Life after brand management: Martin Burton
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 my career in the graduate intake program for Nestle Australia. My first marketing gig was product manager in Nestles Foodservice division where I was blessed with a boss that I truly respected (you don’t always find those along the journey) and who really taught me the ropes.
Nestle was a great training ground and everything I’ve achieved since has in some way leveraged my marketing training and experience at Nestle (I’ve also got a bunch of lifelong friends from the marketers I essentially grew up with along the way).
Highest marketing level reached?
After Nestle I worked for Sony and Kodak in senior marketing and sales roles and then snared a general manager role running Konica Minoltas Photo Imaging Business for Australia and then moved to general manager, marketing and sales at Scenic Tours (Australia’s largest touring company).
What do you do now?
I wanted to have the freedom to work for myself so I took the plunge 2 years ago. I do freelance marketing and sales consulting and I have two businesses that I have ownership and directorship of. The Paperplace was my family business, a specialising in retailing and wholesaling paper imported from all over the world. The other is a carbon offset web business, www.tickgreen.com.au, a small but growing enterprise as companies look for ways to make small steps to offset their carbon footprint. And I drop off and pick my kids up from school five days a week – something I never had the chance to do in the corporate world, which only really talks about, rather than does, work/life balance.
Did you choose your path or did it choose you?
In a roundabout way I chose it – I actually joined Nestle with a degree in human resources and industrial labor law. After six months filing industrial relations law documents and observing the key role that the marketing graduates had driving Nestle’s business (before the accountants took over last decade) I said, “That’s for me!”. I was given the task of recruiting a product manager role – five minutes later I went up to the marketing director’s office and said I’ve found you the right candidate already. He laughed and gave me the job.
What’s the most important skill that you’ve taken from your marketing days?
I’d nominate a combination of process and intuition. Nestle drilled process into me (I’ve been trying to escape it ever since) but in reality it’s an approach and discipline that I’ve taken to every role. But process alone takes you only so far. To be a truly outstanding marketer you also have to have good gut feel. I’ve never met a successful entrepreneur who didn’t have superior intuition.
If you had your time again, would you climb the corporate marketing ladder?
Absolutely, although I think marketing’s role in large organisations has fallen in status as the economic rationalists (aka accountants) handbrake risk taking and entrepreneurial spirit. You’ll need to move outside the big companies sooner now to have influence in a more entrepreneurial company.
What were the best and worst parts of your role as BM?
Certainly the camaraderie formed working as part of motivated team was always the most rewarding part. People management is a whole new and rewarding experience as well. Any genuine new product launch always gave you great experience across all elements of the marketing mix. The worst part is endlessly working on simple product line extensions. I’m staggered at the number of meaningless ‘me-too’ line extensions designed simply to crowd supermarket shelves and grab a couple of extra share points that simply add no value for consumers. I’m embarrassed sometimes to think that products I’ve launched created so much waste and served no genuine need.
What career tips would you offer an aspirant or current BM?
If you can secure a role with a great trainer, like one of the FMCG companies then grab it, it’s a great platform for any career. But don’t stay forever with the one company, try and gain experience across a variety of categories to maintain versatility and avoid being pigeonholed in one industry. I see too many senior marketers and general managers who’ve got there through attrition and never tested their skills outside their comfort zone.
Now that youve left the world of brand management, are you satisfied with your current role? If not, what are your future career aspirations?
I’ve managed to find a really good balance across my own businesses and by combining that with consulting work I get variety and lots of time with my family. For the future, I’ve just finished some work for AC Milan Football club here in Australia. Through a friendship formed there, I jump on a plane next week to live in Italy with my family for seven months. I’ll connect with my work over the web (as infrequently as possible) but plan to dedicate my time to family, great food and wine. Given we will be living on a vineyard that shouldn’t be hard – we plan to pick the grapes, make the wine and then enjoy the fruits of our labor. The whole community lends a hand so it should be a great experience. No marketing, just consumption. Salute!