The role of CMO has evolved from one focused on branding and marketing to one that includes technology, strategy, corporate social responsibility, and nearly everything else a business touches. Consumers and investors have access to more information than ever before, and today they judge companies based on more than logos and product pricing. Top CMOs understand how their roles have changed and know how to position their companies in the best light for multiple audiences.
In retail, exploding competition has created a tightly crowded market. Retail CMOs cannot afford to coast on old-school tactics if they want their companies to flourish. The best retail CMOs challenge the status quo and look for new ways to push their companies above the crowd.
If you own a retail business, work in retail, or just want to know more about the industry, keep an eye on these top retail CMOs in 2020.
Julie Channing, Allbirds
Julie Channing left her role as global consumer marketing lead at Nest to help launch sustainable shoe brand Allbirds. Since then, Allbirds has catapulted into the spotlight, earning itself a $1.4 billion valuation just three years after its big debut. Channing has led the charge on developing the Allbirds reputation. Retailers should take note on how she guides the marketing of a brand worn by Barack Obama, Mila Kunis, and Leonardo DiCaprio (who is also an Allbirds investor).
Keith Weed, Unilever
Despite leaving Unilever last year to “go plural,” as he puts it, Keith Weed remains a powerful marketing voice at the top of the retail industry. Named the most influential CMO in the world by Forbes in 2019, Weed now acts as an independent director on multiple boards. Anyone who takes retail seriously should keep a close watch on Weed’s activities, published content, and stated priorities this year.
Deirdre Findlay, Stitch Fix
A recent addition to the Stitch Fix team in 2018, Deirdre Findlay understands that her company does more than sell clothes. Stitch Fix runs on a unique blend of data and human connections, which means the company must be judicious in how it collects and uses data to delight its subscribers. Follow Findlay in 2020 to see how Stitch Fix builds relationships and makes its customers feel heard, appreciated, and unique.
Antonio Lucio, Facebook
Formerly of Pepsi, Visa, and HP, Antonio Lucio came to Facebook in 2018 to help the social media giant battle its ongoing reputation crisis. Facebook may have a limited retail presence, but Lucio’s retail experiences will play a major role in his strategy at the social media giant. Now leading a corporate rebrand, which includes new logos and other tweaks to consolidate branding for Facebook’s many products and apps, Lucio seeks to rebuild the trust the company lost after the 2016 election. Lucio’s actions will provide an excellent blueprint for all business owners looking to forge long-term customer relationships.
Phil Schiller, Apple
Phil Schiller knows what it feels like to swing and miss. His debut of the Mac Pro in 2013 famously backfired when critics accused the company of tone deafness, and his quote of, “Can’t innovate anymore, my ass!” didn’t sit well with unhappy users. Since then, he has helped Apple reclaim the goodwill of its adoring fanbase and led plenty of highly successful product launches. Retail sales has never been an easy game, and Schiller understands that better than most.
William Xu, Huawei
Now the president of the Institute of Strategic Research for Huawei, William Xu (Xu Wenwei) has been with Huawei for nearly 30 years in various roles. Xu ranked 23rd on the Forbes Most Influential CMOs 2019 list, in part because of his strong leadership during the tumultuous trade war in which Huawei has found itself. Retailers around the world have felt the effects of the same trade war, so watching the actions of a primary player can’t hurt.
Julia Goldin, Lego
All CMOs of major retail brands oversee social media strategies. How many of those strategies include Lego Life next to Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, though? As the CMO of Lego, Julia Goldin recognizes the dangers of certain online areas to children, which is why the company created its own social network to market in a safer environment. Lego remains one of the premier retail brands in the world, showcasing its products in both its own branded stores and in the stores of other retailers. As CMO, Goldin does an admirable job of maintaining Lego’s positive image while catering to both adults and children in its marketing.
Rick Gomez, Target
Retailers who remember the rough times of the late-2000s financial crisis know enough about slumps to fear them. In 2016, Rick Gomez sat in the CMO seat as Target went through its biggest slump since its launch in the early 1960s. Increased online competition, failed expansion attempts, and a highly public data breach didn’t help. Gomez, however, led a marketing-forward initiative to drag Target out of danger and back into a top destination for shoppers. That alone gives him plenty of clout in the retail world.
Jennifer Sey, Levi Strauss & Co.
With more than 20 years of experience at Levi Strauss & Co., Jennifer Sey understands the staying power of denim in retail. However, that hasn’t made her complacent. Sey has driven the brand into treacherous political waters, tried experiential pop-ups in stores, and generally pushed the boundaries of what established brands are expected to do. Any retailer feeling stuck in a rut should consider how Sey navigates similar situations.
Manuel Arroyo, Coca-Cola
In 2017, Coca-Cola named Francisco Crespo as its chief growth officer. In his new role, Crespo earned several accolades and helped Coca-Cola strengthen its global community. Crespo’s tenure with Coca-Cola ends in February 2020, and while the company will not replace him with a new CGO, marketing duties will fall to new CMO Manuel Arroyo. With big shoes to fill, Arroyo will lead a new era of marketing for one of the most powerful brands in the world.
Marc S. Pritchard, Proctor & Gamble
Recently named an “industry legend” by the Advertising Club of New York, Marc Pritchard continues to push the envelope of what marketing can accomplish. In an interview with The Drum, Pritchard said he believes his company can “reinvent” advertising into something more relevant and creative — something audiences will actually want to watch. As the chief brand officer of one of the top consumer companies on the planet, Pritchard’s views on the potential of advertising will undoubtedly influence how that future unfolds.
Marisa Thalberg, Executive Moms
After stepping down as the CMO of Taco Bell in 2019, Marisa Thalberg founded Executive Moms. Her new company focuses on women in leadership who face unique challenges as they balance their professional ambitions with their personal priorities. By creating a community for likeminded women, Thalberg hopes to empower and connect people who often feel isolated by their situations. Every retailer, man or woman, should keep an eye on how Thalberg manages both the message of her new company and its growth strategy.
Paul Latham, Costco
Paul Latham rarely puts his name in the headlines. He’s like the brand he oversees — quiet, yet undeniably effective. Latham has worked at Costco for 37 years, and he has helped the company maintain an image of fairness and quality from the top. Latham understands that retail marketing matters just as much to employees as it does to customers, and he takes great pride in Costco’s high retention rates. In an interview with Fortune, Latham said, “You couldn’t throw enough money at me to make me leave this company.”
Patrick McLean, Walgreens
One of the newest CMO arrivals on the list, Patrick McLean took his position at Walgreens in November 2019. His background in banking and public affairs suggests he will use a data-driven approach as he guides Walgreens in 2020 and beyond. In an interview at the time of hire, McLean looked forward to his role in creating “end-to-end customer journeys and experiences,” which all retailers should prioritize in the new age of data and personalization.
Jeff Wilke, Amazon
Technically, Amazon’s leadership team does now include a CMO. Jeff Wilke holds the title of worldwide consumer CEO, though, and he reports directly to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, with Amazon’s VP of marketing reporting to Wilke. Every retailer in the world has felt Amazon’s influence, so it only makes sense that retailers should stay up to date with Wilke’s plans for the consumer giant in 2020 and beyond.
Adolfo Villagomez, Home Depot
Adolfo Villagomez earned his promotion to CMO for his work as vice president of merchandising strategy, which means he’s more than familiar with ensuring products fly off the shelves. He has also held leadership positions at McKinsey and DuPont, adding a deep background in data to his impressive credentials. Home Depot has managed to remain the king of the home improvement and construction industries throughout several rounds of digital disruption, and Villagomez will continue to play a key role in that continued dominance.
Morgan Flatley, McDonald’s USA
Formerly the CMO of Global Nutrition Group at PepsiCo, Morgan Flatly joined McDonald’s in 2017. Flatley also worked as the CMO of the Gatorade brand at PepsiCo, where she spearheaded award-winning marketing campaigns including the famous farewell tribute to Derek Jeter. More than a powerful businesswoman, Flatley also sits on the boards of the Chicago Children’s Museum and the Women’s Justice Initiative for Guatemala. As consumers demand more transparency and responsibility from retailers and their leaders, Flatley sets a shining example of both social consciousness and professional acumen.
Emily Somers, Domino’s Pizza
Officially the first Domino’s CMO, Emily Somers left McDonald’s in 2018 to start her own consulting company. Domino’s wooed Somers by making a convincing pitch to bring her back into the arena and give her the opportunity to set the standard for all Domino’s CMOs to come. Domino’s underwent one of the most successful rebrands in retail several years ago, but Somers brings fresh knowledge and abilities to the table that could lead the brand even higher.
Greg Revelle, Kohl’s
Kohl’s faces difficult times ahead. Weak profit forecasts and inconsistent consumer behaviors have put the pressure on one of the most prominent clothing retailers. Greg Revelle, however, isn’t afraid to take calculated risks to help the company stay on top. Kohl’s offers an industry-leading loyalty program and now facilitates Amazon returns in its stores. Other retailers should look at Revelle’s tactics for inspiration at difficult crossroads.
Jocelyn Wong, Lowe’s
A strong second to Home Depot in the hardware industry, Lowe’s brought on a powerful CMO of its own in 2017. Jocelyn Wong came to Lowe’s in 2015 after executive leadership roles at Family Dollar. Now, she oversees initiatives like the new Lowe’s partnership with the NFL, which Wong hopes will grow awareness and traffic, both in-store and online. As the head marketing honcho for a company that struggles against a “little brother” stigma, Wong sets a prime example for other retailers facing stiff competition.
Alessandro de Pestel, Under Armour
After the unexpected departures of Adrienne Lofton and Andrew Donkin, Under Armour needed stability and innovation in the CMO office. Enter Alessandro de Pestel, Tommy Hilfiger veteran, to right the ship. Under Armour operates in a volatile industry and leans heavily on its marketing arm to disrupt the dominance of older apparel brands, so the company hopes de Pestel’s experience will help the company find more solid footing.
Teri Bariquit, Nordstrom
Nordstrom named Teri Bariquit as its first-ever CMO in 2019. The company’s preference for a candidate deeply familiar with the brand showed in the choice. Bariquit has been with Nordstrom since 1986. She held the role of executive vice president of merchandise, planning, and inventory before her promotion, indicating Nordstrom will prioritize consistency and customer focus in its future marketing strategies.
Chad Fox, Dollar General
In 2019, Chad Fox left his position as vice president of marketing at Walmart to join the Dollar General executive team. Dollar General holds an interesting position as a top option for low-income families, and Fox will be responsible for maintaining both the company’s success in delighting customers and its public image as an inexpensive alternative to traditional grocery and retail stores. For the past few years, Dollar General has taken a bite out of Walmart’s unchallenged growth in this arena, and Fox’s contributions should increase the company’s growing footprint.
Norman de Greve, CVS
Named as one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People of 2019, Norman de Greve is leading the charge on unedited images in beauty and skincare marketing — an angle Photoshop-weary consumers love. According to de Greve, CVS has increased sales and market share since making the switch. For retailers looking for financial incentives to practice socially conscious marketing, de Greve provides a compelling answer.
Erik Keptner, Rite Aid
Erik Keptner, head of Rite Aid’s marketing and merchandising arms, has deep experience in the grocery industry. Previous roles of Keptner’s include a senior vice president position at Wakefern Food Corporation and a 20-year career with Ahold Delhaize. Keptner ended 2019 as a happy man when Rite Aid’s stock, commonly shorted by analysts who questioned the company’s market position, enjoyed one of its best months in a decade.
Many of these top retail CMOs will publish articles and speak at conferences this year, while others will stay busy behind the scenes as they work on campaigns, rebrands, and other initiatives. Don’t sleep on the quiet ones, though. These high-powered marketing minds have big plans for 2020 and beyond, and the examples they set will provide excellent blueprints for other retailers to follow.