In this careers feature, Liz Foster asks the question, with the number of corporate marketing roles shrinking as you climb the ladder, where do all the brand managers go?


Christine Khor

When and where did you work in marketing?

1997 – 2000 marketing manager, shelf stable division at Simplot Australia (brands including Leggo’s, Engel and Big Sister).

1994 – 1997 product manager promoted to senior brand manager at Kraft Foods.

1989 – 1994 product manager at Hallmark Cards.

Highest marketing level reached?

Marketing manager, managing a team of eight marketers.

What do you do now?

I am now joint managing director of Carrera Partners, a sales and marketing recruitment specialist. We have offices in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane and employ approximately 25 people.

Did you choose your path or did it choose you?

I definitely chose the path to be in my own business… but I sort of fell into recruitment…

I knew that I would like to run my own business. My family has run a variety of different businesses and I guess I was always surrounded by that entrepreneurial spirit.

I also knew that I wanted a family and that it would be difficult to have the career I wanted, with the variety, challenge and financial reward plus the flexibility. Basically I didn’t want to be told that I had to miss my child’s sport day to attend a cycle meeting interstate!

Why recruitment? Well it was based on a really simple insight that struck me when I was the ‘customer’. As a candidate and a client (employer) there were times when I just felt that the recruitment consultant I was dealing with either didn’t understand me, or didn’t understand the role. Don’t get me wrong, there were, and are, some fantastic consultants and agencies out there, but at the time I saw a bit of a gap in the market and that is sales and marketing people recruiting for sales and marketing roles.

So after a bit of research and a lot of naivety my girlfriend and I quit our jobs and started Market Partners.

What’s the most important skill that you’ve taken from your marketing days?

I was lucky enough to work with some really amazing, smart people and I learned a lot from them. Most notably:

Commercial acumen. Although I have to admit that when it is your own money coming out of your own bank account the concept of cash flow and debtor days really hits home… they are not just numbers on a monthly report.

Contacts. I pride myself on my strong network of people that I have worked with throughout my career. Many of these I continue to work with as clients or candidates.

The importance of brand. We have spent a considerable amount of time developing our brand and ensuring that we all live and breathe it. As a ‘people business’ grows, ensuring consistent brand delivery becomes more challenging – however it is non-negotiable. We have just completed a thorough strategic brand and marketing review and are thrilled with our new creative direction. As a true marketer we have gone to great lengths to ensure that it is exemplified throughout the Carrera Partners experience.

If you had your time again, would you climb the corporate marketing ladder?

I loved my time in corporate and I loved that I had the chance to work in senior marketing roles with some great organisations, brands and people. However I have no regrets about moving out of corporate and the thought of working in a corporate environment seems a bit foreign to me now. For all of the ups and downs that come from working in your own business I cannot imagine not working for myself. Although… I’ll never say never!

What were the best and worst parts of your role as BM?

Best – the brands, learning about marketing in great organisations, the training and the talented people.

Worst – the hierarchy, bureaucracy, reporting and budgeting process.

What career tips would you offer an aspirant or current BM?

As a young brand marketer and also in my current life meeting with marketers every day, I would say slow down and enjoy. Do I sound old? I think we were, and are, in such a rush to get the next promotion, to develop the next campaign or product and to get the next big job, that we sometimes forget that we are in a people business. Our job as marketers is to understand what drives and motivates our consumers, our customers, our sales team… do we spend enough time on this or are we too busy sending off emails and finalising reports to get to the true insight?

When I interview great marketers and I ask about their proudest marketing moment it is often about them identifying something really unique about their consumer or customer and how they put a product, communication or action plan together to leverage that insight. To find true consumer insights or truths takes time and ‘real’ listening!

Now that youve left the world of brand management, are you satisfied with your current role? If not, what are your future career aspirations?

Yes (and no).

Do I miss working on iconic brands? Yes.

Do I miss working with talented marketers, developing strategies and developing million dollar advertising campaigns? Yes.

Do I miss the SOP process? (anyone in FMCG will understand what I am saying – for those not in FMCG SOP is sales and operations planning and it is all about inventory management and forecasting). No (and I wasn’t very good at it either).

Would I be able to go back to work for a head office? No, I don’t think so.

What are my aspirations?

Well, Carrera Partners still has a long way to go… we only just merged the business (in 2008) and then had to contend with the GFC. We are now building our teams and driving opportunities in other channels and other markets. I guess when I stop loving what I do, I will do something else but until then we will just keep doing what we do best which is placing the best sales and marketing people with the best organisations.