CMO Impact
Achieving Personal & Career Success

CMO Club Spotlight: Steven Handmaker of Assurance

Averi Melcher
April 20, 2017

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Steven Handmaker, CMO, Assurance

Steven Handmaker, CMO, Assurance

This week, we’re turning our CMO Club Spotlight onto Steven Handmaker, CMO of Assurance.

1. What was your first (or favorite) job?

In high school, I hit something of the job jackpot. This was WAY back in the 80’s and – rather than getting stuck working in fast-food – I landed a job at Chicago’s #1 DJ company. Basically, if there was a wedding, corporate/civic event, sweet sixteen or Bar Mitzvah and you wanted a DJ, you hired my company. Mind you, I wasn’t actually the one spinning the records at the party. I was the assistant who set up the equipment, put on a suit and tie, and then made sure the dance floor was packed with people.

I got paid $12 an hour to more or less party at fancy hotels every weekend. Work has been downhill ever since.

2. What are the 3 most important components for your personal and professional success?

Yikes! Where to begin with a question like this? I suppose when I think about personal and professional success it boils down like this:

  • I’ve had great role models/mentors who have created examples for me to follow.
  • I’ve always had the ability to learn from my many mistakes.
  • Apart from my mad partying skills honed by working at the DJ company, I spent much of my youth studying acting. While I never took it past college (I was too concerned with not starving for a living), so many of the basic skills I was taught I put into practice every day.

In many ways, acting is the art of communication, and I couldn’t have found personal and professional success without being at least OK at it.

3. Name an “inflection point” experience that prepared you for your current position.

Inflection points in one’s career can come at any time.

While working for my first real marketing job out of college – I was 23 at the time – I had a project end in the kind of disaster they make movies about. It involved me having to call my boss from an airport in Atlanta and explain what happened and that we were likely going to lose one of the company’s biggest accounts. The grace and concern with which he handled the situation was something I’ll never forget.

He apologized for putting me in that situation and ensured me that it was a team failure – I was just the person holding the ball at the end. He then encouraged me to have a tall drink and said that we’d figure out a plan to make sure this never happens again once I returned.

I was expecting to be fired, but instead got a very valuable lesson on leadership, compassion and accountability – one that I’ve never forgotten.

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

Very simply, I want people who aren’t afraid to bring me new ideas. A marketing team made up of people who do nothing but flawlessly execute all my ideas isn’t much good to me. I’m smart enough to know I don’t know everything. Plus, when team members contribute their own ideas, their ownership levels to seeing those through are always amplified.

5. What technology are you looking forward to using or implementing for your brand in the next six months?

This will sound pretty basic, but our company’s marketing automation and CRM system has been limited in its mobile capabilities. We’re doing an upgrade as we speak, and I’m excited to enable our sales professionals with real-time, on the go information about our prospects (and clients).

6. Which book would you recommend to your fellow CMO Club members right now?

The Purple Cow by Seth Godin is still my favorite book about marketing. I’m a firm believer in the value of identifying your competitive differential and his book makes this case brilliantly.

But rather than just offer up another book, let me suggest that, if you don’t routinely read Warren Buffett’s Annual Report letters, you’re missing out. This is communication and authentic leadership at its absolute finest. Funny. Folksy. Engaging. Self-deprecating. Educational. Mr. Buffett is truly a master storyteller – something all business communicators should strive for.

7. Name one Head of Marketing who impresses you today and tell us why.

I have great respect for Aon’s Phil Clement. Being in the same, often highly conservative industry, I understand the challenges associated with thinking different and making bold choices. Aon consistently does this and I know Phil’s leadership is a big reason why.

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

My life is basically an endless series of Bruce Springsteen song lyrics. But in terms of a mantra, I often refer to something “The Boss” would often say at his concerts before singing Born to Run. That is: “In the end, nobody wins unless everybody wins.”

I think that sentiment is 100% true in both life and business.

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