United Biscuits and Barclays chiefs clash over whether CMOs should be in the boardroom

United Biscuits (UB) and Barclays chiefs have locked horns over whether marketers should have a stronger presence in the boardroom for a business to be successful.

Speaking at an Oystercatchers' event last night in London UB chief executive (CEO) Martin Glenn and Barclays head of brand, reputation an citizenship, David Wheldon, shared contrasting views on the topic of whether marketers should have a stronger place at boardroom level - a debate which has been raging for years.

“Marketeers have spent years bemoaning the fact that they aren’t on the board, but it’s probably because they just haven’t been good enough. It doesn’t matter if they are on the board, everyone just needs to do their job properly,” said Wheldon.

Later he said that the real issue was ensuring the consumer’s voice is heard in the boardroom, rather than chief marketing officers (CMOs) themselves.

However, United Biscuits CEO Martin Glenn countered the point saying he disagreed “massively” and cited the recent disasters that have hit the supermarket sector due to the rise of discounters such as Aldi and Lidl, as issues which could have potentially been diverted if there had been marketers in the boardroom.

“Marketers are change agents. They bring the inconvenient truth into the organisation, and if it’s not in the board room it must work a lot harder.

“If you look at the big four supermarkets they have been somewhat surprised – less so Sainsbury’s – by the change brought by discounters. That’s down to the lack of marketing strength in the boardroom because it’s pretty obvious what was going on. But if your business model is: ‘well we have land so should therefore be building hypermarkets there’, someone should have been going ‘stop …this is a road to ruin’. There haven’t been enough strong marketers in that situation, which is why I think they should be on the board,” he said.

The point over the role of CMOs in the boradroom was raised by panel chair and Oystercatchers CEO Suki Thomson, who cited figures which demonstrated that financial, rather than marketing professionals have historically been the ones leading organisations.

Glenn stressed that all businesses failures are “at their heart” marketing failures, adding that businesses which have marketing at their heart are “just better businesses”.

Businesses which are not marketing-led “don’t have the courage” to cannibalise what is currently profitable, according to Glenn.

To be successful and have an impact on business marketers must have an “external orientation” and look at what is happening outside the organisation, and “force themselves” to ask uncomfortable questions, then find ways to apply that to the business plan, he added.

Yet to really cut through at boardroom level marketers must do more to demonstrate to their colleagues that they are not just "spenders" of money, but "makers" of it, said Glenn.

Meanwhile Wheldon spoke openly about the crisis Barclays has faced since the economic crash, stating that in a way it made its brand and marketing strategy more focused. “What’s made it straight forward is the crisis Barclays found itself in – when the trust collapses instantaneously – we lost our chairman, CEO and COO over the course of the week, and that’s unique in the world.

"What we had to do was ask ourselves ‘what do we stand for, what do we do, what’s our purpose and values’, and then set about rebuilding the brand from the inside out. That took a lot of patience and resilience but, ironically, if I’m truthful, it probably took the crisis to make it doable,” he said.

Also speaking on the panel was Post Office CMO Pete Markey and Engine Group CEO Debbie Klein.