C-Suite Miniseries: The Hospitality CMO – A Global Profile Of The Evolving Role

Andrew Hazelton, Thomas Mielke | CANDIDATE RESOURCES, Cruise Sector, GAMING INDUSTRY, LEADERSHIP

As part of our investigative C-Suite miniseries, which takes a closer look at and profiles the key senior leadership functions at hospitality companies around the globe, Aethos™ now attempts to paint a clearer picture of the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) role and the leaders who define it.

Thus far, we have profiled the changing roles, competency sets and backgrounds of the Chief Commercial Officer, the Chief Human Resources Officer and the Chief Information Officer. Arguably, the CMO is another important piece of the puzzle – not yet completing, but certainly providing a much more comprehensive picture of the management teams of hospitality organisations around the globe.

Profiling Today’s CMO Throughout the Hospital Industry

Aethos™ commenced by looking at the current or most recent senior marketing executives sitting on the management teams of the foremost hospitality companies around the globe within three subsegments of the industry – cruise, lodging and gaming. The selection was narrowed down to just five globally renowned organisations per segment – to serve as representatives for the hiring practices of “best-in-class” hospitality organisations.


First things first – What’s the best route to the top? We investigated the executives’ educational background and their exposure to different industry segments. Contrary to what one might expect, a major in marketing is not what is needed to succeed. Instead, most of the commercial leaders are true business generalists. They have pursued studies such as business economics or political science, or they majored in highly specialised business functions such as accounting or engineering. When it comes to the educational background of the CMOs, it appears, though, that a master’s degree or MBA is “preferred,” with 60% of the executives holding such advanced degrees.

Looking at the career paths and the experience gained in different industry segments or sectors, it becomes apparent that having previously worked in the hospitality (or travel) industry remains a key factor in securing the top marketing seat at any of the selected hospitality organisations. Because many organisations keep reiterating their need to “change up” their talent pool and gain “fresh perspectives” by recruiting from other sectors, it is somewhat of a surprise that only four out of the 15 selected CMOs came from outside the sector. The marketing function should be one of the few roles in which greater cross-industry exposure would make a lot of sense. Executives from the retail sector, fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) or any consumer-driven industry should be well-equipped to add value and new ideas to the hospitality industry. Unfortunately, only Hilton Worldwide, Marriott International, MGM and Norwegian Cruise Line seem to have taken the plunge and the “risk” to opt for an industry outsider. Arguably, though, some firms have a successful track record in recruiting from the FMCG or retail sector for other leadership functions within their organisations (most notably Royal Caribbean).

We also looked at internal versus external recruits as well as cross-border hires. In other words, have the CMOs previously worked with the organisation before assuming their current function and do they come from the same regions as their company headquarters? Or, do they share the same cultural background? Firstly, it is interesting to note that approximately one-third of the CMOs have previously been known to, and have worked with, their current employers – albeit in a different role. This includes, for example, Michael Weaver at Wynn and Meg Lee at Norwegian Cruise Line, who both “auditioned” for the role having previously held an SVP/VP function. Kevin Clayton at Galaxy Entertainment returned to the organisation having previously worked with the company five years prior to his appointment as CMO. Secondly, somewhat astonishingly (although most of the CMOs do bring on board international experience), most CMOs share the same cultural routes as the organisations they are working with – with Claire Bennett at IHG being one of the few exceptions to the rule. In an industry that can truly be described as an international business, not seeing more cross-border hires is quite remarkable.

The selected peer group is thus painting a fairly clear picture. To reach the top and assume the CMO function, executives are likely to be generalists and strategists, highly educated and savvy as it relates to all aspects of the business, not just their own domain. They are also, at least to date, highly likely to be industry experts – or insiders as some might say. They will have grown up throughout the ranks within a hospitality and/or travel-related business and proven their worth within a people- or service-driven organisation. Exceptions to the rule include, for example, Riccardo Casalino at MSC Cruises (who has a background with Proctor & Gamble), Karin Timpone at Marriott International (who brings on board a lot of experience in the media segment with Disney and Universal Studios), Kellyn Smith Kenny at Hilton Worldwide (who has worked with Uber and Microsoft) and Meg Lee at Norwegian Cruise Line (who has a background with Johnson & Johnson).

Coincidentally, did you notice that the last three named executives are all women? In fact, 40% of our surveyed CMOs are female leaders. When it comes to gender diversity, this is not a bad place to be and it is certainly a much better ration than for most other leadership roles within the hospitality industry. Although both Claire Bennet (IHG) and Kellyn Smith Kenny (Hilton Worldwide) are relatively new to their positions, they join Kathy Mayor (Carnival Corporation), Meg Lee (Norwegian Cruise Line) and Karin Timpone (Marriott International) in spearheading the marketing functions at their respective organisations (note: Kathy Mayor has now assumed the Chief Digital Officer function). The lodging industry, on- and off-shore, is thus the stand-out subsegment in which women are at the forefront of commercial leadership, especially keeping in mind that another woman, Maud Bailly, is heading up the commercial department at Accor as Chief Digital Officer (in charge of distribution, sales and information systems). This is a contrast to the gaming industry, where, for the moment part, the senior leadership team remains a “boys club.” Lilian Tomovich at MGM is the only woman waving the gender diversity flag for the casino sector.