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CMO Club Spotlight: Jerome Nadel of Rambus

December 15, 2015

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This week, we’re turning the spotlight onto Jerome Nadel, CMO at Rambus and Silicon Valley Chapter member. 

Jerome Nadel, CMO at Rambus

Jerome Nadel, CMO at Rambus

Jerome Nadel, like so many of his peers, did not set out to become a marketer. His background is in psychology and scientific research, both of which still inform his approach to marketing today: “There’s no need to wear a mask at work. The more real you are, the more vulnerable you are, the better employee and leader you’ll be.” Read on to learn more about Jerome’s diverse background and philosophies on life and profession.

1. What was your first (or favorite) job you’ve had?

I have two favorite jobs. Here’s the first: While in grad school and working on my PhD in Psychology, I got a research fellowship with the National Scientific Foundation at Williams Air Force Base. The first summer I spent there reinforced the awesomeness that can happen when psychology is applied to design. One project I worked on involved an F15 flight simulator. A helmet had been developed for pilots to wear in the simulator that sensed the positioning of the pilot’s head and where he was looking. Unfortunately, the simulator wasn’t working for all pilots. My challenge was to try to understand the human factors that might cause the helmet to malfunction – what was different about each pilot? Turns out it was the pupil size of the pilots that affected the functionality of the system.

I loved that job! I was able to connect the values I was learning with real-world systems. It taught me that psychology isn’t esoteric; it has real world implications.

My second favorite job was far more life altering. I started my professional career with the human factors lab at IBM and then made the transition from research to marketing when I moved to Unisys in 1987. In 1993, I moved to a user experience consulting firm where one of my clients was a well funded French start-up.

In 1999, following my teams’ engagement, the CEO of that company asked me to interview for the CMO position with Don Lucas, an original investor in Oracle, one of the biggest names in the venture capital world, and the chairman of the board of this company. I knew nothing about being a CMO and was panicked about interviewing with Don but also knew I would learn a lot just from meeting with him.

I had heard that Don is a “quirky guy”. If he likes you, he’ll take you to his house. If not, the interview will be short. We went to a greasy spoon in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and talked about life, politics, and art, and then went for a drive around some country roads. Don stopped and pointed out a giant house on top of a hill and asked me what I thought of it. I told him it looked like a nice house but that I preferred for big houses to be in the valley and for people to look at the natural beauty of the hills. Don didn’t respond – he just gunned it to his house in the valley. During the interview, Don explained that the company was run by extremely smart people who didn’t know how to tell a story. I accepted the position with much to learn…

That job taught me how to be a real marketer including how to establish real value, positioning, strategy, execution, selling, and yes, telling a compelling story. We coined the term Predictive CRM and eventually sold the company for 11X earnings in 2000. It was all a blur of positive reinforcement.

2. As someone who has successfully crossed industries, how important is industry experience for marketing leaders today?

I think that there are skills and thinking that are very transversal, but deep knowledge in your specific industry and vertical is important as well. The more strategic the role, the more you benefit from cross-industry experience. And the more experience you have, the broader your perspective on whatever you do. You must have both ends.

3. How has your international experience — personally and professionally — shaped your career and perspectives?

Profoundly. In French, étranger means “stranger”. You are so humbled when nothing works the way you’re accustomed to. It applies to the littlest things – from paying a bill to shopping to managing employees who have a different view of manager-employee relationships. The things you know are valuable, but the things you don’t know can be a great learning opportunity.

Leverage what you know, be sensitive to what you don’t. This philosophy applies to marketing as well.

I learned early on that in France, managers don’t invite employees over to their homes. It’s understood that management should stick with management. At first, I was resistant to that mentality because that’s not what I was used to. I wanted to empower my employees and make them feel like equals. But I soon learned that employees wanted that separation too! They weren’t interested in being empowered at first. They wanted to be told what to do and complain about management in their free time. In the end, we met a little more toward the middle.

4. What characteristics do you value most when hiring new marketing talent for your team

  • Execution, experience and skill are all good things.
  • Chemistry and style are huge.
  • Creativity and innate storytelling.
  • The ability to influence others internally and externally.
  • Results oriented.
  • A generally positive attitude.

Each additional player affects the alchemy of the team.

5. What technology are you most looking forward to using or implementing at your company?

We are currently looking to transition from only licensing IP to licensing plus making products from the IP. Fundamentally, for this to happen, the company needed to pivot. I told them, “Our IP is a product. If we were able to think of it as a product, ideally we’d want to make it easy to integrate as well as provide tools and services to make sure people are using it correctly.”

We’re talking about a cultural transformation to embrace design thinking and product-centricity. One technology that helps this shift is an internal digital product dashboard that shows the status of all products we’re working on. It will have everyone in the company thinking “product”. We have to be good on the inside to be good on the outside. This new tool helps to make it visual and visceral.

6. Name one CMO or Head of Marketing who impresses you today and tell us why.

Tim Brown, CEO and Whitney Mortimer, CMO, of IDEO have a great playground around marketing and understand the value of design thinking. Their approach is really about leveraging stories of concrete success with wacky techniques. By being their quirky and creative selves, they are encouraging people to embrace fringe thinking, thereby making it more mainstream. You can re-envision anything if you allow yourself to.

7. Do you have a personal mantra, words of wisdom or favorite inspirational quote?

I have two.

#1: I live by this fast and fit metaphor: We all have fast. It’s a gift we’re born with (smart, athletic, artistic). Fit is how you respect your fast. If you can work hard at the things you love and are good at, you’re going to be special.

Find your fast and love it with your fit. I think there is a tremendous opportunity to help young people learn the value of working hard at the things they’re good at.

#2: Even in the most transactional environments, lead with love. When you cook with love, people can taste it. Goodness is beyond skin deep. When you approach someone with an offer, lead with giving and goodness. I feel it’s important to infuse love and giving into outreach, branding and employee relationships.

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