From CMO to CEO: BlackBerry's Matt Ball

BlackBerry A/NZ MD Matt Ball talks to CMO about the rise from marketing chief to CEO, and how customer experience is at the heart of his leadership

As a young boy, Matt Ball’s grandfather would take him down to the Coles supermarket at the Sydney northern beaches suburb of Mona Vale, where he would collect trolleys and talk to shoppers about their experience with the retailer.

Ball’s grandfather was Bevan Bradbury, who had served as managing director of Coles through the 1970s until 1982, and went on to become its chairman. His insights left a lasting impression.

“He instilled in me this relentless focus on the consumer and the customer,” Ball says.

It is a focus Ball believes has helped him immensely as he transitioned through his career from a series of marketing roles in telecommunications companies and Microsoft’s Xbox gaming division, to managing director of Australian and New Zealand operations of BlackBerry.

“Customers want to be able to talk to someone who understands them, from the end user to the CEO or CIO of a large organisation,” Ball says. “They want to be able to know that you’ve heard and listened.”

Ball joined BlackBerry as marketing director in 2011 with aspirations to take on the leadership role perhaps two to three years later. Those aspirations were realised early when his managing director quit just seven months after he joined, and her replacement left after just two.

Suddenly Ball found himself called up to lead the local operation – and at a time when its one-time ascendency as the smartphone of choice for business professionals had been under sustained pressure from consumer-born rivals such as Apple and Samsung. His promotion followed news of poor financial results, the laying off of 5000 staff, and the announcement that the much-heralded tenth version of its popular platform would be pushed back into the following year.

“It was a very clear turnaround brief,” Ball says. “I felt it was a challenge I was pretty interested in. I felt like I had a lot of the commercial acumen and strategic thinking required to help BlackBerry be successful. They were for me something I saw as really tangible attributes that were going to help drive forward the BlackBerry business.”

It is for this reason Ball believes listening to customers is an essential skill for any CEO. Whereas the challenge at Xbox was to attract consumers without upsetting its core audience of hard-core gamers, at BlackBerry it is all about winning consumer clients without upsetting its corporate audience. Ball says that takes an ability to develop empathy with existing and new target segments, and is something all CEOs should learn.

“Starting your business thinking with the customer in mind is a very marketing-oriented skill,” Ball says. “The other one I think is important is a sense of continuous improvement. As a marketer that is your job.

“Now taking that from a marketing context into a leadership context, I am constantly thinking about how I can improve the overall business, starting from the customer.”

It seems he has found some success too, tripling market share for the company year-on-year for its last quarter.

The biggest adjustment for Ball in stepping into the lead role has been ensuring that his operational skills have also been up to the challenge. It is something he addressed earlier in his career through an MBA, but he concedes there is nothing quite like managing a live P&L.

“I didn’t come from a finance background,” Ball says. “There's a difference between learning how to do it in a university to owning it, living and breathing it and being accountable for the outcomes.

“I was pretty upfront that that was something I wanted to further develop skill in, and have certainly had some strong help along the way.”

Ball has also strengthened his leadership skills through being part of BlackBerry’s global management team, and through his membership of the Australian CEO Forum.

The way up the corporate ladder

While marketing might not be the most common route to management, Ball says his career progression has been very deliberate, in terms of seeking experience in both corporate and consumer roles, as well as building his marketing skill set.

Ball’s first role upon completing a Bachelor of Business from UTS was as a marketing graduate with an Optus telecommunications reseller. After a few years he moved on to a marketing manager role at telecommunications company, WorldxChange Communications, and then on to Hutchison, where he helped to launch the ‘3’ brand in Australia, before moving on to various roles at rival operator, Vodafone.

During this time Ball completed his MBA from Macquarie Graduate School of Management, and also decided he did not want to get stuck in telecommunications companies his whole life. His next career move was to become the group manager of marketing and communication at the Xbox division of Microsoft, and it was from there that he was poached to take on BlackBerry’s marketing role.

“They desperately wanted to get into the consumer segment, so they liked the fact that I had carrier experience, enterprise experience and consumer experience,” Ball says.

“I thought it was going to take a lot longer around learning the nuances of a different industry. From my experience it is not something I see people readily do – cross the divide from a deep consumer brand into a deep business brand and back.”

Despite the demands of leadership, Ball says he maintains an active role in BlackBerry’s local marketing activities.

“I would like to think that if you did a quick research poll with the marketing team, they would say it’s refreshing to not have to educate an MD on how marketing works,” Ball says. “And me being involved with the marketing team highlights that marketing is important.”

Other From CMO to CEO stories

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO Australia conversation on LinkedIn: CMO Australia, or join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia

Signup to CMO’s new email newsletter to receive your weekly dose of targeted content for the modern marketing chief.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Show Comments

Blog Posts

Creating the ultimate customer-centric environment in 2018

All businesses today that are serious about being successful have adopted a customer-centric environment.

Katja Forbes

Founder and chief, sfyte

Embrace customer obsession to transform marketing into a catalyst for growth

In 2018, Forrester believes 20 per cent of CEOs globally will fail to act on digital transformation and put their firms at risk.

Michael Barnes

VP research director, Forrester

How challenger brands can win at biddable media

Challenger brands, especially in highly competitive markets, generally can’t match established players for media spend.

Chris Pittham

Managing director, Jaywing

While a lot has been said about AI and machine learning, I don't see it put to extensive use as yet. I will be happy to have it help the ...

Atul Dhakappa

Predictions: 8 digital marketing trends for 2018

Read more

Wowww! What A Awsome Blog! Thanks for this wonderful post I really got many valuable information through it. As a learner it's not so eas...

Mia Joseph

Predictions: 8 digital marketing trends for 2018

Read more

What you have said about AI, machine learning and voice activation is very true. Some of the other things we are already observing is the...

Atul Dhakappa

Predictions: 8 digital marketing trends for 2018

Read more

Yes, Digital Marketing now getting growth at the higher level. we can't predict today trends in the digital world. Nice stuff! Thanks for...

lorenso

Predictions: 8 digital marketing trends for 2018

Read more

I believe Digital Marketing is moving more toward social media and influential marketing. People are trying to grow their influence as in...

Rachel Kieran

Predictions: 8 digital marketing trends for 2018

Read more

Latest Podcast

More podcasts

Sign in