How Katherine Raskob went from CMO to CEO

Former ADMA CMO, experienced marketing leader and now CEO of the Fundraising Institute of Australia shares her experience of becoming a company chief executive

Katherine Raskob
Katherine Raskob

CEO skills gap

Where Raskob says she experienced the biggest gap in her skillset to date is in board management.

“Reporting to a board is a different thing, and at FIA we have 14 board members,” she says. “Finding a way around managing those relationships is a skill I didn’t have.”

What’s also different is needing to make decisions quickly, and with limited information. “As a CEO that’s what people expect you to do right away, whereas as a marketer, they arguably don’t expect you to make so many decisions as quickly,” she comments. “But it is a requirement of being a CEO and that can be challenging.”

Another aspect to being a CEO is knowing what risks to take with the financial structure, what resources you have and need, and how to make the whole come together in a way that keeps things steady, Raskob says.

“What’s so hard is knowing what the investment priorities should be when you first arrive. So many people will tell you that you need investment into this or that, and previously, I’d have jumped in and tried to work it out. Now, I have to think about the biggest return for the investment, financial or human, because it’s too easy to scattergun and hope something will stick,” she says. “Marketers can have a tendency to do that, and that’s been a huge change for me.

Another thing Raskob was warned about going into a CEO role was making sure she didn’t focus too much on marketing because that’s what she was most comfortable with.

“I was careful about that. When I got to FIA there was no marketer, but luckily there were so many other priorities and things to be resolved, I didn’t have time to fall into that trap,” she says. “The demands are so great on every part of your operation, you don’t have time to worry about all the details of marketing.”  

In her own marketing leader hire, meanwhile, Raskob looked for someone who understands brand, communications, PR and technology enablement with fundraising experience.

“In the first couple of months I didn’t think it was important, but I realised by the second quarter in that as I’m not a fundraiser, I needed that expertise,” she adds.

A further area of skills development for Raskob has been in government lobbying and advocacy, which is very important at FIA and now takes up about one-third of her time. “I love the part about how I can help members by representing them well to Canberra and to state legislators,” she says.  

Helping CMOs step up

While there’s plenty of reasons why CMOs can make great company leaders, the reality is the percentage of global organisations run by former marketing executives remains small. Raskob attributes this less to a perceived lack of commercial acumen across the marketing fraternity, and more to a perception problem outside the marketing function.

“When you look at all the great marketers, you can see them being CEOs. They look as though they have the ability to run and lead the company. I wonder if it’s more the outside world not recognising they have that ability to do so. They’re not seeing the actual strategic skills of the modern marketer,” she says.  

What Raskob does agree, however, is marketers have more on their plates than ever before. This can make it difficult to put your hand up for other non-marketing responsibilities across an organisation – a vital element in building your business muscle. In large organisations, hierarchical structures can also prevent marketers from getting the cross-business view they need to influence and grow strategically.

“I was lucky at ADMA it was a smaller organisation and I sat at the leadership table, so we were running the business… I was able to step up in the organisation and that gave me the experience, skills and confidence to do the CEO role,” Raskob says. “In larger organisations, marketers aren’t always able to do that.”  

Raskob’s advice therefore for CMOs wanting to take that next step up the leadership ladder is to volunteer for jobs outside marketing.

“You can’t be afraid of it – it’s challenging and more work. You do have to buy into that,”  she says. “Marketers do need to demonstrate their willingness to take up those roles.

“Also get out of the box. There is still often that corner where marketing sits. One thing Jodie [Sangster] was good at was not being competitive with me, and giving me those opportunities to expand. You have to just step up and take those opportunities so you’re seen as a leader, not just as the marketer.”

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