‘Why CMOs Never Last:’ UVA Darden Professor’s Article Lands HBR Cover

26 June 2017

By Jay Hodgkins

Professor Kimberly Whitler, a member of the marketing faculty at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, landed two articles in the July–August 2017 print issue of Harvard Business Review. The issue, “The Trouble With CMOs,” includes articles co-authored by Whitler titled “Why CMOs Never Last” and “The Power Partnership: CMO & CIO.”

In “Why CMOs Never Last,” Whitler and her co-author explore the reasons why chief marketing officers are statistically so likely to leave their positions.

In 2012 a leading retailer began looking for a new chief marketing officer. The job description made the opening sound exciting: The new CMO would play a big, important role, leading the company’s efforts to boost revenues and profits. It seemed like the kind of opportunity any would-be CMO might desire.

Sure enough, the company landed a sea­soned, talented executive from the consumer-­packaged-goods industry, who came on board determined to make his mark.

But a year later the new CMO was feeling deeply frustrated. Given the job description, his experience, and his conversations with the recruiter and the chain’s CEO, he’d assumed he’d have the authority to create a strategy for driving growth. To his surprise, his role was limited mostly to marketing communications, including advertising and social media. He had no responsibility for (and limited influence over) product launches, pricing, and store openings. The problem, he told us, wasn’t that his skills prevented him from meeting the company’s goals; it was that the job was so poorly designed—and there was such a mismatch between the CMO’s authority and the CEO’s expectations—that it would be difficult for anyone to succeed in it. Soon after he spoke with us, the CMO left the company.

In “The Power Partnership,” Whitler and her co-authors examine why chief marketing officers and chief information officers are becoming essential allies in a modern business context where technology and data are paramount to successful marketing efforts.

Regal Entertainment Group provides a good example of how horizontal alignment measures can spark collaboration. Digital marketing has become a strategic priority in the theater industry, so when CEO Amy Miles decided to replace Regal’s CMO in 2012, she knew the next marketing chief would need to work closely with CIO David Doyle. She tied both executives’ bonuses to shared goals they could hit only by collaborating. The metrics included the percentage of tickets sold on Regal’s app or website, the percentage of customers visiting Regal’s self-service kiosks, the speed of ticket lines in theaters, and metrics related to customers’ website experience (such as load times) and the relaunch of the Regal Crown Club loyalty program.

Read the full article “Why CMOs Never Last” online, or find both articles in the latest print issue of HBR.

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About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business prepares responsible global leaders through unparalleled transformational learning experiences. Darden’s graduate degree programs (MBA, MSBA and Ph.D.) and Executive Education & Lifelong Learning programs offered by the Darden School Foundation set the stage for a lifetime of career advancement and impact. Darden’s top-ranked faculty, renowned for teaching excellence, inspires and shapes modern business leadership worldwide through research, thought leadership and business publishing. Darden has Grounds in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Washington, D.C., area and a global community that includes 18,000 alumni in 90 countries. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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