An Interview with Jim Stengel
Jim, you spoke earlier today about brands finding their north star, and you also were an author of a book called Grow. Is growth always good for a company? We have seen companies recently that have actually narrowed their focus a little bit because they felt like they were growing too much and in too many different directions.
I think a growth mindset is good, although option B is not good. Companies that are cutting costs and selling businesses may be doing that for a reason, but I don’t know how you build a culture of innovation, change and creativity if you don’t have a growth mindset. How do you attract talent if they don’t feel like they can grow their careers or opportunities?
I’m studying a lot of old and young companies now for a new book, and I look at companies like General Electric (GE), IBM and Ford. They are asking very different questions and expanding their view of their business, and I think they are creating new opportunities and attracting different kinds of talent. If you look at even GE’s corporate ads now, they are about the new kind of company they are: a digital company. They are seeking to recruit different kinds of people; they are reinforcing their culture in those ads. This is a company that has shed businesses and has restructured their business but is now thinking growth.
In their case, maybe it’s even keeping to the north star that you talked about, the innovation, and their focus now on innovation is taking on a digital component.
Yes — now they want to make the world work better by linking machines with better information. That’s their goal; they really want to transform the industry by bringing a digital mind and digital capability to the industrial world. It’s a beautiful thing.
In this landscape, how do you feel the role of the CMO is changing?
Well, the chief marketing officer today is a more important role in more companies. You can see there are more companies with CMOs, and there has been some analysis of companies that are growing faster than others. They typically have marketing as a stronger capability, and you’re seeing longer-tenured CMOs in that position.
Leadership is still very important. The way to motivate people, attract talent, bring out the best in people and set a direction for the company is still very important.
They have to be very comfortable with data analytics as well as creativity. They have to have both sides of their brain developed, and they have to be building an organization for the future that has those capabilities.
If they are relying on what they were good at when they were younger, it’s not enough. To me, great CMOs are curious and humble, creating a culture of curiosity, collective purpose and collaboration. CMOs today have to build the right capabilities but, actually more important, the right culture.
That leads into another question: You talk about ideals-driven companies. Is that idea built around transparency, and do you feel like companies are really moving to transparency, or is it just a marketing message?
No, I think they are moving to more transparency. Look at what’s happening in the beverage and food industry. Companies are being more proactive, more transparent. They are doing things they are not forced to do, but they realize consumers care and people have 24-hour access to any information they want. It’s an important part of being a brand today, so to me transparency is part of an ideals-driven philosophy. I think great brands and great business have a great ideal and have a reason to be; they have something that everyone understands. They need the behaviors to support that. If you’re Ford and want to re-invent transportation to get people from here to there in a more efficient and environmentally safe way, then your behaviors better be a part of that and support that. I think it’s part of being an ideals-driven company.
When we talk about growth, I think something that’s important for us as an international company is the idea of balancing centralization and consistency with localization in any market. Certainly that is something that you experienced with Procter & Gamble (P&G). What advice would you have for companies that are growing and becoming more international to balance centralization and localization?
I think the best brands have one purpose or one idea. They have a framework of what it means to their customers and employees, but then they allow the employees to have some freedom in that framework.
Alltech is one brand, so you want it to share a common purpose, have common characteristics, common behaviors and want people to share the same values about the brand. It has to be centralized and have an Alltech brand manager or franchise manager. Then if you’re in Russia, Italy or China, you want to give your local team the ability to seize opportunities to delight customers. They still have to be the values of Alltech and work toward the purpose of Alltech.
It’s a very delicate thing, but companies tend to go more decentralized. I think the trend is that you need more central leadership of the brand but then a very strong relationship with your counties. That’s what great brands do.
Lastly, what companies are on Jim Stengel’s watch list as far as doing marketing right, growth right and ideals-driven organization right?
Well, the good news is that there are a lot of them and a lot of them that are trying to move in the right direction. A brand that I don’t work with now but I know some people at and I just admire greatly is LEGO. Think about them: They have a very strong ideal and creativity and play. They are making content like crazy — movies, documentaries — endlessly innovative. Engagement scores are off the chart and they are still not satisfied with it. They enable their people to be free and creative, but they operate in a framework. They have a central leadership of LEGO, but the countries are able to capitalize on opportunities. Their profitability is growing. If you look at them versus their competition, it’s kind of night and day, so that’s one brand that I just think is doing so many good things.
From a corporate perspective, I like what Unilever is doing — a competitor of P&G. They really embrace trying to make a big growth goal. The way they get there is by reducing their impact on the planet. I think that has galvanized people to attract talent. They are doing very innovative and creative things with their brands that are good for the planet. This is a very large company that is pulling this off, so I like what they are doing.
I think GE is amazing to watch because their stock prices have begun to grow. Wall Street is beginning to reward what they are doing, and their culture is changing in a very deep way. They have strong leadership at the top from Beth Comstock.
These are a few I admire, but the good news is I think we have a movement in the kinds of things we’re talking about. There are more and more companies that are raising the game. They are behaving better, setting bigger goals and trying to make a difference. No one is perfect and stumbles along the way, but I do think we’re on a good trend. I am excited to see what happens next year.