By The Sterling Report
The Sterling Report recently spoke with Edward Vesely,
Vision Solutions’ Senior Vice President of Marketing and
Business Development, about marketing leadership. We got several
interesting perspectives about how some leaders are better
suited for management rather than leadership roles.
The Sterling Report (TSR): What do you think is the reason
behind the truncated tenure for so many Chief Marketing
Edward Vesely (EV): I really don’t think company owners or
top executives have had the opportunity to experience how a
successful marketing leader can impact his or her business. I
once was asked by a superficial executive during a breakfast
interview several years ago, “What’s your Red Zone marketing
strategy?” My assumption is he had read about Red Zone marketing
in the United Airlines Magazine en route from Silicon Valley.
There’s nothing wrong per se with Red Zone marketing – it’s the
fact this guy was so buzzword compliant that he had me looking
for the door while the orange juice was being poured.
TSR: What issue have you encountered during your journey as a
marketing leader that you see others facing as well?
EV: The old adage ‘resolve to lead or forever bleed’ is a
good example. Years ago, I met the Director of Marketing
Communications at a company I had just joined. As the new Head
of Marketing, one of my first requests was to review her
marketing plans and recommendations, along with her goals and
budget. She handed me a nicely bound ‘advertising spending’
study that was prepared by an advertising agency. It was even
more startling when she proudly declared, “This is what we need
to do because our competition is doing it.” The conversation got
worse as she introduced six-figure branding proposals prepared
by other consultants.
TSR: So what do you suggest a marketing leader do if he or
she faces a similar situation?
EV: Be a leader. In the situation I just mentioned, the
Director of Marketing Communications wasn’t interested in new
ideas or growing her skills and kept citing the length of time
with the company as a primary reason she had earned her
position. Unfortunately, fear was pervasive throughout the
department, reminding me of a global consulting firm where it
was said success was worth 100 points but failure was a
punishing minus 1,000 – leaving most people thrashing below the
Talented marketing people worked at the new company starving for
leadership. Ordinary professionals who once empowered would
achieve extraordinary results. People with great attitudes and
aptitudes but hungry for a leader they could trust and follow.
TSR: What is the main ingredient of a good leader?
EV: Leadership isn’t magical or charismatic, and it
certainly isn’t a replacement for management. Rather, they are
complementary systems. However, most businesses with which I’ve
interacted are over managed and under led. Strong leadership and
weak management can be much worse than the opposite.
In today’s economy, so much importance is placed on
profitability to ‘ride out the economic storm.’ One could argue
strong management is more essential, but being able to
capitalize on an economic downturn and emerge a more dominant
industry leader as IBM is doing, requires great leadership and
vision. At the same time, if your business is paralyzed, it
might be from having too many managers and not enough leaders.
C-level players may need replacement to facilitate change across
It can be argued management is about dealing with complexity
while leadership is focused on change. Not everyone can handle
both. In order to be effective in bringing change to an
organization, a marketing leader must be relatively hands on
with current technologies and best practices, even bringing
technical expertise to the equation. Understanding the wide
array of new media, CRM and business intelligence options can
have a dramatic effect on business performance and
Last but not least, giving proper credit is one of the most
powerful attributes of a confident leader. Keeping a humbler
profile and aligning with the CEO and other senior leaders is
the most important visibility a marketing leader can have as
opposed to taking credit for other’s accomplishments. And a
leader is always ruthless about hiring the best people the
company can afford, which is essential to building a world-class
team with complementary skills. How can you take great risks
without a great team at your side?
TSR: How have you successfully encouraged other marketing
professionals to think outside the box?
EV: In the company I referred to during this interview, many
of the marketing professionals had grown up in the IBM world
with the ‘Think’ mantra, I soon launched a new initiative,
‘Think Different.’ I stressed the importance of developing
systems that eliminate redundancy, enabling marketers to do more
with less and focus on the more creative aspects of their jobs.
As a result, they became more productive, expenses declined,
most outsourcing was eliminated and performance skyrocketed.
I moved the Global Marketing Team through several important
stages, successfully creating change across the organization and
business following an approach outlined by John P. Kotter of
Harvard Business School (What Leaders Really Do):
- Created a Sense of Urgency – Got the word out that ‘business
as usual’ is no longer acceptable for the ongoing viability of
- Created a Solid Team – There’s so much emphasis on rock-star
creativity in marketing, but it takes a village, and you’re only
as strong as your weakest webmaster or copywriter.
- Created a Shared Vision – The team needs to know in which
direction it is going and how much better life will be – for
them and the business – when they arrive.
- Communicated the Vision – You need buy-in from key
stakeholders across the business. Especially the CEO and heads
of Sales, R&D and Finance.
- Empowered Employees to Act – Let them know ‘it’s not Air
Traffic Control.’ If they make a mistake, they’re not likely to
kill anyone. People need to take educated risks, and leaders
need to encourage and support them.
- Produced Short-Term Results – We launched a viral campaign
that sent web traffic off the charts, then publicized the
success and gave full credit to those who contributed and took
- Built Momentum – From there we transformed an expensive
‘traditional’ marketing mix to an optimized balance of proven
methods and new media strategies that leveraged the latest
- Anchored Behavior in Organization Culture – And we never
stopped! The bar continues to be set higher, people are
empowered and recognized for their accomplishments and the
status quo is never tolerated.
TSR: What is the downside for a company without solid
EV: Marketing executives who don’t lead are likely to
fail, creating plans, checklists and budgets rather than the
visions and strategies needed to lead the business forward.
Leadership is inherently more difficult than management because
it is less formula-driven, while management is a more systematic
enabler of a vibrant vision and strategy. Companies simply
cannot compete in today’s compressed cycles without strong
TSR: What role does education and empowerment play in the
EV: I’ve found a more educated, empowered and
knowledgeable workforce understands this and demands and even
respect top quality leadership. People recognize change cannot
be managed without the right leadership, and more change demands
I always smile when I hear someone, particularly in a
high-technology industry, talk about their ‘staff’ because smart
leaders always work through complex relationship webs. They
don’t simply give orders; instead, they listen, think,
communicate and develop meaningful relationships. Managers are
generally more concerned with hierarchy. In contrast, effective
leaders think more about dependencies, relationships and
networks, not simply hierarchies, formal authority and
One of the smartest practices of a strategic marketing leader is
the discipline of staying close to customers, sales people and
partners to understand their preferences, behaviors and needs.
This practice helps a leader maintain a global perspective and
fosters breakthrough thinking, resulting in armor-piercing
strategy and influence over the business planning process.
TSR: How do trust and competence play into the overall
success of a company?
EV: I cannot overstate the importance of establishing a
trust-based culture, especially across the marketing
organization. Let’s face it, most good sales people are hunters,
individualists who prefer to be left alone unless someone can
help them achieve their personal objectives. Marketing
professionals, on the other hand, are often people pleasers who
enjoy being part of communities. Trust is important to marketing
professionals who should be given a clear vision, enabled with
the tools to accomplish the objectives and supported to
All healthy business relationships require trust and competence.
Know that mistakes most often occur when people lack time or
knowledge, factors that can be overcome by an effective leader
who is in constant communication with the team.
Trust enables companies to move quickly – generating change more
rapidly. Leaders who encourage participation, listen and
negotiate are usually rewarded many fold. While complex and
time-sensitive circumstances can require aggressive tactics,
reserving coercion unless it is necessary is also important
because short-term gains can be overcome by longer-term
resentment that erodes trust.
TSR: Should you really consider ‘firing’ your company?
EV: I swear I’m not crazy when I say marketing leaders must
decide whether their company and culture will permit them to
succeed. For many important reasons, a world-class marketing
organization has a superior arsenal to increase revenues and
profits more than any time in history.
Where does the marketing leader report in the organization?
Reporting into Sales or R&D can be a recipe for disaster.
Marketing should lead sales to help enable its success.
Likewise, a qualified Marketing Team also provides R&D with
invaluable insights and can lead them to the promised land of
greater innovation and success in addressing market needs and
Another consideration is whether a marketing leader has budget
authority, which is usually, ‘yes’ if the leader is trusted.
However, there are ‘marketing founder’ and ‘owner operated’
businesses where a marketing leader will simply never be trusted
or empowered. Perhaps a strong marketing manager is the most
appropriate profile for this type of business. In the end, a
marketing leader should have a ‘seat at the table’ and be
empowered to effect change, revenue and profitability.
TSR: What do you tell those less optimistic about making a
real observable change in a company?
EV: Most people don’t come to work saying, ‘I want to do a
lousy job today.’ Quite the contrary, they crave the opportunity
to succeed in their career and contribute to the business in
significant ways. Marketing leaders carry the awesome
responsibility to help achieve a wide range of highly important
business objectives, creating challenging opportunities for
employees to develop their leadership skills along the way.
Change happens when it is woven into the corporate fabric and
becomes ‘the way we do things.’ It takes time and occurs in
phases. Skipping steps may create the illusion of progress, but
it seldom produces desired results. In fact, 50 percent of
companies reportedly fail in the first phase by not establishing
a great enough sense of urgency. President Obama articulated a
strong vision and created an incredible sense of urgency to pass
has economic stimulus package. Now the country is eager to
experience short-term wins, which would garner more support.
Finally, in economically stressed times, know that bad business
results can be a blessing and a curse. While losing money
catches the attention of boards and shareholders, it also gives
less room to maneuver.
Edward Vesely leads Marketing and Business Development for Vision Solutions (visionsolutions.com) a leading provider of high availability and disaster recovery solutions for IBM Power Systems. He is an entrepreneurial marketing executive with a
consistent record of growing revenue and market share through
state-of-the-art communications, field marketing, product
management, product marketing and telemarketing. Edward serves
on several advisory boards and is the author of Code to
Commerce, High Technology Marketing for Maximum Brand
Performance. For interview feedback, contact Edward at