Building the business I always wanted to work in

Cheryl Calverley, CEO of eve sleep, explains how being a CMO prepared her to lead the organisation.

The lovely team from IPA EffWorks asked me if I’d jot down a few words on some of our recent experiences at eve sleep.

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The sloth campaign was created with production company Arthur and Martha, directors Outsider and media agency Goodstuff.

I was going to write a carefully evidenced IPA-ish piece on our move to layer an ‘always on’ brand building campaign (AKA the ‘switch off’ campaign) over the top of our existing, and performant ‘sloth’ campaign. But I thought, ‘If ever there’s an audience that knows all about the efficiency and effectiveness of long term, creatively differentiated brand building investment on a reach-based strategy with a continuous presence, it’s the IPA EffWorks audience.’ So, I’m not going to write about that. Instead, I thought I’d offer a few words on my experience of moving from CMO to CEO, something that’s marginally more unusual than a carefully layered media plan and well executed creative strategy in this day and age. But only marginally.

Moving from CMO to CEO

The move from CMO to CEO can feel as liberating as finally getting your driving licence and hitting the road. Or it can feel like you’ve been left floundering helplessly in an abyss of ignorance. And often it’s both, within the space of a few minutes.

Gavin Patterson (the UK CEO of Salesforce and ex-BT CEO) commented that no matter your previous c-suite role, as a CEO, three quarters of the things you do will be entirely new to you. I think he’s right, but also wrong. And that’s where being a marketer prepares you extremely well for the big chair.

Most of the role is simple. Listen to and understand all the easily available facts, data, and insight about a situation, and decide what you believe will be best for your customers, your people, and your business. In that order. Inherently, that means the key CEO skill is decision making where there is no right answer, where you cannot possibly understand all that is going on, and whilst holding two or more completely opposing interpretations of the situation in your mind. And that, my friend, is a skill developed by every young marketer from the day they first sit at their Marketing Director’s knee.

Trust your instincts

The next bit of the job is all about instinct. It’s about smelling when things are going right, and when things are going wrong. And connecting scant data points with a bit of human empathy, and that ever so hard to describe ‘gut feel’ to know when to course correct, when to put the handbrake on, and when to throw caution to the wind and go all in. A nailed-on description of the day-to-day process of marketing we all live and breathe, as I’m sure you’ll agree.   

Businesses are the sum of their people

And the final bit of the job is all about people. Your customers, and your team. Businesses, and particularly small, young businesses like ours, are simply the sum of their people. Understanding the differentiating advantage of your people and culture, what they are uniquely capable of, and how you can turn that capability into a real business strength is the core of building long term competitive advantage. Which is exactly the same as understanding a brand, what its competitive advantage is, and which bits should be dialled up and dialled down.

So, if you can make strategic decisions based on incomplete data, if you can sense problems and opportunities before they become real, and if your instinct is first and foremost to understand people, what they’re capable of and how to use that to drive competitive advantage, you’re both a marketer, and a potential CEO.

Purpose reflection

My final reflection, though, is about purpose. I’ve lived through the rise of that ‘p’ word over the past five years, and largely scoffed at it, as a tortuous reworking of what was once simply termed ‘consumer insight’. But the last year, as CEO, has brought long, hard, purposeful reflection. And that’s not about the purpose of our brand, or our business, but my own purpose. Granted, this pandemic has set many a marketing professional wondering exactly why it is they come to work each day, but the one thing that struck me is that as a CEO, it’s your own, personal purpose that drives the business forward and defines its culture.

I think the most successful CEOs are those where their personal sense of purpose matches the capability and needs of the business. My purpose has become more and more clear over the year, and it’s quite simple: I’d like to build the business that I always wanted to work in. Bringing together all the best bits of the businesses that helped me get where I am today and given me the capability to do the things I do.

And if we do that, we’ll attract amazing talent, give them the support and space to grow and do their best work, and find their own way as business leaders of the future. And I guarantee you, if we DO do that, eve sleep will be an unassailable success.  

Last updated 10 November 2021