As J&J appoints a former salesman as its CEO, are sales people likely to trump marketers for the top job? The Marketing Society Forum

The appointment of Alex Gorsky, who started as a sales rep, as Johnson & Johnson's new chief executive has raised the issue of whether marketers are well-placed to land such roles.


The best way for a chief executive to create value for shareholders in the long run is to create value for the customer.

When you think of customers, the art of the sales guy is making you buy things you didn't think you wanted. The art of the marketing guy is making you want things you didn't even know you needed.

In a world where pretty much all the supply levers have been pushed to the max, the foresight and creativity of the marketer should win out.

Having said this, given that the chief executive slot is increasingly reserved for people from finance, I welcome the increasingly rare sight of anyone making it to the top from a customer-facing role.


I'm not sure appointing a former salesman as chief executive says anything about marketers. My last job covered both sales and marketing, so I've seen both sides.

Any marketer worth their salt has to understand the key commercials of the business, as our primary role has to be to support their delivery. I don't think there is a delineation between sales and marketing in that regard.

In retail, it's usually a different structure - we don't have sales directors as such - but there should still be joint ownership of the brand and commercial agendas with our buying and operational peers. Should marketers be on the board? Absolutely, but that should always be based purely on merit.

YES - Emma Harris, Former sales and marketing director, Eurostar

I wouldn't want to generalise as it's about the individual, but I expect sales people to be more likely to become chief executives. There is a greater chance they will have operational experience, such as running a big contact centre or customer service operation.

To be a chief executive, you need to have broad skills; many marketers come through the ranks without working outside the marketing remit.

I was discussing this issue with Sherilyn Shackell, founder of The Marketing Academy, last week. The academy is dedicated to developing marketers to become future board members and there are programmes in the pipelines to meet this need.


The qualities that make a great chief executive should be the trump card, not a candidate's recent career path.

Drive, commercial orientation, vision and high emotional quotient are key qualities. The latter two are more typical of a marketer, so if they want the top job, they need to dial up their commercial focus.

At Kraft in Europe, the ideal path to the top includes working in sales and marketing along the way.


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