June 16, 2004
Are you working for a Fortune 500, but secretly yearn to be Chief Marketing Officer for an exciting, entrepreneurial company some day? In our exclusive interview, former Kraft and Dannon marketer Yosi Heber talks about how he did it, and shares tips for your career transition.
How do you become a Chief Marketing Officer for an exciting entrepreneurial company? Many of the CMOs we've interviewed used a consumer packaged goods (CPG) background to springboard careers.
For example, Yosi Heber began his career at Kraft in '85, working on products such as Jell-O and Post Cereals. Next he joined The Dannon Company, where he created the now-prevalent children's yogurt category.
Then he left the CPG nest to stretch his wings in ecommerce and high-tech marketing and management. Now he's CMO for Entertainment Publications.
We asked him what advice he'd give other marketers on doing well at CPGs, and the big entrepreneurial world beyond them:
Start by being entrepreneurial within the CPG environment
"How can you be an entrepreneur even though you're in a large environment?" Heber asks. "You still have to follow the process, but be creative about it. In the end if you get the deal, nobody cares how you did it."
Example, Heber wanted to put baseball cards in Kraft cereal boxes. "I was determined to get baseball cards because I felt they had high perceived value for kids at a very low cost." Unfortunately, Ralston already had the rights to MLB cards; worse, other cereal companies were ahead of Kraft in line for future rights.
"I stayed in touch, I kept calling, and then one of the guys I was in touch with told me that they weren't going to renew the contract with Ralston." Heber immediately put together a deal that spelled out how many boxes of cereal he thought he could sell, multiplied by three cards per box.
Pitching specific numbers made the difference. "They were impressed enough to come back with a compelling offer in 24 hours before even talking to the other competitors who were in line first for the deal," he says. Ultimately, the contract lasted seven years and was the largest promotional baseball card series ever produced.
"If you think something is a big idea, push hard enough and long enough and you can get there."
Then, move on to a more entrepreneurial industry
CPGs provide a tremendous training ground for marketers, but careers tend to dead end once you reach upper management.
Heber suggests augmenting packaged goods experience with "something more entrepreneurial, a $100 million company where you roll up your sleeves and get exposed to things you've never been exposed to before." He also suggests doing "something Web oriented."
Areas for growth, according to Heber: high tech, biotechnology, healthcare, and search engine optimization. As for the latter, "Anyone who can get some exposure to that is going to be one step ahead of everyone," he says.
Keep focused, despite loads of ideas
"The hardest part is not coming up with ideas," says Heber. "It's deciding which have the highest potential."
Create an actual list of all the projects you'd like to do and prioritize them. Choose five actions to focus on for the next six months. Then, in addition to all your day-to-day activities, make time for those five projects.
"If you do five things, maybe one or two will succeed," he says.
On the other hand, if you scatter your focus on 20 things, they'll all fail. "Part of the reason people end up working 20 hour days is they don't focus," he says.
Heber himself works 50-55 hours a week (five of those from home), which is "not terrible," he says.
Hire the right marketing team for an entrepreneurial environment
Heber says he looks for three things:
#1. Strategic intelligence
Heber wants to hear a candidate's thinking process and to know whether they understand the big picture. "I give a specific case study, 'here's the situation,'" he says. Then he asks candidates what they believe are the business issues beyond marketing.
"Do they think out of the box and can they be creative?" Heber asks.
He wants people willing to put their necks out. To look for signs of fresh thinking, he sometimes shows candidates a product and asks them what they would do to market it.
#3. People skills
Because marketing continually deals with cross-functional groups, Heber wants marketers with stellar people skills. "That, I just get a feel for," he says. "You can't really ask, 'Are you good with people?'"
He has every serious candidate meet four or five other people, and he never makes the hiring decision on his own. "It's a collaborative process."