10 career backgrounds you wouldn’t expect chief marketing officers to have

Todays CMOs come from a vast variety of professional backgrounds - here's proof

Sandra de Castro, former CMO, National Australia Bank

The former marketing leader for NAB studied biology as an undergraduate in Oxford before changing tack and deciding to look for a business role.

De Castro joined London-based boutique strategy consulting group, Corporate Value Associates, and over a 15-year tenure, rose to partner. The job gave her the opportunity to see inside all sorts of businesses not only in the UK and Europe, but also globally.

It was there that de Castro built her skills on the demand side of strategy, including customer segmentation and interaction, CRM and design. It was this expertise that helped her create the methodologies used to understand customer engagement and bring that style of thinking to CVA’s clients.

“All of that is about understanding what it is the customers want, and the parts of the business involved in actually giving it to them,” she said. “You have to please your customers to survive; it’s the law of business in many ways.”

Working with several large financial services and banking clients such as ING, de Castro got the opportunity to join NAB in a strategy and marketing role when she relocated to Australia in 2008.

“I’d had a lot of experience on the strategy side and in many cases, marketing is very much about reflecting those strategic objectives and goals,” she said in a 2014 interview with CMO.

Eighteen months in, NAB changed corporate direction and de Castro was asked to temporarily lead the newly centralised marketing function. Four months later, she assumed the role permanently. “You could say that I’m the accidental marketer; I sort of ended up here,” she added.

Sandra de Castro
Sandra de Castro

Mike Billing, former marketing director, Melbourne Storm

Before he became a marketer, and even before he began working in health clubs in Richmond, Victoria, Billing was an assault pioneer platoon commander within the Australian Army Royal Queensland Unit.

During his four-year career in the army, he was responsible for planning and coordinating all aspects of the training and maintenance of specialist military skills for a platoon of 35 soldiers. The role of the Assault Pioneer Platoon includes field engineering, demolitions, booby trapping, mine warfare, battle noise simulation, watermanship and basic infantry skills including drill, navigation, shooting, patrolling, discipline and general fitness.

Billing was promoted to Lieutenant from Second Lieutenant in 1996 before exiting the army. From there, he worked as a manager in health clubs, then an operations and venue manager for the Doha Asian Games, and as a client manager at Sport England, before his first marketing and membership manager’s job with Melbourne Heart in 2010.This led to becoming marketing director at Melbourne Storm.

Yet there’s a common thread in this career history: Bringing people together to make change happen.

“The CMO needs to be able to surround themselves with good people who have strong skills in their particular area,” Billing said. “Any CMO I’m sure will say that they wouldn’t succeed in their role without the team they have around them.”

Mike Billing
Mike Billing

Vittoria Shortt, CMO, Commonwealth Bank

Boasting of a less-than-traditional marketing career to many of Australia’s current marketing leaders, Shortt spent the first eight years of her professional life in corporate finance, mergers and acquisitions. This included stints with Deloitte as well as Carter Holt Harvey in New Zealand.

Vittoria holds a Bachelor of Management Studies majoring in Accounting and Finance from Waikato University in New Zealand, and is also a Chartered Accountant.

From her finance roots, Shortt moved into a number of different roles across HR, IT, strategy, sales, operations and marketing. These allowed her to build general business acumen through diverse functional experiences, predominantly in banking.

Having run retail banking for Bankwest and owning brand and marketing, she came into the bigger Commonwealth Bank group as CMO in September 2013. In 2015, Shortt joined the leadership team and added to strategy and M&A to the CMO function.

Vittoria Shortt
Vittoria Shortt

John Moore, marketing director, Bupa

Moore describes himself as an accidental marketer who has no formal marketing qualifications. Yet he’s managed to stake out a successful 25-year career in an industry he claims has transformed itself at least twice during that time.

Moore is in fact an economist by training, completing a degree in Tasmania. And when he came into the marketing sphere, he was the analytics data guy.

“For the first 10 years of my career, marketing was always customer research and data analytics,” he told CMO in an interview. “Then there was a big flip where you had the creative in charge of marketing to someone who understood the behaviour of people and why they did things. That first highlight was seeing that flip in the industry.

“Step forward another decade, and I spend more time in technology than I do data or creative.”

While marketing is a hugely challenging field to be in these days, Moore still thinks his best career highlights are to come.

“I stumbled on a sector where you can stay curious and have to constantly evolve yourself otherwise you’ll be out of work very quickly or doing some very average stuff,” he added. “There also aren’t many jobs that let you work in eight or nine countries, travel the world, and have some great personal experiences that come from living and working in different markets.”

John Moore
John Moore

Tony Phillips, former CMO, Woolworths

Woolworths’ shortlived CMO actually commenced his professional career in the entertainment industry.

Fresh out of school, Phillips joined Melbourne-based production company, JC Williamson Productions, run by iconic entertainment businessman, Kenn Brodziak, known for bringing the Beatles to Australia in 1964. Phillips started as an office boy before being made manager of the show, They Are Playing Our Song, in Sydney at age 21.

“It was an extraordinary experience for a young man at the Theatre Royal, with Jacki Weaver and John Waters,” he recalled.

Phillips spent eight years with JC including six years as a tour manager, and managed Peter Allen’s 1980s Australian tour. He was, in fact, with the great performer when he penned I Still Call Australia Home. But after a failed stage show in 1985, and the 1987 recession, the business closed.

Phillips gravitated to advertising, working for several organisations before establishing George Patterson’s first retail arm. Clients stretched from Myer and Coles to Medibank Private and Ansett, while the team included industry notables, Hamish McLennan and Russel Howcroft.

It was from there that he joined the Coles marketing team in 2007, before switching supermarkets and becoming Woolworths CMO in March 2014. Phillips departed the role after just one year in May 2015.

Tony Phillips
Tony Phillips

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