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Where Do CMOs Come From?

What’s the career path for the typical CMO? If you think being a wizard at brand management, developing memorable ad …

What’s the career path for the typical CMO? If you think being a wizard at brand management, developing memorable ad campaigns or making a splash with social media is the predictable path, think again. According to a study conducted by executive search consultant and career expert Kathryn Ullrich, only 34 percent of CMOs and VPs of marketing arrive at the top post because of their experiences in marketing.

Only 34 percent of senior marketing executives come out of the traditional marketing craft. A quarter of CMOs/VPs of marketing have deep domain expertise, whether in an industry or other specialization ranging from high tech, health care, consumer packaged goods, or financial services. A marketing executive with deep domain expertise understands the target customer extremely well, including how best to market the company’s solutions to that target market. Rounding out the balance, 15 percent have strategic or analytic backgrounds, 13 percent come from sales and 14 percent have cross-functional backgrounds. Source: Getting to the Top: Strategies for Career Success by Kathryn Ullrich (2010: Silicon Valley Press).

Ullrich analyzed hundreds of resumes in her search database to categorize the backgrounds of executives reaching chief marketing officer or VP of marketing titles. Her database skews toward high technology companies and contains both marketing executives from major corporations as well as start-ups. About a quarter of CMOs/VPs of marketing have deep domain expertise in areas such as health care, high tech, consumer packaged goods, financial services and mobile applications. “A marketing executive with deep domain expertise understands the target customer extremely well, including how best to market the company’s solutions to that target market,” she says.

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