Customer-centric C-suite roles on the rise

A report from Russell Reynolds Associates finds 17% of organizations have hired a new go-to-market leader over the last six months.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to pressure organizations to find new ways to connect with their customers, leading to a global increase in newly created “go-to-market leadership positions” – such as chief growth officer and chief customer officer – over the last six months, finds a new study by executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates.

The firm analyzed more than 1,000 publicly disclosed leadership moves across the globe, including 751 in North America, finding that 17% of the appointments were to a newly created role for the organization in question.

Whereas Russell Reynolds Associates typically tracks CMO moves and departures, the firm expanded its analysis to include other go-to-market functions, such as chief customer, growth, revenue, experience and digital officers. (CMO appointments accounted for 34% of the roles.)

The consumer and tech sectors had the largest share of leadership moves in North America – at a respective 26% and 38% – which points to the ongoing importance for brands to understand the shifting needs of their customers, according to the firm.

However, globally, professional services and education topped the list of sectors hiring the most leaders into a new role, at 35% and 29% respectively. Consumer (19%) and tech (14%) businesses were either tied with more traditional organizations – such as industrial and natural resources and healthcare – or behind them in terms of hiring into new roles.

Sectors such as natural resources are traditionally “not in close proximity to the consumer and their day-to-day decisions depend less on consumer preferences,” note the report’s authors. “However, as COVID-19 has shown, consumer purchasing patterns are changing and they are more in charge of the purchasing funnel than ever. In order for these more traditional industries to evolve with the times, placing the right leadership in place is critical.”

Overall, chief customer officer placements accounted for the biggest portion of hires globally, at 50%. That was followed by hires of a chief commercial officer (26%), chief growth officer (23%), head of marketing and communications (21%) and CMO (19%).

Moreover, Russell Reynolds Associates found that the majority of North American hires were external (83%) as opposed to coming from within the organization. This finding was consistent across all functions, including CMO (84% external), chief customer officer (77% external), chief growth officer (84% external) and chief digital officer (83% external).

“With 84 percent of CMOs hired externally, a five percentage point increase from the previous six months, the CMO succession crisis remains a major issue for marketers across all industries,” the report states. “Companies are prioritizing candidate competencies versus industry experience which has in turn translated to a peak in external hires.”

The research also examined the gender diversity of the hires as many companies look to make their hiring practices and leadership teams more representative of the general population. While gender diversity has been a stated priority for many businesses, only 27% of all appointments across North America were female.

The study found marketers were generally more gender diverse, as 45% of marketing department leadership appointments were female (representing a five percentage point drop from the previous six months).

“Although it is promising that the balance is starting to reach equilibrium in these instances, marketing seems to be one of the few areas where the rhetoric matches the reality,” the report states. “It is unclear if this is a short-term response to stakeholder pressure, or an integrated long-term strategy.”