December 2, 2014
On November 18, The CMO Club hosted their annual The CMO Awards dinner in NYC. The CMO Club put on a lovely event to recognize marketing leaders, innovators, and business executives. I had the honor of introducing my friend Beth Comstock, CMO of GE, as she was inducted into The CMO Club Hall of Fame. I was proud to see Beth recognized for all of her accomplishments as a business leader and marketing executive.
Below is my introduction of Beth at the awards dinner.
It is a great honor and a bit nostalgic for me to introduce Beth Comstock to The CMO Club Hall of Fame.
About 10 years ago, Beth was new in her role as GE’s CMO. She called me to see if she and her team could come to visit me at P&G. Her early questions said everything about her: How to drive growth as a CMO? How to organize marketing? How to best measure effectiveness? Other meetings soon followed. Beth’s team visited several more times and in 2005, Beth and Jeff Immelt invited me to Crotonville to learn how they shared ideas across business units, a challenge for every company.
What I remember about Beth in 2003: her curiosity, her external focus, her propensity to think big, her willingness to take risks, her focus on innovation that really matters.
About 1 ½ years ago, the editors at Fortune called me to see who I think should be the CMO on their 2013 Executive Dream Team. I chose Beth. Here’s what I wrote back to them:
“The reason I’m choosing Beth is the transformation in the last 10 years at GE, she and her team have done this with consistency of purpose while recasting their business model to prepare them to lead GE into the industrial internet. I think she could step into a Coke or Nike and do an equally super job. A lot of people can do effective marketing programs and campaigns, but there are very few who can create a new company strategy. And even fewer who can do it on the scale of GE. And I think she is doing that with Jeff Immelt and their team.”
Fortune did not follow my recommendation.
It is important to note that the results under Beth’s watch are darn good considering the transformation underway: Since 2003, GE’s revenue is up $10 billion, with $18 billion returned to shareholders in dividends plus stock buybacks in 2013.
When Beth asked me to introduce her, I reached out to some people with GE and in the agency world to get their perspective. This is some of what I heard:
“People broadly don’t understand how she changed GE.”
“Her world vision makes a difference at GE.”
“Her team would run through a mountain for her.”
“You leave a meeting with her with more energy.”
“Beth is GE’s Connector-in-Chief.”
Beth: When you were entering your role as CMO over 12 years ago, you and your team were in the process of sun-setting the “We Bring Good Things to Life,” platform for the more world-changing “Imagination at Work.” Well, tonight, just for a moment, I’d like to bring it back: Beth, there is simply no better CMO in the world in bringing good things to life. Congratulations!
In her acceptance speech, Beth offered great insights into the marketing role and why marketing is the key to business growth. She gave us permission to share her remarks with you. Below is Beth’s acceptance speech.
Thank you for this wonderful recognition! Marketing is a team sport – so on behalf of GE’s marketers around the world, thank you from all of us.
It’s a great honor to be here with all of you, whose work I admire.
Especially meaningful to have Jim introduce me. He played a formative role in my early days as CMO. He opened P&Gs doors wide to me and my colleagues, giving time and encouragement. We set our sights high: to be the best like P&G… to be industry-leading like Jim. Thank you, Jim. Since then, I have tried to pay it forward whenever I can.
I have to admit, I hardly knew what I was doing then. Seriously. I didn’t go to business school; I had no formal marketing training. I read a bunch of Phil Kotler books and soaked it up at the school of Stengel.
About this Hall of Fame Award – In my case, maybe we should rename it the Long in the Tooth Award. The Is She Still in That Job? Award. The Can’t She Get Promoted? Award.
I’ve been at this awhile.
It’s been over 12 years since Jeff Immelt, tapped me for the big “stretch” assignment to lead GE’s marketing efforts. No one had occupied the role for over 20 years. Jeff wanted us to grow from within by getting closer to our customers… and our markets… with “big world needs” to solve.
There was no GE marketing playbook. I was part of a great technology company that almost believed the products sold themselves.
But we needed people to fight for the market… to push us to where the world was going: New places, new spaces, new ways. To innovate – and to incubate opportunities from their earliest stages – so we could give long-lasting value to our customers – and to GE.
And yes, to tell great stories that bring to life a vision, move people to act, build connections and commerce.
Mostly, I’ve learned by doing. And failing. And by not doing the expected. I’ve learned that a marketer’s path hasn’t been easily understood in my company – or other companies. Despite all that we’ve done, it still isn’t understood. Too often I hear people say “But that’s not what marketing does.” And that has been such a rallying cry for me. I work hard to push the limits of what I do, what marketing does.
The nature and scope has evolved and grown, as has the mission and impact of marketing at GE. Yes, we do great advertising, AND we’re much more than that. We have to be. We have so much to contribute.
Faced with unprecedented speed and complexity, business needs marketing more than it can comprehend. A marketer’s mission is value and innovation. Unlocking what is most valuable to whom and knowing why. Forging meaningful connections. And knowing how to stay relevant.
What this means is that marketing must get into things earlier and parts of the company where we weren’t before. Despite people saying, “Wait, that’s not what marketing does.”
We’re standing up and showing that marketers add value from the beginning:
- We know strategy.
- We know how to make markets.
- We know how to generate revenue and margin.
- We know how to simplify and delight and engage.
As marketers, we know:
- It’s not just about the wow technology, it’s about how it will change behavior.
- It’s not just about the data – no matter how big – it’s about who’s going to ask the questions that make the data relevant.
- It’s not just about a great product, it’s about how it fulfills a need.
Who you gonna call? If not marketing, then who? Don’t just call us when you’re all done.
I’ve also learned that a marketer’s role is a lonely one. Telling people that change is coming and encouraging them to do something differently is not what a lot of people sign up for. This is perhaps one of the reasons why historically we’ve had such short tenure across a wide range of industries. I gravitated to marketing because it suits my need for change and discovery and connecting the dots.
I’ve stayed in marketing because I get to do it with a great team, an awesome platform and a supportive boss. All of whom appreciate that I have to be immersed in the world, outside my company. Outside myself. Making connections, building partnerships and unearthing insights that challenge us to go beyond what we know and what comforts us. Someone has to connect the outside to the inside – and even connect parts of the inside to each other!
But it takes courage and energy to go forward. It means risking something to try something new… maybe putting budget at stake, your team at stake, your good name at stake. You don’t get an engraved invitation to seize an opportunity that others don’t see. You have to grab it. It’s what we marketers do. We make the now more valuable. We make the future happen. One crazy act at a time.
Here are more photos from the event, courtesy of The CMO Club: