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What's the pathway for CMOs to hit CEO?

Published 7 months ago • 2 min read


I recently posted a link to an article by Raconteur on LinkedIn debating why there are so few CEOs within the UK’s FTSE 100 who were former CMOs.

It sparked some good debate on LinkedIn, so I thought I would dive deeper into this topic.

First of all, is it really the case that few people from the marketing discipline fail to make the leap to CEO?

If you look at just the FTSE 100 then you might think so but that is a small sample size and the answer is heavily based on the industry sector that a CMO works in.

Many consumer businesses, especially those digitally born, are heavily driven by demand generation and customer retention which are the domain of CMOs. And in sectors such as this, it is more commonplace to see the CEO with a marketing-centric background.

The more contentious debate on LinkedIn considered a few other points:

  • The perception of marketing: many businesses fail to recognise the value of marketers
  • Communication Challenges: Marketers often struggle to effectively communicate with other business leaders, not spending enough time understanding their perspectives, drivers, and pressures. The message seems to be that marketers need to keep things simple.
  • Building Alliances: CMOs should aim to forge alliances with leaders from various departments, showcasing their holistic understanding and aligning customer priorities with broader commercial goals.

My view is that some of these points can come down to the leadership characteristics of the CMO rather than the role more broadly. A requirement for CEO is prior P&L experience and if a CMO hasn’t had this exposure they will almost certainly be overlooked. I don’t regard the marketers I have interacted with to be any less effective communicators but, like any other function that has a technical component to the job, it is about communicating in straightforward language and showing a strong interest in the entire business.

So is a better question to ask: how many CMOs want to become CEO or have the comfort to become more generalist by nature. Again it comes back to the orientation of your industry.

7 Tips for CMOs wanting to move to the CEO role:

  • Look beyond the marketing function. Where can you add value, experience and exposure to global aspects of the business?
  • How can you build credibility and influence? Be intellectually curious about how the business fits together.
  • Look for ways to demonstrate an analytical mind and understanding of factors that positively influence P&L
  • Consider sideways moves to gain wider experience
  • CMO’s in FMCG companies tend to be closer to product development than other sectors and tend to be able to demonstrate how they can engineer growth. Consider markets where the correlation between marketing and business transformation is clearer cut.
  • Work closely with the CFO to demonstrate data-driven success
  • Do you agree and what else would you attribute to the perception of more limited numbers of CMOs making the CEO job?

To your continued success

Guy Day



About BartonRock:​

Guy Day is the Founder of BartonRock, the executive search partner for digitally transforming companies in consumer and retail.

We manage the careers of leaders whose know-how and commercial acumen within digital steers the strategic direction and future survival of companies.

For more information visit: or contact

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