Building Better CMOs
Building Better CMOs
Vineet Mehra (Chime) Transcript, Part 2
Greg Stuart: So Vineet, let's talk a little bit about that, that idea about what it means to get to the C-suite and then continue to be there and be effective. So I think what I hear you saying, which I find very interesting, which is you're really saying, "Hey everybody go build as many competencies, as many capabilities as you can in as many places as possible." Is that where you went? Did I say that differently than what you mean?

Vineet Mehra: Yeah, I think that's right. I think it's largely what I say is chase experiences—

GS: Chase experiences.

VM: ... not titles.

GS: Yeah, yeah, totally.

VM: Build your career like a jungle gym, not a ladder. And I say that because if you're playing the long game, you're going to be a much better C-suite executive by drawing on experiences than chasing the speed.

GS: Oh my god, I agree.

VM: That's essentially the ball game. And marketing is one of the best functions, in my opinion, in a company to build that skill set. Like tell me another function where you can go as wide as I just described earlier. You can't, and that's why I'm very optimistic about being a marketer.

GS: We tend to curtail the CTO a little bit from those kinds of things. Some breakout, but not always. That's actually very smart. I think you're right. So yes, build as many competencies in as many places you can, in as many ways possible as you can get to. I think what's funny, listen, I am a little bit older at this point, obviously in my life. But as I look back, I couldn't have predicted the career path. I couldn't have planned it, but it is absolutely an accumulation of every skill and capability and knowledge I built over time.

VM: It really is. And although you can't plan for the changes that are going to come, what you can do is prepare because the only thing that's constant is all this is going to change. I know that even today. So how do you prepare? You have as many things to draw on as possible, and by the time you get to the top roles, you're now a much more dangerous executive than if you had only one pathway to the top.

GS: This is a good conversation here. You had a bit of a cheat code, if I can say, and I mean that respectfully, but the cheat code was you got into tech. Listen, I've often said two of my kids have been graduating college this last year. One's employed, so we feel very successful so far. Waiting for the other one. But what's interesting is that the cheat code is, I go, yeah, it's great to do what you love. It's better if it's in a growth industry.

And so tech, digital, mobile, now AI, this is where you can grow really fast and get lots of... I mean that's what happened to me. I was the head of interactive at one of the Y and R agencies that put me on the front edge of the internet in 1994 when the internet was introduced. And that has decided my career ever since. So I don't know. Because you did that, right? You jumped out of J & J, went to I mean, as you said, you took a pay cut to go there even so you were really determined to get the additional experience.

VM: Yeah, that's the thing. I was always chasing experiences, but I would say you need all kinds. I mean, after Ancestry, and we sold that business, I went out to Chicago and was the global CMO of Walgreens Boots. That was a $100 billion business.

GS: I know. I didn't know how to explain that in my storyline, by the way. I knew I saw that coming. Okay.

VM: Yeah. We sold that business and I ran a $100 billion retail business. Started as a CMO and my role expanded to the chief customer officer.

GS: Got it.

VM: And now I ran all the tech platforms, but that was not a hypergrowth business. That was a legacy to digital transformation business. And by the way, I don't recommend running a retail pharmacy business in the middle of COVID. That was unbelievably—

GS: Yeah. Questionable—

VM: ... a crazy experience. But it transformed. I mean, it transformed my skill set. We had to build digital customer experiences to vaccinate America and the UK at hyper speed. So different experiences are different things. They all give you something. And I think we have to reframe some of this in our industry and say that, again, chase experiences not titles, chase learning, not pay. And by the time you get to the C-suite, I promise you, you're going to be a much more effective executive. And I do think we have a CMO crisis in the C-suite a little where some of the credibility of our industry is under attack.

GS: Agreed.

VM: And it behooves us to be the most dangerous executive, most well-rounded executive we can be in the C-suite. So we don't find ourselves as defenders of marketing, but as playing offense, not just in marketing, but across the whole business, along with all of our partners so that we're not the only ones challenged, that we're able to create healthy challenge across the organization. And I think that's really what we should aim to do.

GS: There really is a crisis. I mean, listen, I realize that this is just supporting the thesis of the MMA. That's what the MMA is here to do, help raise the stature and gravitas of all marketers, all CMOs, part of the point of this podcast. But the net promoter score for marketing departments, i.e, would I recommend this marketing department? So it could be the company, it could be marketing, we don't know. Okay. But the way the question is, would I recommend this marketing department to a friend or colleague? The classic net promoter score. On average, it's a -2 percent. And I'll be fair with you, I did not tell either one of my kids to go into marketing and I love the business. I wouldn't have done anything else with my career. I wanted to do this since I was a kid. There is something really wrong, isn't there?

VM: I think there is, but I would tell my kid to go into marketing because of all the things I shared with you earlier. It's the ability to build such wide skill sets that I think makes marketing an amazing function. I think what happened, Greg, and that's a very real data point. I was in the board meeting when you shared that. I didn't share this in the meeting, but my opinion is our industry changed so quickly over a decade. It adjusted...

GS: Totally.

VM: ... so quickly over decades that by the time people were in those C-suite roles, the experiences couldn't catch up with the change in the industry. And so I think that it behooves us as leaders of our industry to ensure that that doesn't happen again. And so my real rallying cry is actually of a few things. One, you and I may differ, but I have a 10-year-old, I bring him to work on bring your kid to work day. He is really excited about being a marketer one day because I don't know of another function where you get such a breadth of experiences as the modern marketing organization can give you today. That's one. So I'm overall optimistic, and I think we have a responsibility to make sure that the next generation of CMOs are much more equipped than we were getting into these spots. And we owe that.

GS: Fair enough. And listen, Vineet, the funny thing about my statement, I feel like this is one of those I really have an obligation to disclose. My daughter got a job at NBCU. Now the good note, just to be clear, she did get a degree. She got her degree in data science and finance, so she did the right thing. But I think what you're saying here, just to emphasize that point, is that the skills that got them to the top job are not the skills that the top job needs today necessarily.

VM: Yeah. And that's just the nature of how quickly our industry changed from under us. And that's why the only thing I know is 10 years from now, it'll be different again. So the only thing you can do is prepare for change...

GS: Oh my god.

VM: ... by going after these experiences and being dangerous.

GS: Okay, what's the most important change they got to learn today? Where should people double down? What do you got to spend your time? What should you be doing on Saturdays when you're not otherwise doing the job that we've hired you to do? What do you need to be learning?

VM: I mean, everyone's talking about it, right? But it's how AI is going to transform the jobs of marketers, right? There's going to be jobs that are going to have copilots in AI. There's going to be jobs where AI is going to go after IQ before EQ type jobs. And we have to start to figure out and get ready to build organizations where automation is going to be increasing. The idea where AI, it's not fully automated, but it's almost like a copilot with you.

And then a world where the velocity of content and creative can increase much more. This is going to have a serious impact on the tools we use and how we use those tools. It's going to have an impact on how performance gets maximized as a marketer. So if you don't know how to use these tools, you may fall behind other marketers that know how to use these tools. So they're getting 10x more output in the same amount of time if you don't learn how to use these things. And it's going to transform also how we organize organizational design of marketing teams in the future. I actually think this is amazing. It's a very needed revolution. We just have to get ready for it so that, again, this is going to be the next decade of shift and we're going to have the same conversation a decade from now. Maybe look back and say, "Some CMOs were ready, some were not." And so we really have to make sure that we keep that same experience-focused mindset to build our careers to get ready for that.

GS: I got a funny question for you. I'm listening to you here and I've gotten to know you a little bit. And you and I have talked before back when you were at Walgreens. I remember the advanced orientation you brought to that job. I remember hearing you talk about, I go, "Jesus, this guy really is out there on the edge, knowing what he's doing." Okay. I got into internet very early. I jumped into mobile. I'm now all over AI. I'm really good at the new stuff. So I love change. You got to love change. Let's assume you and I sit out in the bell-shaped curve. We're a few standard deviations out from the norm.

What do you do to help your team and your people become better and do that? Do you have a way of providing those opportunities for them? Because not everybody's ready to recognize that one, they're not ready to change. Two, they might not know where to go, what to do. And everybody's so inundated with their job today, they don't have time to figure out. I don't know. How do you help that? Is there a plan around that? I mean, you're a startup, so I want to be careful here that you're doing a lot of extra things with people that's not usually the nature of business in your state. But I'm just curious how you think about that.

VM: No, I mean, look, we're doing a ton. I mean, we're a startup, but we're a very fast-growing, very large startup now in the private world. And we're doing a couple of things. One, we are actively managing people's career paths in a very different way. There used to be a thou shalt not cross thing in marketing career paths where if you're a performance marketer, you can't get to brand or if you're a brand marketer, you can't get to life cycle marketing and these kinds of things. So we're actively earlier in career trying to break those boundaries. So when we now have career path conversations, we do a lot of succession planning, individual development plan conversations, like I'm sure many of my colleagues do. We are much more intentionally asking people to move around earlier in their career to different things.

GS: Got it. Got it.

VM: So there's a very intentional conversation happening at Chime around that. And we have quite a few examples of people that we've taken from previous thou shalt not cross lines, across lines. The key is to do that early in career because what happens later is you get a career innovator's dilemma. Right?

GS: Exactly.

VM: It's like you're now making so much money in brand that to take a junior job in performance becomes a very hard thing to do. So we as CMOs have to start this early in people's careers. And then the second thing is, I mean, it's somewhat cheesy things like we have a marketing book club, which is I share everything I'm reading and we share that with each other. Two weeks ago we had a marketing offsite where we spent an entire afternoon on AI panels, and I brought in the leaders of AI in the industry that I think are leading the way. And we had panels and sessions and workshops on AI and how it's going to impact marketing. So I don't think it matters how big or small you are. I think ensuring that career paths are managed and we're really bringing the outside in, I think is the key to it. And people are up for it. I've seen very little resistance to this. I think people just don't know what they don't know sometimes.

GS: Good. No, I love that you're giving room and space for that. Hey, the other thing that's interesting, you've actually worked in... I have a lot of background in VC because I was out on the Bay Area and was a venture partner, so I get that. But you've done PE-backed companies, you've done VC-backed companies, you've done private companies. Is there a different game plan for those businesses? How do you look at those when you're doing them? Any advice you have for people? I have a lot of board members ask me about trying to get with the PE guys more. So I don't know.

VM: I recommend everyone be a big C-suite public executive and a PE, VC-backed private executive. And the reason is simple. I think in the C-suite public executive, I think that's well understood. You got a lot of skill sets there. I think that's well documented. And I know you've talked about that a lot. On the private side, whether it's PE or VC-backed, a large percentage of your board is made up of investors. And what do investors want more than anything? They want return on that investment.

GS: Yes.

VM: So what you learn really, really quickly is how to talk the language of ROAs, how to talk the language of ROI. There's no room. You have X amount of cash between raises and with that X amount of cash, you have to get from this many customers to this many customers to get to your next financial event. Whether that's a new raise, an IPO, a sale, it doesn't matter. But it's really about constraint. The beauty of PE and VC-backed businesses, what you learn in them, is that there is a constraint. You literally have X amount of cash in the bank and you have to get from place A to place B with that amount of cash. And many times in these companies, we talk about the role of marketing. Actually, if you knew my percentage of revenue that's in marketing, it would make most CPGs look paltry in comparison.

We're spending way in excess of 20 percent of revenue on marketing. So the pressure point of growth in a lot of businesses in this stage and with VC dollars is the return on investment on the marketing dollars. So I look at it as the torture test of CMOs being extremely return-focused on everything they spend in a way that a public company C-suite job doesn't quite get you there. You have more room and more of a longer-term orientation. So it's the mix of both that give you these skills that I think you got to do. And I highly recommend both sides for marketers.

GS: Yeah, no, they really do. I mean, I think the thing I like about the PE from talking to my friends about it is that the people leading the PE company, they have a very strong sense of any dollar saved today is worth $17 later or whatever the equation is. And so everything gets scrutinized. Everything gets managed because it ultimately affects the return later.

VM: Absolutely.

GS: It's a set of discipline that not all businesses really have.

VM: Yeah, and I think it makes us better. It's almost like having a personal financial return trainer every day beside you, and it actually, I think, makes us better as marketers. I'm really appreciative of these teams that I work with.

GS: We're going to wrap things up here in a minute, but I have a question for you, just occurred to me. Of all the skills that you have learned, the variety of skills that you've learned, what's the one, non-marketing, that has most benefited you in the role you have today? Could you give an orientation to that?

VM: Yeah, look, I'm going to go after all this talk about where the industry's headed and where everything... I'm going to go old school with this one, which is ultimately for what we have to do, it comes down to talent and hiring. And I know that sounds cheesy, but actually in a world of specialism, if you don't know enough to be dangerous, being able to hire those specialists on your leadership team, you can make a lot of misfires. And so through mistakes, I think what I've learned is I'm getting better and better. My batting average continues to improve over the years in terms of being able to now hire not just for culture and fit, which I think we did for a lot of years, to specialist competencies. So if I'm hiring a head of performance, a VP of performance marketing versus a VP of brand versus a VP of product marketing, now specialism is rising to the VP ranks of a CMO's leadership team.

GS: Oh, interesting.

VM: And I actually think that that's one of the secret sauce. How do you find those people that are specialists that are also outstanding cultural leaders and talent developers? And that's something that I honestly credit any success I've had to the teams that have been around me. And none of us have a perfect batting average, but over time, if you can increase that batting average, that's, I think at a certain level in a company, the most important thing you do is hire great people. More and more hiring great people doesn't just mean leadership. It also means people that balance specialism with leadership and getting that right I think is critical.

GS: But some of that then is you having... Listen, talent is everything. I totally agree. So it's knowing the gap and the specialty that you're trying to fill, understanding the variety that doesn't get... But what I'm hearing you also say is then being able to recognize those that do have talent in that area, I think you're going after also.

VM: Absolutely. Absolutely. And it's getting harder to do that because as people have grown up as specialists, they haven't always built the same leadership acumen that companies like CPG have built.

GS: Right. Then you've got that can they perform at this level in this way and be a leader in the business and help really support what needs to happen? But even just understanding that segment of what they do, right? Yeah. So I get you. We had a little situation here at the MMA, it turned out that we had a problem, a technical one around email deliverability that nobody here knew and we now have brought in the experts to do it, but yeah, that really hurt us to not have that one had gotten right. I totally get it. So I get it.

So Vineet, listen, let's do this. I got a couple of questions to wrap things up here. These are ready for you. These are lightning round questions. You can go anywhere you want with these, right? So first one is, who else in marketing? So it can't be a company you've worked with, it could be a person you work with, that's fine. But who do you admire? Is there somebody outside of Chime, and it could be a marketer or it could be a company's work that you go, "Ah, I wish we were doing that?"

VM: I've got full stack. I'm going to give you my three that I think cover the gamut for me. Always said, but the way Nike has remained culturally relevant over time, it's unheard of and the way they build at that very top of the funnel is unbelievable. I think then what Dara and the team did back in the heyday of Peloton, when they built that brand through community, I really think advertising—this probably a whole other thing—is dead. It plays a role, but it's really about brands that are built through your community out. And what she and the team did at Peloton was truly amazing to build a brand through community.

GS: Crazy.

VM: So that's the brand building part of it. And if I go to the last part of the stack, you look at companies like that are... People don't realize, I think they're the first or second largest advertiser in the world. And no one really knows that. I think they spend $3, $4 billion a year in advertising and no one really knows that, but they've got that direct response, high intent bottom of the funnel engine cracked down better than anyone. When I talk being a full-stack marketer, take Nike, the cultural relevance of Nike, the community out brand building of Peloton, and the direct response engine of something like a Booking, and that is what a modern organization should look like today.

GS: I think you've just identified what the three stools of your leadership team would best look like if you could white paper start all over. I don't know.

VM: That is kind of how we're organized, to be honest.

GS: I don't know who your team is. I want to be a little careful about that. Okay, good. I don't know who I'm talking about there. Okay. Listen, what's most overhyped in marketing today? What do we get carried away with? What do you think we're too far over on?

VM: I don't know if it's overhyped, but I think the more we talk about the differences between brand and performance marketing, the more of a divide we actually create. We just have to stop that conversation, talk about it as one thing, and win back the narrative that has been taken away from us.

GS: Got it. Okay. Good, good, good. And what's underappreciated in marketing today?

VM: It's happening more and more, but on public boards, the role that a CMO can play in public board profiles. It's happening more and more as the job of a CMO continues to evolve. I think more and more boards are seeing the value of having a CMO on their board, but I think that's in early days and we're going to see a lot more of that over the next decade.

GS: Well, actually I'll back that up with data because I happened to have done it. It was done by Dr. Neil Morgan and Dr. Kim Whitler, who I know both of them. I work with Neil today, in fact, on things. And they did a study where they looked at the boards, they looked at boards with marketers and boards without marketers. And boards with marketers had 3 percent higher growth on average.

VM: Well, there you go. I guess it's proving true.

GS: I mean, listen, you've sat on boards. The challenge of boards is that they're often construed of investors, finance people, and legal people, which are all about mitigating risk. And risk is not growth. You can't build yourself to success by mitigating risk. That's not the way the world works. And so somebody's got to say, "Wait, wait, wait. What are we doing to go next here? Why are we not seizing that opportunity? How do we invest into that? This is a real problem." Okay, final one then. I think I maybe know your answer, but I don't know, maybe put a new twist on it. We'll give you one more. What's the one thing that you think somebody listening today can do to become a better CMO? And they don't have to be a CMO yet. Maybe you can approach it from they're in the job, or you can do it like getting there. They may have been listening to this podcast, but go ahead.

VM: Yeah, I'll give you two related ones. The first one is build your career through experiences. Think of your career as a, like I said, a jungle gym versus ladder. That's bucket one. And then two, I always say to people, and then bloom where you're planted. So what that means is when you're in that experience, go and kill it and the next experience will emerge. What happens to a lot of people is they get an experience, say, "I don't like it," and they retreat or don't put their full selves into it. Look at the experience as the exact thing it's meant to be: an experience that could be hard, could not be exactly what you want, but if you're playing the long game, you understand the role that's going to play. So bloom where you're planted as you're chasing experiences, not speed, titles, and pay. And I think you're going to be fine in your career.

GS: Yeah, I would agree. Stop trying to have so much control over it. Just try to do the best damn job you can when you're there in the moment. And listen, if it doesn't work over time, I get it. Maybe you got to make a change, but really, yeah, dig in. Let's go everybody. Listen, I knew this was going to be fun. I knew I was going to learn a ton. I love your perspective. Like I said, I knew you back at Walgreens. I listened to you there. You were bringing data into that company, which oddly enough I don't think had as much at that time, and I saw you lead the charge. I thought that was super impressive.

I'm so not surprised you're over in a business like Chime right now. It seems tailor-made because they really... Listen, it's a great company. Chris and team have done a great job, but there's a bigger brand to be built there, so go do it. And that is, at the end of the day, that is going to be a data-driven customer experience dynamic. So you're the perfect guy for it. So congratulations, well done. Thank you for doing this today.

VM: Thanks, Greg. Great to be with you.

GS: Thanks so much again to Vineet Mehra from Chime for coming on Building Better CMOs. Check the description of this episode for links to connect with Vineet. And if you want to know more about MMA's work to unlock the power of marketing, visit Or you can attend any one of our 30 conferences in 15 countries where MMA operates or really write me, Thank you so much for listening. Tap the link in the show notes to leave us a review. And if you're new to the show, please follow or subscribe at 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 Artwork is by Jason Chase. And a very special thanks to Lacera Smith. This is Greg Stuart. I'll see you again in two weeks.

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