Life after brand management: James France
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?
When and where did you work in marketing?
I started at Unilever in the early 80s, then a short stint at Philips electronics before embarking on my liquor career which has been going since 1991.
Highest marketing level reached?
Category director of spirits, Remy Cointreau USA, based in New York.
What do you do now?
I started my own liquor importing company about 3 years ago, Vanguard Luxury Brands Pty Ltd.
Did you choose your path or did it choose you?
A bit of both. From my time overseas I knew of many great spirit brands that were in demand here but which no-one was importing, so I spotted a niche. Also I was at a point in my life when I wanted more strategic control of the business in which I was working.
What’s the most important skill that you’ve taken from your marketing days?
Professionalism in verbal and written presentations, combined with an appreciation of the importance strategy.
If you had your time again, would you climb the corporate marketing ladder?
Yes. The benefits outweigh the costs.
What were the best and worst parts of your role as BM?
Best parts would include the skills you pick up (research, working with ad agencies, writing marketing plans, NPD etc), as well as injecting some creativity into what you do. Some of the social life which was pretty good fun too! Politics would definitely be the worst part, as well as interminable budgeting processes and working with some sales forces whose self-appointed mission it was to hang the marketing department out to dry.
What career tips would you offer an aspirant or current BM?
Choose an industry you are passionate about. Work with the salesforce; not against them. Go out in the trade with them at least one day a month. Listen to them and incorporate their thoughts into the planning process. Be prepared to do the hard yards and don’t be too precious: just because you went to uni doesn’t mean you are above using a tape gun or a photocopier to get the job done. Don’t get caught in the jargon trap. Speak normally!
Now that youve left the world of brand management, are you satisfied with your current role?
Yes, I am my own boss and am having a lot of fun shaping the direction of my company. Of course this comes with its fair share of sleepless nights too. But I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my brand management experience.