Brand Makers

Visionaries: CEO-CMO partnerships powering growth

At the first edition of Storyboard18's Visionaries event held to celebrate marketers, we had a stellar panel of CEOs talking about the CEO-CMO power partnership.

By  Aashrey BaligaNov 3, 2023 11:16 AM
Visionaries: CEO-CMO partnerships powering growth
The panel included prominent industry personalities – Kulmeet Bawa, president and MD, SAP India; Aseem Kaushik, MD, L’Oreal India; Prativa Mohapatra, VP and MD, Adobe India; Sukhleen Aneja, CEO, Good Glamm Group; Madhav Sheth, CEO, HTECH; and Devendra Chawla, CEO, GreenCell Mobility.

Storyboard18’s Visionaries, held at The Oberoi in Gurgaon on October 27, was an evening to remember. The air was thick with anticipation, excitement and a strong sense of camaraderie as the crowd of industry stalwarts gathered to watch their peers get felicitated and learn more about the bright future of advertising and marketing.

The evening included a number of stimulating panel discussions that brought good value to CMOs and CEOs present on the occasion. One of the panel discussions, chaired by Storyboard18’s Delshad Irani spoke about the ever evolving relationship between a CEO and their CMO and if a CMO can be a CEO. The panel included prominent industry personalities – Kulmeet Bawa, president and MD, SAP India; Aseem Kaushik, MD, L’Oreal India; Prativa Mohapatra, VP and MD, Adobe India; Sukhleen Aneja, CEO, Good Glamm Group; Madhav Sheth, CEO, HTECH; and Devendra Chawla, CEO, GreenCell Mobility.

Who is a CMO? What does the CMO role mean to a CEO? Well, that is an interesting topic because there is no right answer. A CMO can mean different things to different CEOs, yet be absolutely useful and crucial to the brand building process. As stated by the panel members, the CMO himself/herself or the role assigned to them signifies trust, criticality, customer experience, consumer-first, revolutionary and partnership. However, it is important to understand what expectations CEOs have from their CMOs.

Kulmeet Bawa, president and MD, SAP India, said that the number one expectation he has from his CMO is creating demand. He also mentioned that infusing creativity into demand generation is one of the aspects they are focusing on. Secondly, customer experience is absolutely essential when trying to sell a product or service to a potential user. Bawa said that upholding and propelling the brand’s image and translating it to adapt to local markets is another requirement and expectation he has from his CMO.

CMO qualities

To meet these expectations, CMOs need to be equipped with a whole host of qualities and skills to be able to cater to all necessary requirements. To understand the qualities that a CMO should possess, Aseem Kaushik, MD, L’Oreal India, shared an interesting insight. He said that since digital is the future and since India is rapidly adopting digital infrastructure, brands need to adopt digital methods to be able to keep up with changing and evolving times to better cater to the consumer. Hence, L’Oreal as a brand has shifted from being a beauty brand to a beauty-tech brand. Thus, a CMO should be able to adapt to digital and incorporate technology and relevant infrastructure into processes and products that not only boost growth but improve customer experience.

There is rarely a smooth sailing brand building journey. Disagreements are part and parcel of a partnership. While most CMOs have a good grasp of what needs to be done, there are bound to be hindrances in the CEO-CMO relationship. Thus, getting past the pain points and forging a strong relationship is key to a successful business. Prativa Mohapatra, VP and MD, Adobe India said that in today’s day and age, traditional marketing practices no longer have the same impact, and traditional skill sets for the role of marketing are not enough to boost the growth of a brand. Therefore, expectations of a CEO for their CMO are changing rapidly and that’s where the conflict arises – when there’s an expectation mismatch. Mohapatra believes that the only way to solve this conflict is to lay out all the expectations clearly, Firstly, a CMO needs to be a CEO’s speed-dial for anything customer-centric. They need to possess knowledge of all consumer segments. Secondly, the CMO is the brand custodian. They should treat and nurture the brand as if it were their own. Lastly, she mentioned that in the B2B space, a CMO should understand how to grow their existing consumer set and create lifetime value with those existing customers.

Two-way street

This paints a pretty clear picture of what CEOs want from their CMOs. However, this relationship is quid pro quo. It is a two-way street. It is necessary to understand what a CMO expects from their CEO as well only then is it a working relationship.

Madhav Sheth, CEO, HTECH mentioned that a recent study stated that only 30 percent of CEOs trust their CMOs. He added that it is absolutely essential that a CEO provides a safe passage to the CMO. This is to make sure that CMOs are a part of all the strategies that the brand plans to undertake so that they can understand the brand’s vision and bring true value to consumers.

Sukhleen Aneja, CEO, Good Glamm Group, is one such CEO who has made the transition from a CMO. She shared that in spite of the world moving to digital and traditional marketing practices slowly becoming redundant, the basic fundamental human needs have not shifted. What a product makes you feel, how a brand makes you feel about yourself, that hasn’t changed. Balancing your short-term sales for today and your long-term brand equity for tomorrow is essential. What seems easy today can hurt you in the long term. If CEOs and CMOs are able to find that balance is in sync with the business and brand they wish to build, the two functions will never have contrary perspectives.

Circling back to the fact that 70 percent of CEOs don’t trust their CMOs. Devendra Chawla, CEO, GreenCell Mobility believes that it’s not the CMO's fault here. It's the CEOs who have trust issues. He added that earlier there used to be a saying in marketing. ‘Marketing is effective, we just don’t know which half’. Then came digital and performance marketing where you could actually measure what you’re spending and how much you’re getting out of it. Chawla said that this is all well and good but the problem is that marketing has become very transactional. The whole idea of customer acquisition costs, and budgets that come with it has given a very myopic view to what marketing has become today. When a product is built today or something new is innovated, marketing today happens after it. According to Chawla, marketing should begin much before this. Are you ready for the innovation? Is the organisation ready for innovation? That’s important. If the CEOs and CMOs don’t share the same vision and values then that company is always in water. He added that marketing should move on from customer acquisition and retention and focus on the purpose of why the company exists. Going one step behind and understanding what motivates the consumer and what the product market fit is that is missing.

Only if you can lead the market, you can own the market. This can only be achieved by innovation and understanding the consumer. That is the role of marketing.


We also had the Visionary of Indian Startups, Info Edge’s Sanjeev Bikhchandani talk about how he started Naukri, advertising and the famous Hari Sadu ad from 2006, during a fireside chat with brand consultant Vani Gupta Dandia.

Storyboard18’s Visionaries also included valuable discussions on the state of media quality in India by Saurabh Khattar, country manager, India, Integral Ad Science, and the promising future of generative AI in marketing by’s founder and CEO, Suvrat Bhooshan, both mediated by Storyboard18’s Shibani Gharat.

Storyboard’s Visionaries was an occasion to celebrate CMOs who have made a deep impact through their work that has catapulted the growth of their respective companies and brands. This first edition of Visionaries at Gurgaon felicitated leading lights such as Shashank Srivastava, executive director, Maruti Suzuki India Ltd; Paras Sharma, director and head of content and community partnerships, Meta India; Anita Nayyar, COO, media, branding and communications, Patanjali Ayurveda; Sumit Mathur, CMO, Paytm; Sahibjeet Singh Sawhney, marketing head, Zomato; Ruchira Jaitly, CMO, Diageo India; Tarun Bhagat, CMO, India beverages, PepsiCo; and Vikrant Mudaliar, CMO, Dream11, Anoop Manohar, CMO, Axis Bank, Kartik Mohindra, CMO, Pernod Ricard India, Rajat Abbi, VP, global marketing, Schneider Electric, Sunil Suresh, CMO, Air India Limited, Raj Rishi Singh, CMO & CBO, MakeMyTrip, Rahul Talwar, CMO, Max Life, Rajeev Jain, Director - corporate marketing, DS Group, Pooja Baid, CMO, Philips Domestic Appliances, Anukool Kumar, head of marketing, India, Tinder, Ankit Desai, CMO, Hersheys India, Rahul Singh, vice president and head of marketing and sales, SAP and Ashish Tiwari, CMO, Home Credit India, among many others.

For more on Storyboard18 Visionaries click here.

First Published on Nov 2, 2023 7:35 PM