#1: What was your first (or favorite) job you’ve had?
One of my first and most favorite jobs was working as a server at Piccolo’s, a Mexican-Italian restaurant that was owned and operated by two brothers who went to high school with my oldest brother. They hired me when I turned 15 and I worked there throughout high school and during holidays and summer breaks in college. I loved working there. Most of us were students and enjoyed working together. The patrons were great too. They loved the energy of the place, the fun staff and the food. Those times are still some of my best memories.
#2: What are the 3 most important components for your personal and professional success?
- Passion – I’ve often been asked, “why do you care so much?” by my peers. I guess I’m just wired that way – I can’t just give 75%. I have to give my all no matter what I’m doing. I believe that has helped me in my career as well as in my personal life. It’s important to me that I make a positive impact on a business. I love being able to look back in my career and know that that I contributed to a great sales success or product innovation. Making a positive and lasting impact really motivates me.
- Integrity – I believe integrity is important for both personal and professional success. At the end of the day, I need to look myself in the mirror and be happy with who I see. I live according to the morals and values I was raised with. I believe people see this and like working with me because they know they can trust me and count on me to do what I say I will.
- Leadership – Leading and motivating people is key. I try to be the leader that I would want to work with. I try to inspire people to push their thinking to try new things or to step out of their comfort zone and take on new or different responsibilities. I know I enjoy my job more when I’m learning and growing. I try to set the vision and focus the team on fewer big initiatives. I communicate frequently and openly. I believe that has been part of my success.
#3: Name an “inflection point” experience that prepared you for your current position as a CMO or Head of Marketing.
The inflection point actually came fairly early in my career. My first job out of graduate school was working with Pizza Hut. I was living in Florida and working with an amazing group of people. Four years into my career, I was promoted to Director of Marketing, which was the lead marketing position for the region. I was still in my 20’s and found myself with an unbelievable amount of responsibility. But, my leadership and the team at headquarters had faith in me. I grew so much in those few years and had so much fun. I worked with great people, great agencies and we did great things together. That position prepared me the most for being CMO – working well cross-functionally, leading big teams and complex projects and getting great results!
#4: What characteristics do you value most when hiring new marketing talent for your team
- Great attitude – At Red Robin, we had a phrase that you hire for personality and train for skill. While I absolutely look for skill, I first and foremost look for people who have a lot of energy and are upbeat and positive.
- Results driven – In interviews, I frequently ask this question: What is the biggest contribution that you made in your career that you are proud of – something that you initiated that wouldn’t have happened if you had not been there? I want people who are self-starters and can make a positive impact.
- Team player – There are a lot of smart people out there and a lot of great resumes. I look for those people who can work well with others. I look for people who personally contribute, but still say “we did this” versus “I”. It’s nearly impossible to do anything by yourself in a company. I want to know that person’s contribution, but I also want to see that they worked well with others. Along the same line, I tend to prefer people who are a little understated versus having large egos or being self-promoters. I’ve worked with many of those in my career and it’s just not as fun.
- Human – I look for people who are honest. I want people who say what needs to be said, not what they think I want to hear. I want people who are human and have made mistakes. One of my interview questions is always, “Tell me about your biggest mistake.” I’m not looking for how much they screwed up. I want to know if they took a risk. I want to know what they learned from their mistake. We all have, or are going to, screw up. That’s a given. Fail fast and learn faster. I want to see how the person talks about their mistake, the reasons why it happened, whether they take accountability for it, and what they learned.
- Hard working – I want real people who are hard-working and care about making a difference.
#5: What technology are you looking forward to using or implementing for your brand?
Programmatic media buying – which is basically paying what an ad is worth at the given time to reach the right person with the right ad. This is a great tool for us to buy media and reach our audience.
#6: Which book would you recommend to your fellow Heads of Marketing right now?
Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne. The book is not new, but there’s an updated version available. As I’m in a turn-around situation in a cluttered industry, it’s a great reminder about the need to carve out a new space and not to get stuck in the “red ocean thinking”. It talks about getting away from focusing on the competition and fighting over a shrinking pool and instead challenging status quo and creating new opportunities (blue oceans). The book is a good read and reminder for all heads of marketing!
#7: Name one CMO or Head of Marketing who impresses you today and tell us why.
It is hard to narrow it down to one person since there are so many amazing CMOs out there! However, if I have to pick one, I’ll pick Dick Lynch. He is currently Chief Brand Experience Officer at Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen. I have only talked with Dick on the phone when checking references on a branding and design agency that he used. He was very nice and helpful.
I’m selecting Dick because I am really impressed with what he and his team have done to turn around the Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen brand and business. This is a brand that has been around since 1972 and is in a very competitive and cluttered category. My understanding is that around 2007 (before he started), the business was not doing well with guest visits in decline, negative profits and a very low stock price. Dick started in early 2008 and under the leadership of the relatively new CEO Cheryl Bachelder (a fellow Indiana University MBA graduate), Dick has led an amazing repositioning project that has refocused on the brand’s Louisiana heritage, spice and home cooking. He launched a new advertising campaign, a new spokesperson (Annie), and led a store redesign – all of which have differentiated and positioned the brand for growth and success. I think the stock price speaks to the success of the company’s initiatives – it’s been on the rise for at least the past five years!
#8: Do you have a personal mantra, words of wisdom or favorite inspirational quote?
Yes, “Attitude is Everything”.
I have a rock on my desk in my office with that quote on it.
I love optimists and personally try to keep a positive attitude. We all face a lot in our work and personal life. And doesn’t it seem like when it rains it pours? How we deal with what happens makes all the difference. I frequently say, “You can’t control the winds, but you can adjust the sails”. Or, from Epictetus: “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” You get the idea. If you have a positive attitude, not only is it contagious and but people will enjoy being around you. Plus, you’ll be a heck of a lot happier!