Inspirational leaders – Mike Hoban – transitioning from CMO to CEO

Grace Blue’s series of leadership talks continued this week with Mike Hoban. Mike’s career to date has seen him revitalise brands across multiple sectors, most recently as Marketing Director of Morrisons and before that in roles at British Airways, and Scottish Widows. In 2020 he joined premium online butcher Donald Russell (part of Vestey Holdings) as CEO, and was with us to discuss the CMO to CEO transition and how more marketers can stand themselves in good stead to make this relatively uncommon move.

Mike began by questioning why the CMO to CEO transition is a rare phenomenon and pondered the narrow lens through which some marketers view their own influence within an organisation. Too many, he feels, are tactical and concerned exclusively with the creative output of their business, often abdicating responsibility for strategy to the creative agency. Some take a broader view in representing the voice of the consumer and fewer go one step further and champion the consumer voice even when it isn’t the easy path to follow internally. However, the most successful marketers, and those Mike believes are best able to transition to CEO, are those who understand the significant role they play in ensuring a business meets its overarching commercial and strategic objectives.

Mike’s counsel for marketers with CEO ambitions centred on three areas:

Firstly, he advised that marketers need to be commercial and concerned with the financial performance of the business. They should understand how to drive revenue, understand how to grow the top and the bottom line and avoid the perception of being solely a cost centre.

Secondly, they should be strategic and concerned with the purpose, vision and values of the business. Marketers need to understand how the business can compete and the critical competencies that it needs to make it better and different from the rest.

And thirdly, they should focus on three areas: the people who work within the organisation (assess their technical competence, their behaviour, and their potential); the culture (the organisation’s social behaviour, its shared beliefs and its common customs); and delivery (what is your output, what are the timings, costs and returns and pivotally can you push further than you need to?).

In concluding Mike discussed his own experience of moving in the CEO role. He talked candidly about the great responsibility he feels as a CEO and the significance of the decisions he now makes. He talked about what he sees as the significant shift in his thinking from what he needs “to do” to (as CMO) to what he needs “to be” (as CEO). And he shared with us the Maya Angelou quote, ‘people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel,’ and he told us he tries to apply this to his day-to-day; being conscious in every meeting, seeing everyone and understanding the impact of all his interactions.

Mike’s perspective is that great marketers will bring this combination of strategic, commercial, and operational prowess and will therefore be very well placed to transition to great CEOs. We have certainly enjoyed getting to know Mike as he made the transition and look forward to more of this from our best marketers.