Cammie Dunaway

Author and Board Member, Red Robin and Planet Fitness

Throughout her career as an executive for Frito Lay, Yahoo!, Nintendo and KidZania, Cammie Dunaway has earned a stellar reputation as a brand-builder and inspirational leader. Hoping to share what she has learned, she recently wrote the book, Fit Matters. In it, she addresses practical ways to explore what could happen for all of us, and for the world, if more people actually loved their jobs.

Dunaway currently serves on the boards of Red Robin, Nordstrom Bank, GoHealth and Planet Fitness. She’s been featured in numerous publications and is a frequent speaker at companies and universities. She earned her MBA from Harvard Business School.

How has your rich marketing background shaped your strategic views and board recommendations?

As a marketer, I am wired to think about understanding customer journeys and solving needs. In recent years, I have had to learn to navigate the rise of digitally native consumers and the emergence of so many disruptive technologies. This ability to focus on the consumer and be comfortable with rapid change enables me to think strategically in the boardroom. I can help think about where the customer is going and how we can make sure we are prepared to win with them in the long term.

How do you rate the level of marketing acumen among outside directors on today’s boards?

The level of marketing acumen certainly varies by board. Consumer product companies and retailers frequently have board members who spent at least a portion of their career in marketing, but given how rapidly the craft of marketing is changing and the fact that only a small percentage of boards have a sitting CMO as an outside director, I think there is room for much greater representation. I think marketers can add a level of focus on the customer that many companies need and desire.

Why are boards under-represented in the marketing area, particularly given the need for gender diversity?

Over the past decade, slowing growth in many industries and the proliferation of new government regulations led companies to place tremendous emphasis on productivity and compliance. These dynamics created a pull for outside directors with finance expertise. As the emphasis shifts to top-line growth, the need for marketers will increase. Also, the shift of marketing to a much more accountable, data-based discipline builds confidence that marketers will show up in the boardroom as objective, fact-based executives.

Where could there be more depth and expertise given the shift to digital and the transformation of marketing?

To grow, companies must build engaged relationships with their customers. The best defense against competitive disruption is to know how your customers’ needs are changing and to go there with them. This requires deep analytic capabilities and constant experimentation and learning. Probing to make sure that a company has this mindset and is investing in the right technologies and talent capabilities is an expertise that marketers can and should bring to the boardroom.

Where do board members with strong marketing backgrounds add the most value?

Modern marketing skills like mobile expertise, eCommerce and social media knowledge are very much in demand. Because those specifics change so rapidly, however, what is ultimately most critical is a deep level of customer centricity and a commitment to staying on top of the latest marketing and consumer technologies. It is also important to remember that while functional marketing knowledge may get you into the boardroom, you have to come to your role with more than just marketing skills. It is critical to have good business insights, P&L experience and a passion for creating shareholder value. One of the most important skills for any board member today is intellectual curiosity and the ability to ask good questions.

What compliance and governance issues relate most to improving marketing accountability?

Many compliance and governance issues like data security, privacy, product safety, and good social and environmental practices come down to honoring the trust that your customers place in your company. Marketers understand how critical trust is to maintaining a leadership position. We focus on long-term relationships and know that in this age of total transparency, we have to be constantly vigilant. Think about the damage done to Target by the data breach, to Chipotle by the food safety crisis, or to Uber by issues with female employees. Marketers know how easy it is to damage a brand and how hard it is to repair that damage, so I think we are naturally vigilant and outspoken about these risk areas. 

What are the top marketing performance concerns of boards where you have served?

Boards want to make sure that marketing executives at the company are on top of the changing consumer landscape and are effectively and efficiently deploying the right marketing tools. As a CMO/board member, you will be asked, “Is the team doing the right things?” But the larger performance concern is much more strategic than tactical. It is about charting a path for continuous growth and improvement, disrupting rather than being disrupted, attracting the right talent and making the right investment decisions.

Where and how should outside board members be leveraging their connections and relationships to further business goals?

Because marketing-focused directors are often deeply engaged with changing and new technologies, it can be helpful to make introductions to companies that we believe can help the management team meet their goals. Fortunately, it is not like the old days, where as a CMO, I was occasionally asked by board members to support their pet causes. I always hated putting budget toward those projects!

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