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By The Malketeer

Newly appointed general managers (GMs) often face a daunting challenge, tasked with overseeing functions they may have no direct experience in.

However, according to eBay UK’s GM, Eve Williams, and General Mills’ VP Managing Director for Europe & Australia, Ben Pearman, marketers are uniquely equipped to navigate the complexities of a GM role, making them exceptional leaders and catalysts for healthier businesses.

Both were sharing their insights at The Marketing Society’s Global Conference, “Changemakers Illuminate in London on Tuesday, 14 November. Valuable insights that can help inspire Malaysians to thrive beyond the mundane.

Every Problem Is a Marketing Problem

Pearman boldly asserts, “every problem” within a business is fundamentally a marketing problem. From negotiating investments to setting strategic objectives, marketers possess a broad skill set that uniquely prepares them for the GM role.

Contrary to the common trend of finance professionals ascending to GM positions, General Mills’ preference for CEOs from a marketing background underscores the pivotal role of consumer focus in their organisation.

Eve Williams, promoted from CMO to GM at eBay UK in March 2023, stressed the flexibility of the marketing function as a key factor in marketers excelling in GM roles. She highlighted the “customer-centricity” inherent in marketing, providing a vital compass for GMs.

This focus on understanding customer needs and aligning them with commercial objectives is an invaluable foundation for effective GM leadership.

Navigating Cost of Living Crisis Needs Relentless Focus

In a landscape dominated by evolving trends like AI, Williams stressed the enduring importance of addressing fundamental consumer needs. For eBay, navigating a cost-of-living crisis requires a relentless focus on supporting customers, a perspective instilled by the consumer-centric ethos of marketing.

Williams cited eBay’s commercial partnership with Love Island as a prime example of a marketing-led initiative addressing consumer needs while delivering business value.

This success story underscores the importance of imbuing the entire business with a sense of purpose, traditionally a function of marketing, to align strategy and maintain a laser-sharp focus on consumer needs.

Ben Pearman acknowledged the universal challenges inherent in assuming a GM role, irrespective of background. People management, particularly dealing with teams of diverse skills and roles, is a common hurdle.

However, both Williams and Pearman emphasised that GMs need not become experts in every area. Effective delegation, a skill set honed in marketing through collaboration, is crucial.

The communication skills acquired in marketing prove invaluable for GMs in effectively managing diverse teams. Williams emphasised the collaborative nature of marketing, requiring interaction with various teams such as pricing, product development, and tech.

Pearman adds that marketers’ focus on execution and collaboration helps break down silos within teams, fostering a more integrated and agile approach.

Bridging the Gap Between Strategy and Execution

Both Williams and Pearman reiterated that while a marketing background isn’t a silver bullet for GM challenges, the lessons learned in marketing are broadly applicable to the strategic functions of a GM position.

Acknowledging the need for continual learning, they advocate for tapping into the innovative perspectives of junior team members, particularly in navigating new social platforms or addressing diversity and inclusion.

The journey from marketer to general manager is a natural progression, leveraging the strategic, customer-centric mindset ingrained in marketing roles.

While challenges persist, marketers’ ability to bridge the gap between strategy and execution, coupled with their collaborative approach, positions them as valuable assets in steering businesses towards growth and adaptation.

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