Jeff Jones, President, and CEO, H&R Block
2020 CMO Hall of Fame Inductee

Jeff originally posted this article on his LinkedIn.

Months ago I received an email from Pete Krainik asking if we could talk – he said it was something cool! Little did I know, Pete wanted to inform me that The CMO Club was going to induct me into the CMO Hall of Fame.

It’s been such a crazy year and when Pete and I finally spoke and he shared the news, a little bit of me was waiting for a punchline… and then, later, when the live event in New York was canceled, I was fully expecting my name to be thrown back into a hat of some sorts for a possible draw another day.

One of the first things Pete mentioned was that I’d need to give an acceptance speech and it would be great if I would find someone to introduce me. I immediately thought of Todd Waterbury. Todd has a gift of being able to see what is true and possible. He oozes empathy. And he is incredibly commercially minded. I was able to convince him to join the team as Chief Creative Officer when I was at Target and I know in many ways, he’s helping them achieve tremendous success today. Fortunately, Todd said yes, and this past Thursday night delivered an introduction of me that was beyond anything I could have imagined. I continue to learn from Todd even though we no longer work together.

Just before I was introduced, Michael McDonald (my favorite Doobie Brother) performed a few songs. Michael was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this year as a member of The Doobie Brothers. What nobody in the audience knew was this story I told…

I grew up with parents who were entrepreneurs — obviously before anyone really used the word. They owned a lot of small businesses and had great success and failure…we went bankrupt when I was in high school and I watched my parents hustle like crazy, and do everything they knew how to recover – and to keep my sister and me from really understanding what was going on.

In 1974 they opened one of their first night clubs called Friar Tuck’s Pub… think disco, lighted dance floors, and all the craziness that came with that era! On the first night it opened, the very first song ever played was Listen to the Music by The Doobie Brothers… my parents were afraid nobody would dance and they were wrong. So yes, I was raised by disco-owning-parents :). It’s definitely where my love of music began, and suffice it to say, The Doobie Brothers have been on my playlist since a very young age. I could not have dreamed of anything to make an already special night more incredible!

I got into business through advertising and truth be told, when I went to college I thought I wanted to be a fashion photographer! I had 42 kids in my high school class and none of my family had ever graduated from college. As a senior in high school, I had not even taken a standardized test, but I was a decent baseball player, and I had a chance to play at Fork Union Military Academy which helped prepare me to attend the University of Dayton.

After graduation in 1990, I moved to Chicago without a job and worked in a restaurant while trying to break into business. Finally, I got an informational interview at Leo Burnett. I literally dreamed of working at Leo in college but they rejected me four times. During the interview, a guy named Bill Haljun asked me to name a product that does not exist but should…on the spot I said fingernail clippers that catch your fingernails, and I got hired. The next thing I knew I was being moved to Detroit to begin my career in advertising account management.

“Finally, I got an informational interview at Leo Burnett. I literally dreamed of working at Leo in college but they rejected me four times. During the interview, a guy named Bill Haljun asked me to name a product that does not exist but should…on the spot I said fingernail clippers that catch your fingernails, and I got hired.”

Over the last 30 years, my career has taken many twists and turns – I’ve worked in the agency business three times. I’ve been part of establishing and selling a systems integration consulting firm, worked in sales at Coca-Cola, been a CMO at Gap and Target, the global president of Uber, and now three years into my first public CEO role at H&R Block.

As you might expect, there have been MANY, MANY people who have taught me a lot, pushed me to get better, and made me look very, very good — they are why I was given this honor… and along the way, I’ve found a few things to always be true.

I shared these learnings during my acceptance speech:

  • I’ve always tried to lead with authenticity and humanity. I know that with the right people and culture anything is possible. Great people want to be led, and given a lot of rope. I believe people do their best when they know the truth and I make myself available more than many think I should. I believe hierarchy and command and control are dead, and I strive to create what I call a Connected Culture.
  • I’ve learned the world becomes clearer — and decisions a bit easier — when you have conviction about your own personal purpose and values. I wouldn’t have written The Truth Hurts during the data breach at Target, or taken a values-based stand when leaving Uber, or spoke out publicly over George Floyd’s murder and racial inequity if this weren’t true.
  • It might be terrifying to think about, but most people are going to work at least 40 years… many 50 and some, in some way, for 60 years. This is a long game and a key to decades of relevance is reinvention… being insanely curious, listening with your eyes and ears, being willing to take risks, and put yourself into uncomfortable situations. A former colleague once said, “you’re not really learning unless your ego gets bruised” – we all need to be more comfortable getting a little black and blue!
  • And one more thing I’ve learned — maybe most importantly — is that we all have an obligation to teach. I’ve feared for a long time that marketing was a profession that too many people “ended up in” versus pursued. I think we all have an opportunity to not just mentor, but really advocate and recruit.

“I know that with the right people and culture anything is possible.”

I ended my remarks by proposing a toast:

First, to my wife Margaret who’s been along for every single step in this journey since our first date in 1988 — telling me I’m awesome…and telling me I’m not that awesome depending on which one was needed. To my daughters Hannah and Maura who make me proud to be a girl dad. And to my mom and dad — I think my dad is logged on tonight and my mom has the best seat in the house from up above. I love you all.

Second, to all of the winners…many, many friends and incredible marketers being recognized tonight…congratulations to you all. I also wanted to acknowledge the past Hall of Fame Inductees; John Costello, Beth Comstock, Antonio Lucio, Anne Finucane, Stephen Quinn, Raja Rajamannar, and Jon Iwata… these are all people I’ve admired and learned from — and now to add my name to this list…all I can say is I’m grateful.

And finally… to being insanely curious lifelong learners that strive to bring more authenticity and humanity in the world! It’s needed now more than ever.

Being inducted into a hall of fame is certainly not something I ever set out to do. I simply hope that in some small ways I’ve touched the lives of others, made a difference for the profession of marketing, and prepared myself for many more years of learning, responsibility, and impact.

Watch Jeff’s induction speech here: