The C-Suite Squeeze: CMOs Turn Over at Unprecedented Rate

February 21, 2017

by Carla Johnson

What does it take to be an above-average CMO? According to recent research from Korn Ferry, it’s holding onto the C-suite chair for more than 48 months. In fact, at 4.1 years, CMOs have the shortest average tenure of executives, about half that of the average CEO and less than the overall average of their other C-level peers at 5.3 years. CMOs in the financial services industry lasted the longest at 5.1 years. Life sciences marketing executives stayed put only 3.1 years.

Take heart, though, it’s not all bad news for those who understand marketing today takes a different skillset.

“Today’s customer-centric CMO role is exceptionally complex and requires the right balance of left as well as right brain skills, and very importantly, a differentiated set of leadership competencies,” said Caren Fleit, senior client partner and leader of Korn Ferry’s marketing center of expertise. “CMOs with this unique profile are in high demand and are often recruited to lead the next transformation. Also, in some cases, short tenure can be attributed to the organization not being well aligned behind the change that the CMO is tasked with leading.”

CMOs are also among the youngest executives in the C-suite, with an average age of 52. Only CIOs are younger and by just one year. The average age of the CEO is 58, while that figure is 53 for CFOs and 55 for CHRO.

Marketing leadership turnover continued to soar last year. Russell Reynolds tracked 177 marketing leadership appointments in the last half of the year, which increased from 173 in the two-quarters. Total turnover for 2016 was the highest since the recruiting firm began tracking it four years ago. Of the CMOs who moved on in the first half of the year, 9% were internally promoted and more than 60% left their company for a new opportunity.

Chief Transformation Officer

We know that the CMOs who create a successful track record are those willing to lead change within their organization. They’re able to simplify complexity and collaborate across the organization. They understand the need to be business drivers first, and marketers second.

For every aspiring marketer, at whatever level, this is a warning. Gone are the days when just doing your job well will move you to the next tier. If anything, that will tether you to your current position and put you on the fast track to being obsolete. If you expect to continue being employable – either at your current job or when it’s time to move on – then you have to build your skills outside of marketing at a far greater pace then you specialize in marketing tactics.

The marketing leaders of today are those who can drive change, lead transformation and deliver exponential outcomes by being massively creative in how they approach their work.

Is that you?

Are you looking to advance your marketing – or the skills of your team – into something that builds credibility and drives revenue for your company? Contact me and let’s talk about how we can help. Or follow me on LinkedIn, and Twitter, and if you like what you see, Subscribe here for regular updates.

About Carla Johnson


Carla is a world-renowned storyteller, an entertaining speaker, and a prolific author. Having lived, worked, and studied on five continents, she's partnered with top brands and conferences to train thousands of people how to rethink the work that they do andth impact they can have. her visionary expertise has inspired and equipped leaders at all levels to embrace change, welcome new ideas, and transform their business.

Her work with Fortune 500 brands served as the foundation for many of her books. Her tenth, RE:Think Innovation (due out early 2021) busts the myth that innovation is something that requires a specific degree or special training. in fact, Carla explains why, to be a successful company in today's hyper-competitive, customer-driven world, innovation must be everyone's business. Her goal is to teach one million people how to become innovators by 2025.

Consistently named one of the top influencers in B2B, digital and content marketing, Carla regularly challenges conventional thinking. Today, she travels the world teaching anyone (and everyone) how to cultivate idea-driven teams that breed unstoppable creativity and game-changing innovation.