10 things we learned from Gavin Patterson

10 things: Gavin Patterson

In the days since our CMO to CEO breakfast with Gavin Patterson and our partners Spencer Stuart, my fellow attendees and I have greeted each other like people who share a secret. It seems everyone took something significant away, but we are united in feeling very lucky to have been present.

If I sound a little star struck, I am, but don’t let that give the impression that Gavin was anything less than open, honest and deeply human. Perhaps it was because he’s coming to the end of his time as CEO of BT, but I certainly got the sense that Gavin is an authentically decent guy. For anyone interested in going for the top job, or just looking for an insight into their own boss, this was an incredibly useful morning.

Below are ten things that will help you if you want to move into the top job:

  1. Prepare to be a CEO every day. Although the main thing to be prepared for is that you can’t prepare, 75% of the things Gavin dealt with from day one as a CEO he had never dealt with before
  2. Speak the language of the Board. Sometimes marketing is not the most popular discipline at board level. Listen to investor calls, befriend the CFO, and learn to express ideas in terms that will resonate with your fellow board members.
  3. Broaden your experience. The unglamorous jobs can teach you vital skills and demonstrate you have a broader understanding of business than your own function. Take on a role or even a project in other parts of the business, and, even better, endear yourself to the CEO by fixing something.
  4. Go abroad. Even if you’re not going for a global CEO role, working in a foreign market can provide vital insight. At home you are the consumer, you know the market. Learning to operate in a foreign country will boost your critical faculties and force you to alter your perspective.
  5. Become an integrator. By becoming the link between sales, HR, IT and other departments, being the owner of the customer view, supported by data, the marketing and the Marketing Director can become the lynchpin of the organisation. Take on projects that allow you to become that integrator.
  6. Become good at “horizontal management”. It is most likely you will be promoted from within, rather than moving “out and up”, so it is vital that your former colleagues support your move from “colleague” to “boss”.
  7. Be prepared to make tough decisions. You will have to make tough calls often with less information than you're used to. One of those calls may be to very swiftly rearrange your team, involving some difficult conversations with former colleagues. Especially those who also had designs on the top job.
  8. Trust yourself. Although you will receive a huge amount of advice, it often comes with an ulterior motive. You must be comfortable in trusting your instincts, something marketers have spent years honing. Decisions can often be “51% one way and 49% the other”, so hesitation is fatal.
  9. Be balanced. Make sure there is a clear divide between your public persona and your private life. Protect your health and the relationships that matter to you, this will help build your resilience.
  10. Be really sure you want to become a CEO. There’s no going back once you make the jump, and it really isn’t for everyone.

Alex Ricketts is Head of Membership at The Marketing Society. To learn more about us or join our network, please get in touch.

2019 marks the start of our CMO to CEO series, so keep your eye out for the next in our Events Calendar.