Featured from L-R: Marian Lee, Netflix CMO; Carla Hassan, JP Morgan Chase CMO; William White, Walmar… [+] ILLUSTRATION BY PATRICK WELSH FOR FORBES
By Seth Matlins/Forbes
or brands, businesses, and the chief-marketers helping steward both, this year has begun as the last ended. A continuing cavalcade of crises of all types and flavors, each influencing the human context that they market in and around, required CMOs to reconsider what, how, where, and when, they do what they do to drive sustainable growth.
A still looming recession, fluctuating stock market, inflation, indictments, the cost of eggs, gas, rent, mortgages and money itself; Russia’s war in Ukraine, quiet quitting, layoffs, floods, AI, North Korea, Taiwan, China, TikTok, Twitter, bank failures, indictments, the war on ESG, “wokeness,” school shootings, and 10,001 other macro and micro things can all play a part in a chief-marketer’s decisions to do or not.
So, as it turns out, Voltaire was wrong, and this is most definitely not “the best of all possible worlds.” But it is the world in which the marketing chiefs highlighted in this, the 2nd annual Forbes Entrepreneurial CMOs 50 list, operate so well.
Forbes has been championing entrepreneurial capitalism and those driving it for 105 years. While the circumstances these marketers contend with change on the regular, our definition of what makes an Entrepreneurial CMO remains constant and begins with their mindset and approach. The Entrepreneurial CMO is one who is beholden neither to the status quo nor to disrupting it for disruption’s sake.
Strategic risk takers, they learn from both what does and doesn’t work, iterate, and optimize. They are resilient, both adapting to change and driving it, fueled by curiosity, creativity, and an ability to test, learn, and connect dots in real time, even if the dots, like goalposts, keep moving.
For the 2023 Forbes Entrepreneurial CMO 50 list, we again recognize 50 marketers—selected from hundreds of nominees, based on qualitative evaluation and review by marketing industry leaders, list alumni, and Forbes editors—whose entrepreneurial approach and actions are transforming not only their brands and businesses, but oftentimes marketing, commerce, and culture itself.
The 50 marketing leaders making this year’s list include those from Walmart and Tiffany, the brand stewards of both Big Bird and the Geico gecko, as well as those from cultural touchstones like Netflix, Spotify, and the WWE. App-first brands have a strong presence, representing over a quarter of those making the list.
As you read through this year’s list, you’ll find that many are thinking “like owners,” eschewing traditional organizational constructs to build new and better ones as they reconsider what their marketing organizations need to look like to get done what must. They are acting today and building for tomorrow, knowing that they can either drive change or be driven by it. Those recognized here, have unanimously chosen the former, and share an unwavering commitment to ensuring their marketing matters and does more.
Position: VP, Global Head of Marketing
Because Alavi doesn’t stop working to reinvent and identify better ways to enable the artists and creators on Spotify’s platform to connect with their fans and generate revenue.
On a brand-mission to unlock the power of human creativity and empower artists to make a living from their art, she sees every challenge as an opportunity, and creativity as an engine of growth. All quite useful for someone whose team and responsibilities cut across brand and creative, product and channel marketing, in each of the 180 markets where Spotify is live.
Because by creating culture-defining marketing—securing the company’s ranking as a top audio streaming subscription service in over 180 markets globally—she and her team have harnessed the power of culture, creators, community, and data to expand and enhance the brand experience for users and brand partners alike. Alavi and her marketing team root everything they do in product features and add-ons, and have capitalized on the popularity of Wrapped, Spotify’s highly personalized—and much-shared—end-of-year personalized listening recaps, by creating new moments and playlist programs for listeners to build, create and share year-round based on their interests and lifestyles.
Knowing that music is inherently connected to self-expression and play, she’s added depth and dimension to the fan experience by partnering with Roblox to create “themed islands” with games, quests, merchandise and of course artists and music, and kicked off an FC Barcelona partnership marrying music and sport and featuring Drake’s record label logo on the team’s kit to celebrate the artist reaching 50 billion streams.
Position: Chief Marketing Officer
Because in a highly competitive market, Amoo-Gottfried’s marketing responsive, iterative, and creative. The approach he and his team take to their three-sided marketplace, focuses on creating new ecosystems and opportunities to “meet the moment” for the merchants looking to grow their businesses on the brand’s platform, the “Dashers” looking for new and time-flexible ways to earn an income, and consumers looking for their next meal (etc.).
Always and actively listening, analyzing, and reconsidering the approach to solving problems for each and all of the brand’s constituencies, he and his team have built an industry-first benefits program that leverages the company’s scale to aggregate products and services and negotiate discounts on behalf of DoorDash’s merchants. And to attract and retain drivers, they have also built a perks program for Dashers providing them relief at the gas pump, and discounts from the merchants they deliver from.
As Amoo-Gottfried told Forbes, “Because we index towards solving problems and providing value, our output is varied – we make everything from activations to product hacks to enduring business programs to short films to magazines to “standard” commercials.” Always learning from what works and what doesn’t, he and his team turned a glitch that allowed users to order from merchant Cheesecake Factory without paying into an opportunity by later partnering with restaurant to “hack” and gamify the chain’s extensive menu, a making lemonade from lemons idea that drove a double-digit lift in traffic to the restaurant’s page, and a meaningful lift in orders.
Position: Global Head of Marketing
Because Asai and his team at Airbnb rejected the company’s status-quo “performance” strategy, slashed ad spending, lessened their reliance on search and invested in brand, helping lead Airbnb to its most profitable quarter (Q4’22) ever.
Driving expanded consideration of how and when to use the platform led Asai and the Airbnb team to think beyond the hospitality industry’s status quo business and/or leisure construct. They launched Airbnb It, a brand campaign supporting the release of new products and services, helping “bring to life how Hosts reimagine their homes as Airbnbs, discovering new occasions they can Airbnb their places.”
Asai’s focus includes building Airbnb’s in-house marketing and creative capabilities, in order to service a brand and business built as a “true hybrid of tech, travel, and design.” As CMO of one of few brands and companies that is both a noun and verb, Asai continually finds ways for Airbnb to enter the cultural conversation, keeping the brand top-of-mind, in order to recruit and retain more hosts and guests.
After all, in good economic times or bad, an empty home or room is a perishable economic asset—and a terrible thing to waste.
Position: Chief Marketing and Revenue Officer
Company: Flock Freight
Because for Baeza, “good enough, isn’t.” Because he knows disrupting a category like freight shipping and fundamentally changing the way—and at what environmental cost—goods move across the United States, requires reimagining marketing.
In his first year with Flock Freight, he’s swiftly connected the dots between lessons learned as a B2C marketer to this new remit and B2B enterprise. “Conventional strategies rely on bloated outbound sales teams that lack visibility and predictability. We are flipping that structure into a more sustainable, inbound-driven growth strategy that starts with building awareness with breakthrough creative, social media and thought leadership.”
Baeza and his nascent team knew they had to disrupt the category’s historically masculine tropes and uninspiring content to capture attention and coax shippers of all sizes into using the company’s “Shared Truckload” solution. They tapped Ryan Reynolds’ Maximum Effort to launch the brand’s first campaign; a provocative spot that called out the category’s historic inefficiencies and cheekily clarified the differences between its truckloads.
Developed and launched in three months and recognized as one Adweek’s best of 2022, the campaign was a foundational effort in growing the company’s size, scale, appeal, and commercial viability.
As Flock Freight’s CMO, Baeza sees his mandate as “rooted in this moment of massive opportunity, and building a new supply chain legacy brand that lives up to that ambition—one that has the equity and depth to outlive everyone at the firm today.”
In pursuit of their customer’s hearts and feet, Bahri and her team have pursued the new and different for the company: An expansion into the Mexican market, a partnership with Marvel and Wakanda Forever, and an entry into the women’s shoe category.
By adding women creators to their collaborators and customer base, signing women athletes to first-ever NIL deals, leveraging women’s behavioral trends on TikTok to create customized content, and adding luxury footwear to their product assortment, StockX found the sweet spot in categories historically dominated by men, and saw women become the majority of new customers.
Bahri’s key priority this year is to put the customer at the center of every decision (known in the company as their “True Love” initiative). “I am a huge proponent of customer-centricity, and StockX has invested accordingly in customer insights and customer experience management tools, so we have the proper pulse on what matters to the buyers and sellers who are our customers.”
Position: General Manager and CMO
Because in order to stay in front of a market that’s changing quickly, she’s transforming her marketing organization to both think and operate based on a brand-reputation risk calculus.
Because she and her team have transformed the Intuit brand from that of a lesser known parent entity of its better-known product portfolio (which includes TurboTax, QuickBooks, MailChimp and Credit Karma) into the unifying brand attached to and elevating all. “We’re leading with the Intuit name in every instance where you see one of our products and we use data and customer input from across our platform to serve up personalized solutions to meet specific customer needs,” Balazs told Forbes.
Balazs and her team updated the brand’s identity, for only the second time in its 40-year history, designed next-gen digital strategies across TikTok, Roblox and the metaverse, partnered with the viral machine that is Mr. Beast, as well as with Steve Ballmer and the L.A. Clippers on the building of the team’s new technology-forward arena, the Intuit Dome. Under her leadership, Intuit is also investing in creating a more inclusive economy, supporting underserved communities and small businesses in countries where the company operates.
Position: EVP and Chief Marketing and E-Commerce Officer
Because when Barber-Miller joined Philips in February of 2020, she likely didn’t realize she’d be transforming the 131-year-old consumer products company into a full-fledged health technology company virtually overnight. Yet, that’s what she and her team of 3,000 marketing, communications, digital and e-commerce practitioners across 100 countries did.
Because she steered a complete overhaul of the company’s procedures; shifting to a more customer and consumer-led operations model that prioritized personalization and incorporated AI and machine learning to deliver data-driven capabilities across all business segments.
Under Barber-Miller’s leadership, the company has used data science, real-time analytics and digital performance while scaling D2B and D2C channels to fuel explosive growth, with profits surging from $120 million in 2019 to $3.5 billion in 2022. What’s her biggest priority at the moment? Finding new opportunities based on customers’ “continued obsession with personalization and predictive capabilities.”
Position: Group Marketing Director and Head of Corporate Social Responsibility
Company: Prada Group
Because when you run marketing for a 110-year-old luxury brand, challenges to process, approach and materials don’t just disrupt the brand’s status-quo but the foundations of its appeal. But these are among the things Bertelli, Prada’s CEO-in-waiting, and the House are considering.
Because Bertelli (along with his mother, Miuccia, and Raf Simons, the label’s designers) has helped reinvigorate the Prada brand, making it once again one of the “hottest” and fastest growing luxury brands globally. Responsible for a broad remit including both the Group’s (which includes both Prada and Miu Miu) marketing and communications strategy and its sustainability strategy and programs, Bertelli has unified its digital marketing, bringing the brand into the metaverse, TikTok, opened the Prada Caffé in Harrods, London’s historic retail destination, and dressed John Wick.
This past fall, the House launched its first jewelry collection, where the gold used was certified recycled and the diamonds ethically sourced. Bertelli knows the future must be different from the past and looks to the blockchain both to ensure and promote a supply-chain transparency that many staid luxury brands have been slow to embrace because, as Bertelli told the New York Times, “Exclusivity makes no sense with sustainability, and (we) need to challenge industries that are opaque.”
Position: Chief Marketing and PR Officer
Company: Ally Financial
Because Brimmer’s marketing recognizes the tension between a category often characterized by dislike or apathy on the one hand, and the emotional context that surrounds protecting and growing their customer’s money on the other.
Because, as she told Forbes, “you can’t be a digital-only company and not be on the leading edge (if not the bleeding edge) of where consumers are moving, engaging them in what’s next.” And Brimmer’s moves to take Ally into Minecraft, Animal Crossing, and a financial literacy initiative with the makers of Pokémon Go, consistently demonstrate a test, learn, optimize approach to building brand and using the brand to drive growth.
Brimmer and her team understand their marketing resources can be deployed to create value and change the world. In May 2022, Ally announced its 50/50 pledge, committing to spend their ad dollars equally across women’s and men’s sports over five years. A cornerstone of this effort was playing a hands-on role in moving the broadcast of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) Championship to network prime, the first time a women’s championship game in any sport has ever had that platform. The move drove ratings increases of 70%+, which was good for CBS, the league and Ally’s sponsorship, and the commitment led Ally to be named a top-five brand in women’s sports among professional and college athletes (source: Sponsor United, 2022), remarkable on its own and more so because Ally isn’t sports endemic. “Proof,” as Brimmer says, “that deeds, not just words, can make real change.”
Company: American Eagle Outfitters
Because Brommer recognizes “you have to be ready to tap dance-or maybe TikTok-at any moment,” when you’re marketing to a fast-moving Gen Z audience, in a “what have you done for me lately” retail industry. Proof of return on this mindset lies at least in part in AE’s being named the #2 brand among this young cohort.
As a youth-retailer, focusing on building the brand, the base, and the business, requires marketing to always be in next-gen acquisition mode. Because they understand “listening is a key tenet for growing,” Brommer and his team built a panel of 2000 shoppers aged 15-25 to glean insights that translate into scalable brand and business results, create culture-defining moments and drive business growth.
His marketing approach is entrepreneurial in as much as it moves fast, embraces risk, and is undaunted by failure. He moved aggressively into the Metaverse and partnered with Snap to build an AR pop-up shop that resulted in millions in sales, served both the brand’s Gen Z audience’s craving for unique experiences and appetite for new technologies, and the brand’s need to be present and within reach of their consumer’s desire. Wherever they may be.
Brommer’s focus on experimentation is driven by his understanding that the consumer has become the new, de-facto brand marketer. AE has partnered with some of Gen Z’s biggest creators and harnessed the power of the brand’s employee ambassadors to launch a store influencer program called myAE, empowering their 35,000 associates to become branded content creators.
Because a deep-rooted fascination with consumer behavior and why people do and don’t buy in a changing marketing landscape pushes Burrell to embrace risk, test, and learn from what is on the cutting-edge today but may be less so tomorrow.
With instincts honed working across an array of industries, media, entertainment, consumer goods, and of course insurance among them, Burrell and his team are applying lessons learned in one industry to bring a different and multi-category perspective to Geico’s brand and business.
Burrell has restructured the company’s marketing organization, putting an enhanced emphasis on integrated marketing and media, shifting the brand’s approach to content creation from a tv-first model to an omni-channel one, allowing them to reallocate resources to digital and social.
To “modernize their agency go-to-market approach and shift the organization from a focus on volume to value,” Burrell’s led his team to design an agency model that “integrates all channels and allows for real-time investment optimizations in response to tactical performance, cultural trends, customer behaviors and business results at the state and national levels.”
Burrell and his team have also reconsidered the company’s status-quo approach to sponsorship, reducing the volume of deals to “increase the value and impact” and again, allowing for dollars once spent here to be redirected, a hallmark of the entrepreneurial CMO.
Company: Tiffany & Co.
Because she and her team are writing the future of this 186-year-old luxury brand, making it feel newly culturally resonant and relevant, and the work is generating both buzz and revenue as a result.
As Davey and her team helped the once staid brand become more current and cultural on the back of a high-profile collaboration and partnership strategy, the LVMH-owned brand had what was reported as record year in 2022. Tiffany has long been aspirational, but its marketing is making it increasingly desirable too. The brand’s high-wattage partnerships have included those with global and focused generational appeal. From those with BTS and Black Pink, in a direct appeal to their massive K-Pop fanbases, a collaboration with coveted streetwear label, Supreme, to the Tiffany x Nike collaboration that seemed to eat the internet when it was launched, and a second collaboration and campaign with Beyonce in a video extension of her “Renaissance” album, the Tiffany brand is witnessing its own renaissance.
But for Davey and her team tapping into the pop-cultural zeitgeist and conversation isn’t an end in and of itself, but a strategic means to one, as conversation is translating into revenue for the now-LVMH owned enterprise.
Position: Chief Digital and Marketing Officer
Because her vision to lead L’Oréal’s marketing into the digital age and her acute understanding of, and readiness for, the speed at which technology moves has cemented the French beauty conglomerate’s status as one of the most innovative brands in the world and an undisputed leader in Beauty Tech.
Dubey’s swift embrace of Web 3 broadly and the Metaverse specifically, along with other emerging tech, demonstrates her entrepreneurial approach, and has made way a first in beauty partnership with NFT peer-to-peer marketplace, Opensea, and partnerships with James Cameron’s Avatar, Meta, and investments with US-based startup, DIGITAL VILLAGE, that earned the company a Brand of the Decade Award from Kantar for “Fastest Online Adoption.”
Despite the brand’s Web 3 ventures, Dubey’s strategy remains “firmly grounded” in Web 2.0 deployment, personalized beauty services, and data-driven and ROI based marketing. Brand and product marketing programs have included A/R beauty services and virtual try-ons for hair and makeup and skin diagnosis through AI, have amassed over 40 million uses in the past year through both owned assets and retailer channels.
Her conviction that “the future of beauty will be physical, digital & virtual and that beauty consumer journeys will continue evolving from offline and online to offline, online, on-chain”has led Dubey and her team to expand L’Oréal’s footprint in the new media landscape with retailer media, gaming platform Twitch, Connected TV and Netflix’s new ad supported service. What’s new is next.
Position: VP, Global Brand Management
Company: The North Face
Because, as a recent Fast Company profile of the brand’s longtime ambassador and collaborator, Jimmy Chin, for its “Brand That Matter” issue put it: “Over the past year, the North Face has established itself as the rare label able to straddle two distinct spheres of cultural relevance, while most other brands are flop-sweating to inhabit just one.”
Ferris himself put it another way in a related LinkedIn post: “TNF is not only among those driving strength for [parent company] VFC, but the brand is also outperforming versus the broader market, realizing double digit growth in an environment that has been anything but stable given both supply chain disruption and general consumer unease.”
The brand Ferris stewards continues to lead by example when it comes to authenticity, sustainability, innovation, making the great outdoors even greater and making an impact on culture. Ferris and his team have partnered with fashion-forward hypebeasts and athletes like the Oscar-winning filmmaker, whose product-testing and adventure-filled content for the brand has helped it achieve a 33% growth in 2022. Or as Ferris notes in his post, ”Company performance and brand purpose are intertwined, and the brands that are having the most success and impact are those who are learning how to make these complementary versus competing ambitions. Although we are certainly not perfect and are on a journey here ourselves, I am extremely proud of the work The North Face team has done in this realm over the last several years to find this balance and move the brand forward.”
Position: Chief Brand Officer
Company: Combs Global
Because overseeing the marketing, growth, and development of Combs Global’s diverse and expanding portfolio of brands and businesses finds Graham treating each one as if he owns them. This “ownership” mindset, he says, allows him to take more creative and strategic risks with the company founded by music mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs.
With a brand portfolio comprised of spirits brands Cîroc Vodka and DeLeón Tequila, Sean John, Aquahydrate, REVOLT Media, Bad Boy Entertainment, the newly birthed Love Records, and a $185 million Cannabis acquisition—Graham and his team’s fundamental priority is to grow each of them in service of one comprehensive vision: “Building the largest portfolio of leading Black-owned brands in the world, and a more equitable future for the company’s Black and brown audiences.”
This charge requires him to find innovative ways to integrate the portfolio’s brands while being intentional about “elevating and involving the culture, amplifying creative voices from our target market, listening to the community, and incorporating what they want to see and who they want to hear from.”
It’s a responsibility that has informed the design, development and launch of many of the brands’ campaigns across products, content, and ventures. And the approach is working: the company has seen growth across its own portfolio of metrics, from profit, viewership, awareness, to the cultural resonance and relevance that has always defined its founder’s career.
Position: Chief Marketing Officer
Because the tech and startup veteran’s hyper awareness of the intricacies of marketing and its best practices make him the go-to exec for companies looking to jump start their brand and product awareness.
“I am the first CMO at Kraken in our 11th year,” Gupta told Forbes. “All the growth in the first decade has come on the backing of an incredible product, building a category that just had not existed…To establish marketing as a growth engine in a world like that at this stage is entrepreneurial and challenging.”
Adding more layers to Gupta’s new challenge: A spate of news and events in the past year since he joined Kraken shaking some investors’ faith in crypto. Still, he remains undaunted, optimistic, and focused on the task and opportunities ahead.
“This is not our first bear run…we have always used these times to continue to build great products, optimize our foundation and get ready to capitalize on the next bull run. For marketing, this meant getting that engine ready.”
For Gupta, that meant redefining the brand’s purpose and mission, establishing a clear 5-year North Star strategy, hiring leaders who brought diversity of experience, culture and mindsets, completing their first customer research and segmentation work, focusing on optimizing their lifecycle engagement and leveraging content to educate their customer base about more advanced products and capabilities, and amplifying their creative production process.
Company: JPMorgan Chase
Because Hassan takes a “test, measure, and go back to the drawing board” approach to marketing, and keeps a learning mindset at all times.
Because despite unrivaled change for today’s CMO in their array of responsibilities and an explosion of inputs complicating the same, Hassan understands that what’s unchanged is marketing’s job is to drive revenue growth. She understands equally that “marketing in a bubble will not work” and that this requires thinking like—and being able to communicate in the language of—the CFO, and the chief product and technology officers.
Hassan knows that a changing human context requires always ensuring the company infuses humanity into their products, services, and marketing approach, and she is constantly optimizing internal structures to ensure the right people have a voice in how the company goes to market. In an era when so many CMOs are using data as a salve for—and not as in service to—their go-to-market strategies, Hassan and her team know they “need the data, but we also need humanity,” and they work to break down silos bifurcating the data and creativity that inform ideas. Under her watch, Marketing has become a leading contributor to JPMorgan Chase’s progress on diverse supplier spending, hitting their Racial Equity Commitment, 2 years ahead of their 5-year goal.