The CMO50 and the forks in the road

We ask 16 of this year's top 50 chief marketing officers to share a professional career move that proved to be one of the best decisions they've made to date

Do you have a fork in the road you didn’t take professionally and reflect on as one of your best careers moves to date?

Our CMO50 alumni for 2022 certainly have. As part of this year’s profiling, we asked all of our top 50 and Ones to Watch to tell us about a particular career decision they made – or didn’t make – and how it’s helped them get to where they are as marketing leaders today. Here is just a sample of the very interesting responses and career decisions we got back.

Flintfox International chief marketing and innovation officer, Cath Brands

My very first career fork happened at the age of 15 during work experience week. I had the choice of working at the local hairdresser or a radio station. The thrill of hearing my first jingle broadcast on local radio was the memory that came flooding back when my second career fork occurred 20 years later.

I was faced with the option of moving into the world of management consulting in Melbourne or going to work for in Seattle. It may seem a no-brainer decision, but the deal breaker for me was the idea of not being directly involved in building brands and seeing people connect with content. That annoying jingle all those years ago got me hooked on marketing for life.

Guzman Y Gomez CMO, Lara Thom

When I was 22 years old, I was working for News Limited. I wrote an article in the Daily Telegraph, which caught the eye of my Federal Member of Parliament, Joe Hockey, who later went on to become Treasurer. I went on to represent the media sector on a number of advisory councils he was working on in Canberra. He was impressed with my attitude towards Youth Affairs and offered me a job working in his office.

A political career pre-Internet wasn’t what it was today; I won’t say politicians were respected but it wasn’t the worst career to have. So I considered it seriously. I ultimately decided against it and when I said no to the role, his response was “in hindsight, you are probably making the right decision, I genuinely think you’re destined for bigger things than politics”. I’ve never forgotten that conversation. He saved me from a very risky career move but also gave me the fuel to believe, from a young age, that I was capable of building a fulfilling and successful career.

Funlab CMO, Oonagh Flanagan

Someone once encouraged me to find a category I liked and stick with it. I’ve firmly ignored that advice and gained experience across numerous different categories. It’s something that has served me well as a marketer and been invaluable to the businesses I’ve worked for.

From financial services and telco, casino to proptech and now out-of-home entertainment, I’ve enjoyed a hugely varied career and learned a lot along the way. I’ve always been sceptical about businesses or leaders who insist on specific category experience versus marketing know-how and experience. The most competent marketers I’ve worked with have had a more varied experience.

Baiada head of marketing, Yash Gandhi

After 14 years in advertising, 11 of which were at the same advertising agency, working through the creative, strategy, new business and account management departments; along with being a founding member of its agency in an emerging country like India – some would say my path was pretty much set. That was until an opportunity to go client side to head up the marketing department of one of Australia’s leading poultry companies came my way. I took the leap of faith and thankfully, haven’t looked back since.  

Maurice Blackburn GM marketing, Caroline Ruddick

When working in the packaged good category, I was offered a transfer to South Korea, in a sales leadership role. But it was not my dream job or location. I went instead to work at George Patterson Bates for three years, which set me up perfectly for my next step which was my dream job and location. 

I spent almost three years living in New York City and working in advertising at Grey Worldwide. I had the time of my life personally and professionally. The highlight was a two-week shoot in Buenos Aires.

Destination NSW GM consumer marketing, Kathryn Illy

I was offered a number of ‘head of marketing’ financial services roles after leaving Macquarie Bank. I knew I wouldn’t be able to grow, learn something different or extend my capabilities beyond ‘financial services marketing’ if I didn’t try something new, so I waited for a role that enabled me to stretch my skills and capabilities. I didn’t want to be pigeon-holed as a financial services marketer, so made a conscious decision to be known as a strategic marketer who solves business problems first. This built my confidence my capabilities were transferrable across different industries.

The Arnott’s Group CMO, Jenni Dill

I originally planned to work in physio/sports medicine doctor/sports psychologist. I missed the university entrance by a few points and completed a business degree as a backup, intending to transfer after my first year. I fell in love with marketing in my first semester and here I am many years later, still energised and excited about what I do.

Chatime CMO, Joanna Robinson

Having spent most of my working career in FMCG marketing, I was on a solid career path in that industry and could have stayed on that trajectory. GHowever, I had the opportunity to jump into the world of cosmetics and skincare with Estee Lauder in 2012 in the Middle East. It was the beginning of my moves across different industries, categories and brands and has helped developed my ability to be agile and adaptable. 

Marley Spoon chief marketing and growth officer, Kate Whitney

I've had a few defining moments in my career. But the day I chose direct marketing versus media or traditional brand advertising straight out of uni would have to be the golden choice. So many of my Uni mates went into media as assistants at Lintas, and I went downstairs and worked as reception on the front desk of Lintas Sprint. It was seen as the poor cousin of advertising, otherwise known as 'shit that folds', and taking that road has proven again and again to be the best decision I've ever made.

The concept of being able to elicit a response from a customer and measure it may have been unfashionable at the time, but I've made a career out of data-driven and performance marketing and loved every minute of it. 

Blackmores Group chief marketing and innovation officer, Joanne Smith

After eight years working in New York, I was offered a senior role in a new company. I instead moved to Asia to get experience in the Asian markets. Although I loved the US, it was a great decision because it gave me the opportunity to understand Asia on a deeper level and to learn about new consumers groups in a completely different environment.

Penfolds (Treasury Wine Estates) CMO, Kristy Keyte

Earlier in my career, I had taken the opportunity to move from trade marketing into sales. This was one of the most significant career decisions I have ever made and really rounded me out for my future growth as a marketer, but my fork in the road was actually around my career following this stint. I had to choose between an immediate opportunity in front of me to get back into trade marketing again, or to hedge my bets and wait for a consumer marketing job that would really round out my marketing skill set and get me closer to the consumer. I chose the latter.

It took tenacity after an initial knock back, but I got my assistant brand manager gig in the end - one of the best career moves I have made. Without a doubt, it has enabled me to get to where I am today.

HBF GM marketing and engagement, Louise Ardagh

This had to be when I chose to leave a bourgeoning career in financial services and a professional network in Melbourne to join a startup marketing and sponsorship consultancy in Shanghai.

It was the early 2000s and the experience were the most challenging, hectic, confronting and rewarding periods of my career. I packed up my life, moved to Shanghai, and worked in a startup consultancy funded by a VC group. I spent nearly seven years working in China and Hong Kong.

Even though when I returned to Australia in 2008, it felt like my China experience didn’t really add huge value to my future career path, it turned out to be one of the most impactful learning and personal development experiences of my life. I learned so much about myself, business, cultural differences and human similarities that have made me a better negotiator, marketer, and leader of people that I am today.

Kennards Hire GM marketing and customer, Manelle Merhi

I originally began my university studies enrolled in an Orthoptics degree. I realised very early on after a short stint in a hospital clinical work experience role, that it wasn’t for me. A family friend recommended I try marketing, so I transferred degrees to business and commerce with a major in marketing. The minute I studied my first marketing fundamentals 101 unit, I just knew it was for me. I felt passion and enthusiasm; the same feelings I have today working in the marketing field.

This fork in my road meant I am able to wake up every day feeling energised and hungry for what the day has ahead. Marketing is my calling and I absolutely I love what I do. I genuinely believe from my own experience that people should always pursue their passions. It’s the difference between just going to work and living your best life with passion and purpose. 

MyDeal CMO, Ryan Gracie

I had secured a very good role at a leading media organisation. Just prior to starting, I was approached by Catch founders, Gabby and Hezi Leibovich, to come and look at their marketing operations for a couple of weeks as a consultant. On my second-last consulting day, and three days before I was due to start my new role in media, Hezi made me an offer to stay at Catch. So I had a career defining question to answer: Do I give up a big media role at one of Australia’s largest players, or risk my future and take on a job at this scrappy scale-up?

Well, I quit the media role days before starting and stayed at Catch for another five years. We did some absolutely amazing things, including selling the business to Wesfarmers. It proved to be a sound decision and it was a life changing move.

Booktopia CMO, Steffen Daleng

I decided not to continue my military career, to take a chance on my ecommerce startup. It became the catalyst to starting other companies and living in a few different countries and ultimately meeting my partner and settling with a family here in Australia.

Mars Wrigley Australia marketing director, Ben Hill

I had an opportunity to take an international assignment a few years ago or instead be part of an acquisition which would mean leaving my current employer and being responsible for developing a Marketing function from scratch. I didn’t take the international role and instead ended up moving to Bega where I got a once in a career opportunity to build an entire function, program, portfolio and external ecosystem. Whilst I missed out on the move, it was a great move for my family and career in the end to take the leap of faith.

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