marketing assignments gave me a more holistic outlook to the organization because marketing as a function tends to touch upon everything from R&D to sales, supply chain and finance."
Raghavan started in sales or customer development, and very early in his career he had the opportunity to manage a team.
“Something that in other functions, perhaps you would do significantly later. Sales also helps you amplify that mindset of getting things done, a results orientation,” he notes.
Industry experts believe that marketing and sales executives have business acumen and they are directly dealing with the clients/consumers which helps them in leading companies.
“….this experience helps them in the CEO roles as it also involves dealing with people and numbers directly. If we look at the big picture, the CEO role cannot be seen solely from one function which is why we are witnessing companies appointing people from different backgrounds and functional areas,” says Executive Access India MD Ronesh Puri.
Executives who have spent much of their career in customer-facing roles like sales and marketing develop a sharp sense of market reality that similar level leaders in more staff functions don’t have the benefit of, says business strategist and angel investor Lloyd Mathias.
More and more organisations are now encouraging people in broadening assignments. So, the sales talent is encouraged to do marketing and vice-versa. The idea is to groom talent over a two-decade period and broaden their skill sets.
Several career marketers have made bold and confident transitions to lead organizations. They bring with them training and traits that are more critical today than ever before which bolster this ongoing trend of marketers transitioning to leadership roles.