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Storyboard18 - CMO to CEO: Why new-age companies are betting big on marketers to lead them

Borrowing from the leadership playbook of legacy companies, the trend of people with different backgrounds, including sales/marketing, taking over leading business roles at new-age companies and startups is increasingly becoming pronounced in the country

Published: Dec 17, 2021 06:49:44 PM IST
Updated: Dec 17, 2021 07:01:52 PM IST

Storyboard18 - CMO to CEO: Why new-age companies are betting big on marketers to lead themExperts believe that the trend of people with different backgrounds, including sales/marketing taking over leading business roles at the company is increasingly becoming pronounced in the country; Image: Shutterstock

The Good Glamm Group, a beauty and personal care unicorn with an estimated $1.2 billion valuation, Friday announced the appointment of Sukhleen Aneja as the CEO to head the brands business. She brings with her nearly two decades of FMCG and beauty experience, and in her last role, she was the chief marketing officer (CMO) for Reckitt’s hygiene portfolio across South Asia.

Aneja joins a bandwagon of career marketers increasingly making a bold and confident transition to lead organisations as CEOs and in key business roles. While legacy companies have a fair number of C-level marketing leaders, new-age companies and startups are catching up now, taking bets on people who come from marketing and sales backgrounds.
Apart from Aneja, some of the other C-level marketing/sales-born leaders in the startup ecosystem include Flipkart’s Nandita Sinha who recently took over as Myntra CEO; Unacademy elevated its CMO Karan Shroff as a partner; and Nipun Marya who took over iQOO, an online sub-brand of Vivo as CEO. Marya was serving as Vivo’s director, brand strategy. Former Netflix marketing head Swati Mohan joined pet care startup Heads Up For Tails as a chief business officer.  

Experts believe that the trend of people with different backgrounds, including sales/marketing taking over leading business roles at the company is increasingly becoming pronounced in the country.
Executive Access India MD Ronesh Puri informs that this wasn’t the case five years back. He reasons that marketing and sales executives have business acumen and they are directly dealing with the clients/consumers which helps them in leading companies. “….this experience helps them in the CEO roles as it also involves dealing with people and numbers directly. If we look at the big picture, the CEO role cannot be seen solely from one function which is why we are witnessing companies appointing people from different backgrounds and functional areas.”
Executives who have spent much of their career in customer-facing roles such as sales and marketing, develop a sharp sense of market reality that similar level leaders in more staff functions don’t have the benefit of, says business strategist and angel investor Lloyd Mathias to Storyboard18.
“..being close to the market that is the distributor, retailer or end-consumer makes them internalise the issues that impact the business, so when they get onto larger business-leading roles, they can relate better with these issues. This helps them make swifter decisions and also exercise personal leverage in a crunch situation,” he notes.

Storyboard18 - CMO to CEO: Why new-age companies are betting big on marketers to lead them

Broader understanding of business, competition

Good Glamm Group’s Sukhleen Aneja believes that her stints at leading FMCG firms across Reckitt Benckiser, Hindustan Unilever, and L’Oréal Paris have allowed her to understand the frontline functions extremely well, which are the demand creation functions.
“….what invariably becomes a strength for people who come from sales and marketing, and especially marketing, is that it is one function in the company where you have to ace strategic thinking and an ability to be able to create a vision for the organisation while delivering on your current footprint. Therefore, people with a sales and marketing background come with a balance of creating a roadmap for the future along with execution abilities,” she explains.
Aneja also emphasises that more and more organisations are now encouraging people in broadening assignments. So, the sales talent is encouraged to do marketing and vice-versa. The idea is to groom talent over a two-decade period and broaden their skill sets. She says that career marketers leading firms is a universal trend. However, startups become fantastic because they can take early bets on people, which allow them to flourish much sooner.
“Startups play a huge role in risk-taking and, within the organisation, they are taking a risk on people. Those kinds of risks allow many more people to flourish. It’s what IPL did to the new generation of cricketers, startups have been able to do that to the new generation of thinkers and marketers as they got sharper business roles,” she adds.
The marketing function has evolved as well, says Unacademy's Karan Shroff. He believes that two decades ago, marketing probably wasn't as evolved, which led to a lot of businesses seeing it as a vertical, and an expense vertical. Also, because tracking RoI wasn't as effective.
"...but today, with the innate tools at our disposal, it has truly become a business function, and hopefully, it will secure a lot more jobs in all sectors and companies," he remarks.

Storyboard18 - CMO to CEO: Why new-age companies are betting big on marketers to lead them

Skill sets matter

iQOO’s Nipun Marya shares that he started in the product function as a product manager, getting a sense of technology and what consumers look for in products, along with the supply chain. From there, he moved to marketing and brand strategy roles before taking the helm at iOOQ. He says that marketing, and to some extent even product, are two functions that are extremely close to the consumer. So, day in and day out, you are trying to understand what will and won’t work with the consumer.
“For any organisation to do well, you need to understand consumer, competition, and the larger context in which business is working. Marketing gives you that holistic experience and therefore, marketers can certainly go forward and lead the organisation,” he notes.
Marya highlights that it’s not just the function that you’re working in that is the only deciding factor, other skills play an equally important role. According to him, there are both hard and soft skills, especially in the knowledge economy of today that promotes collaboration, team, work, and harmony.
“By hard skills, I mean whether you’re able to deliver results in the function you are in, that’s the most important skill. In soft skills, I would say how your peers and team members look at you as a leader, do you have respect within the organisation, promote teamwork and ethics. More than the function, it is the skill set that matters,” he thinks.

Collaborate to succeed 

While career marketers may be the hot favourite for companies, they do face challenges when it comes to various other functions that are critical for leading an organisation.
“A lot of a C-suite role is about managing people and allocating resources that need a good grounding in Finance and HR,” Mathias notes.
iQOO’s Marya agrees and adds that leaders need to understand that they don’t know everything. “ in today’s day and age, when change is happening so fast and external uncertainties are surrounding all of us keeping this perspective in place that 'though you’re the leader there are experts (whether it is HR, finance or supply chain) around you' is important. I believe when both parties work together, then the best output can come for any organisation,” he concludes.

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