Building Better CMOs
Podcast Transcript - Building Better CMOs

Charisse Hughes, Chief Growth Officer at Kellanova, Page 2

Charisse Hughes, SVP and Chief Growth Officer at Kellanova — a spinoff of the Kellogg Company — talks with MMA Global CEO Greg Stuart about the dangers of short term-ism, the evolution of the CMO title, balancing hard truths with optimism, and more.

Purposeful Career Pivots and Getting to the C-Suite

Greg Stuart: This is Building Better CMOs. Let's get right back to my conversation with Charisse Hughes, senior vice president and chief growth officer at Kellanova.

Let me ask you about another thing: you have now, at least from what I can tell, you've been in the C-suite, been a CMO, chief growth officer twice now. You've done two different companies. Were you always determined to get there? Was that always your destination? Is that where you were aiming for? Then, how did you actually even end up there?

Charisse Hughes: Yeah, we kind of hit on it a little bit earlier. I was at a bit of a pivot point in my career after leaving Estee Lauder. I'd been on this amazing career trajectory, again, focused heavily on brand and as we said, a capital B-R-A-N-D because the brands are king and queen there. I was ready for a new challenge for sure, but I was also thinking about my life because I was a woman of a certain age.

I think I was 45 at the time, and I was single, no children, and I felt like I was on a bit of a career hamster wheel. I shouldn't say hamster wheel, I was on an amazing career trajectory, but I felt like I was on a hamster wheel of work being the sole focus of my life, and I needed to balance that. I knew I wanted to have a family. I would have loved to be married. I just didn't make the time for it, and so I needed to do that.

Anyway, so there was that big time commitment with Lauder, and then I decided that there was so much happening in the space of digital data e-commerce, that I needed to somehow learn that. I'm a learning by doing type of person, and so I needed to have that hands-on experience.

I started to look. I actually took six months off. I took a leave of absence, and I had lots of conversations and explored and ended up interviewing with Pandora for their CMO of the Americas. When I landed at Pandora, they had three key issues that they were confronted with.

One was that the brand from a relevant standpoint and a perception standpoint, was viewed as being cheap, low quality, and it was a charm bracelet business, which is a very big fish in a very small pond. Charm bracelets are like 10 percent of the jewelry market.

The second thing was they were trying to evolve their store network because they were a franchisee business model, and so they wanted to evolve into own channels inclusive of e-commerce. Then, the third channel was that the business was really not developed outside of North America.

Those three were really interesting opportunities, and talk about growth now with the role and title of growth officer. Those are channel challenges. Those are brand, business challenges. Those are category challenges, all of which are levers for growth.

I took that job, I was there for six years, and I actually wasn't seeking really like a CMO title, but I was a CMO of the Americas region. Then got to 2020 and decided that I really needed to work for a company that was US based, that was committed to the changes that needed to happen from a societal standpoint, and wanted to be leaning into purpose much more than I ever had. Fifty-year-old person at that time. You start to think about your legacy and what you want to leave behind and how you want your grandchildren and children to think about you.

GS: Those years matter.

CH: They do.

GS: They really do. I've watched the trends myself. I totally agree. It's just what you just said, I remember the point when I was spending a little more time looking back than looking forward.

CH: Yes, 100 percent.

GS: I'm sure you were always the young, bright upstart who's kicking ass, taking names, whatever, right?

CH: Driving forward, driving, driving, driving, and sometimes you got to pause and stop and say, "Okay, what am I doing? Who is it for? Who am I helping?" All of those things came into play, which is really the reason why I ended up at Kellanova. I mean, amazing brands and legacy...

GS: Crazy.

CH: ... but more importantly, I wanted to be at a company that really had purpose at the heart of what the company stands for.

GS: It wasn't your first brand company. I know you did a stint in finance, but I guess maybe that was post...

CH: Yeah, I worked at Sara Lee. I worked at Sara Lee, and actually my very first marketing job, I worked at Ralph Lauren Intimates. Sara Lee owned the license for intimate apparel with Ralph. That's when I moved to New York, and that was my first marketing gig. We launched intimate apparel in department stores.

GS: But did you expect that you would eventually, I mean, were you oriented to be in the C-suite of a big company?

CH: I had—

GS: No?

CH: I don't think I had any—

GS: No, wait, wait, no, wait, the listener didn't see you make the face on that.

CH: I know. I just, I never would've expected this. I mean, listen...

GS: Really?

CH: ... I've always been hardworking and results oriented and wanting to do a good job, but I didn't think for a minute that I would end up here. It's so funny.

GS: Isn't it? Yeah.

CH: ... when you reflect on the journey. Yeah, I was sort of putting one foot in front of the other, right?

GS: Yeah.

CH: I wasn't thinking long-term vision, but I did have some really great marketers that I worked with early on in my career, and that starts to help to shape what could be possible, not to use that word.

GS: Not to use an event name there for you, an MMA event name. Possible, exactly, coming up pretty soon, in fact. I think actually this gets released on the backside of Possible, I think, is when this episode comes out. You just kind of one foot in front of another and just kept going in that direction?

CH: I've had some amazing leaders. My bosses have been fantastic at every single step of my career.

Continuous Learning and Asking For Help

GS: If you were to pick the, I don't know, stack rank list of what best helped you end up in the C-suite, let's assume that some other people want to try and get there, what advice would you have for them in doing that? What did you do and what'd you learn from that?

CH: I would say, I was always seeking forward momentum.

GS: Okay, what does that mean?

CH: That means that I wanted to learn. As I got into marketing and I wanted to learn more, I was seeking that next bit of knowledge that was going to help me grow and develop further. For instance, when I was in Ralph Lauren Intimates, it was heavily merchandising driven, and so you were sort of deep into that piece, but the image piece was built into the license. It wasn't built into the spend.

I didn't learn a whole lot about the spend because we were relying on the halo that came with Ralph Lauren. There was not a lot of development of creative and all of that. I felt like I understood marketing and the elements and the skills that are needed to be a great marketer, and I just wanted to tick away at those and get better at my skill development.

GS: You set out to build the best marketer, which was yourself, that you could...

CH: Yes.

GS: ... by being acquisitional on information, data, and/or those who you felt knew more than you did at the time?

CH: Yes.

GS: It's so important.

CH: One thing I'm going to tell you that I did every year, and I still do. At the end of every year, I take an assessment of where I am like, okay, what did I learn this year? What do I think I still need to refine and develop? It's more important in the earlier parts of your career as you're building your toolkit, is to really have a good sense on where you are, where you stack up almost a personal assessment every year.

GS: Do you ask anybody to help you do that assessment?

CH: Yeah. I mean, you have a 360, I mean, you may not have those annually, but you would have them every few years. Then you rely on your boss. "Here's what I directionally think I should be doing. What do you think I should be doing?" But then, to your point, your network... and I didn't develop a network early in my career. But over the course of time, I built a community of marketers that were friends, and I carried them from relationship to relationship, or sorry, from company to company and job to job.

GS: I think that's an incredibly important thing to acquire a group of talent that you can refer back to. I think it's one of the single greatest things. I actually used to point out to people that my view now—and again, just back to your point of looking back—is that I think there comes a point in your career, I think it's about when you get 50, if they don't know you or can't triangulate to you easily to a friend of theirs, you're not going to get hired. I think it gets kind of tough as that pyramid sort of narrows in people, that's my sense of it.

CH: And you think in more senior roles, or you think that's—

GS: Mm-hmm. In more senior roles.

CH: Yeah, in more senior roles, I think that's 100 percent true.

GS: Yeah, you have to be known or there has to be somebody to really vouch for you that's connected somehow either to that board or others. Otherwise—

CH: Yeah. I think that's true.

GS: Otherwise, you could be... I agree with you in a big way in collecting those...

CH: Yeah, the board of directors or communities or networks, however you want to term it. Yeah.

GS: Yeah.

CH: It's really key.

GS: Yeah, I think it's really key, right?

CH: Yeah.

Inspiring the Team and Solving Business Puzzles

GS: What do you think it means for you to operate at this level? I mean, listen, there's a lot of pressure and we've got a fellow board member, I won't name who, their company just had a data breach. I mean, those are kind of traumatic events and hard to navigate, and there's a lot of pressure on these companies. Like the comment I made earlier, a friend of mine that didn't want to do this research around Brand as Performance, because she didn't want to tick a couple billion off the... I mean, there's a lot at stake and that impacts a lot of people. It does produce kind of a sense of maybe caution on it, but what do you think it takes to continue to operate at the senior level and to be successful?

CH: I mean, I think one of the most important things is stakeholder management. I think understanding the landscape clearly, and to your point, what's at stake and what the tradeoffs are. I think weighing options is really key at this level, so having a degree of discernment for sure.

GS: Is that just good decision making and assessing risk? Is that where you're going?

CH: It's assessing risk, but you can assess risk and I think still not make the right decision. I think it is decision...

GS: Let's think about that for a moment.

CH: Yeah.

GS: That's tricky, but yeah, go ahead.

CH: But it is having processes and bringing the right people to the table to have those discussions and making sure that it's a well-rounded, sort of cross-functional group of leaders who are involved in assessing and defining what could go wrong and what are our options here. Decision-making is a part of it. I think poise under uncertainty.

GS: The ability to live with ambiguity.

CH: Ability to live with ambiguity. I tell my team all the time this phrase of balancing hard truths. Hard truths with optimism is also really, really key. Seeing what's difficult, but then being able to rally and inspire the team and the organization around the mission in front of you.

GS: Do you really like what you do, Charisse?

CH: I really do.

GS: I know you do. I could tell.

CH: I really do. Wow. Can you see it in my face?

GS: A hundred percent, all the time. Why? I mean, constantly learning. I get that. I love the challenge. I hear you with the challenge, too.

CH: Well, I love insights. I love consumer insights. I like to mine and understand what would motivate and inspire a consumer to take an action and what might that look like in terms of creative or messaging and the iteration of that. I also really like it when it's data-driven, too, by the way. I really value that.

GS: Yes. Yes.

CH: I also like thinking about business problems strategically, as we've been talking about this AI journey that so many of us are on, it's starting with the business problem. This is not a data or a technology problem.

GS: No.

CH: This is a business problem. I need more consumers to be considering me when they're at the digital or physical shelf, and how do I think about doing that and leveraging data to do it. That also is really exciting. But there's also a degree of immediacy that I get energized about when you think about doing test and learns and experimenting, and seeing where you can drive impact or where you aren't, and sort of picking that apart.

GS: I hear you kind of as the puzzle trying to unravel all that.

CH: It's a little bit of a puzzle. I play a puzzle every day, actually. I'm like a puzzle person.

GS: I think that's what it comes down to, and I think that's why you get paid the big bucks and the ability to sort of balance all those puzzle pieces that come together in a unique, powerful combination that really drives a business. It's a constant sort of challenge.

I said to somebody the other day, in fact, it was a business coach of mine, I said, "Listen, I'm not the world's greatest CEO." I mean, there's people like Mary Barra, there's bigger, bigger CEOs, obviously. Okay, so I got that. I got my role in the world, but I said, "I think I'm playing a game of golf every day. You'll never going to be perfect, but you try to be better a little bit every day."

CH: A little bit every day.

GS: Now, I find that really interesting.

CH: Yeah, that continuous improvement, I mean, it cannot be underestimated.

GS: Then, the game changes, and then you got to do it all differently and then...

CH: Yeah, then it changes.

GS: ... somebody upsets the puzzle board. I don't know...

CH: Yes.

GS: ... whatever happens, and you've got to go at it again.

CH: You've got to go at it again. That's the excitement of it, it's going at it again every day.

GS: As I've gotten to know you, it really shows with you that that's really kind of what you're about. You're just there to kind of figure the world out the best possible way you can.

CH: Lucky to have partners like you to help.

GS: Yeah, I don't know. We're all having fun together here, that's for sure.

CH: I know, we are. We are.

Procter & Gamble's Marc Pritchard

GS: Okay, listen here, I got a couple of lightning round questions. We're going to wrap up and let you go here, okay? You may have already said it, who do you really admire out there? Give somebody, it can't be Kellanova. You've got to stay away from your own brand.

CH: Yeah, no, no, no.

GS: Any previous companies?

CH: Yeah, actually I want to say Marc Pritchard and Procter & Gamble. Honestly, I think a lot of it has to do with his brand focus and sharpening the lens around purpose, but more importantly around ED&I and all that he's done to make impact in that space and just to broaden all of our thinking around being more inclusive and seeing another side of people, which I think is the whole point.

GS: Is it what he stands for? Is it that he's taken such a leadership role in the industry around some of this stuff?

CH: It's got to be both. It's got to be both, because you've got incredible courage to take that on your shoulders within your company and then to pioneer it across the industry as well.

GS: And to feel that as a sense of responsibility.

CH: One hundred percent.

GS: A company like Procter & Gamble has that responsibility...

CH: That's right.

GS: ... a hundred percent.

CH: That's right. That's right, and talk about knocking off percentages, from the value, the implications could... but they're very sharp and they've been investing in this journey for a very long time.

Going Viral and Regulating Social Media

GS: What do you think is most overhyped, and then I'm also going to ask you what's most under-appreciated in marketing? What do you think? Is there anything you think is kind of really overhyped in marketing today?

CH: I mean, we spend a lot of time on short-term things, that is part of it. Going viral maybe is something. I mean, the short-termism is real. It's nuts.

GS: Yeah, no, no, it's crazy. It's crazy how much people have sort of fixated on that, or even you kind of used it earlier, like last-click attribution. I mean, there's no value. I can tell you, I've done the research. There is no relationship between click-through and sales, none. Nope, it doesn't exist.

CH: Yeah.

GS: Yet, we're fixated on it sometimes.

CH: Because it's not engagement, because it's not engagement. It's not real engagement. It's actually–

GS: No, and it's a false lead. You don't know what attributed to it. Right, exactly. Okay. What do you think is most under-appreciated in marketing today?

CH: I think the importance of having regulation in social media.

GS: Oh, okay.

CH: A level of regulation in social media I do think is necessary.

GS: Why are you saying is that? Is it because you're a parent?

CH: It's because I'm a parent, one hundred percent. I'm going to be a grandparent at some point in the future, and I care about this generation. I've been just reading so much about the implications of whether it be body complex or psychological comparisons, and it's leading to so much depression and sadness. I think that that is dangerous for us as we age, obviously, and for the next generation of children as well.

GS: Yeah, no, I've had daughters who grew up in the age of social media. I think they got their first phones right when Snap came out, which is part of the beginning that really kicked into high gear and kind of changed the game pretty dramatically. I've sort of watched the impact to them, and I certainly saw it operate throughout their high school, which I thought was really an awful period. I just was like, "Oh my god, I just can't believe that this is what they're having to face and deal with."

CH: And what you're talking about is a key lever for marketers, and I believe in social media for marketers as well. I just think that there's checks and balances that are needed.

GS: Yeah. Okay. Well, that's bigger than us, and I don't know we're going to solve that in Building Better CMOs...

CH: It's not, not today.

GS: ... but let's hope that, let's continue to encourage more work there. Charisse, I can't thank you enough for doing this. It's super exciting. I love having you on the board. The board loves having you there. Obviously, that's why you got voted vice chair. I don't know if I told you this, right? They were like, "We really like how she thinks, and we love the way that she's so forward about helping to understand her situation." Especially, the work you did around the marketing org work that you had done and shared with the board. They were super appreciative of that.

CH: That was so fun.

GS: Thank you.

CH: Yeah, really great work and we're running with it. It's really exciting. So, thank you for having me, Greg.

GS: You bet. Thank you.

Thanks again to Charisse Hughes from Kellenova for coming on Building Better CMOs. Check the description of this episode for links to connect with Charisse. If you want to know more about MMA's work to unlock the power of marketing, please visit or you can attend any of our 30 conferences in 16 countries where MMA operates or write me,

Thank you so much for listening. Tap the link in the description to leave us a review. If you're new to the show, please follow or subscribe on Apple, Spotify, Amazon Music, iHeart, or wherever you get your podcasts. You can find links to all those places and more at Our producer and podcast consultant is Eric Johnson from Our project manager is Lili Mahoney. Art work is by Jason Chase, and a special thanks to Lacera Smith. This is Greg Stuart. I'll see you in two weeks.

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