CMO to CEO – Malaysia

Here is a list of CEOs in Malaysia who started their careers in marketing:

Dato’ Sri Mohammed Shazalli Ramly: He cut his teeth in branding and marketing at Unilever, BAT and Astro before coming CEO at ntv7, Celcom Axiata,  Telekom Malaysia and Boustead Holdings respectively.

Johan Dennelind: He had served as both Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) in DiGi before becoming CEO in 2008. He had also been CFO, CMO and deputy CEO of Telenor Sweden.

Rudy Khaw: With over 16 years of experience in brand management, Rudy is a seasoned brand expert who has served as the Chief Brand Officer of AirAsia and airasia Superapp where he successfully led several strategic branding initiatives that resulted in significant revenue growth. He was appointed Chief Executive Officer of airasia brand co. recently.

Santharuban Thurai Sundaram: Inaugural CMO of the Year winner, Ruban was appointed CEO of Etika Holdings Sdn Bhd in early 2022. Under his leadership, the FMCG industry in Malaysia has seen several innovative campaigns and strategies that saw the rise of brands like WONDA Coffee and Goodday Milk and prompted further growth of brands like Pepsi, Mountain Dew and Tropicana.

Tan Sri Tony Fernandes: Former Chief Marketing Officer of Warner Music Southeast Asia and founder of AirAsia, he became CEO of AirAsia and revolutionized the Malaysian aviation industry.


Companies are increasingly realizing the importance of marketing expertise and the ability to understand customer needs and market dynamics in driving business success. Several studies and reports have noted this trend:

  1. Spencer Stuart’s CEO Index: According to a study by executive search firm Spencer Stuart, the percentage of CEOs with a marketing background in S&P 500 companies has been steadily rising. In 2020, 10% of CEOs had marketing experience, an increase from 5% in 2011.
  2. Accenture CEO Success Study: Accenture’s research found that the proportion of CEOs with a background in sales or marketing has been rising steadily since 2007. In 2019, 24% of the world’s largest 2,500 companies were led by CEOs with sales or marketing experience, up from 17% in 2007.
  1. HBR Study on CMO to CEO Transitions: A Harvard Business Review study analyzed CEO transitions across Fortune 500 companies. It found that among the CEOs who started their careers in the company’s marketing and sales function, around 30% were promoted internally, highlighting the increasing recognition of marketing professionals’ leadership capabilities.
  1. Korn Ferry’s CEO Succession Study: Korn Ferry, a global organizational consulting firm, conducted a study on CEO succession trends. Their research revealed that marketing and sales executives are increasingly being chosen as CEOs, surpassing executives from other functional areas like finance or operations.
  1. Weber Shandwick’s CEO Reputation Premium Study: Weber Shandwick, a global public relations firm, conducted a study that examined the reputational impact of CEOs from different backgrounds. The study found that CEOs with a communications background had a higher reputation premium compared to CEOs from other backgrounds.
  1. Deloitte’s Global Marketing Trends Report: Deloitte’s annual Global Marketing Trends report emphasizes the rising importance of marketing in shaping business strategy.

While these reports provide valuable insights, it’s important to note that the CEO selection process is complex and involves multiple factors. The specific industry, company culture, board preferences, and individual qualifications all play a role in determining the ideal candidate for the CEO position.

For more on the Malaysia CMO Awards 2023, visit:

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The APPIES is an annual event that presents a rare opportunity for creative, media, digital and marketing agencies or brands to present their best campaigns to the industry.

This is the only event where Live Presentations meets Live Judging.

Similar to TED Talks, The APPIES is the chance for great presenters with outstanding work to show it off to some of the industry’s most important industry leaders.

This year’s winners will receive Gold, Silver or Bronze trophies for 21 categories, and 6 special Best of Best categories (red trophies) that require no submissions!

Campaign entries must have run between June 2023 to May 2024

Submissions Deadline
30th June 2024

APPIES Festival – Judging & Presentations
11th – 12th July 2024 (Malaysia)


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