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?


Wayne Carlson

When and where did you work in marketing?

From 2001-2008 I worked in travel and transport. With a fantastic Marcoms team of twenty-five people, we had great success domestically and internationally. Prior to that I worked with a JV of the theme parks and movie industry in developing some innovative approaches to existing marketing and the emergence of the internet as a channel in its own right.

Highest marketing level reached?

General Manager Marketing 

What do you do now?

I co-own a travel business focusing on Baby Boomers – initially here in Australia and more recently in UK and North America. Our business is based on a lot of what I learned about this specific market segment. 

Did you choose your path or did it choose you? 

We chose the path we’re on as part of wider life plan that took almost a year to develop and finesse into a business. The business model is the result of twenty five years in marketing and studying the behaviour of specific segments.

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

Studying, listening to and learning from the consumer. They actually want the best outcome for themselves and realise that this relies on effective two-way information flow. 

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

Yes… however I would have developed an exit plan earlier. Not necessarily to exit earlier – but more to have the goal in mind so that career choices and actions would be clearer in terms of contributing to the longer term goal. 

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

The people were the best. I had a team that were committed to the marketing goals, professional respect and exactly how to effectively deliver their responsibilities as part of the wider team. The worst parts would be around executive and board understanding of marketing and communication. Australian board rooms are very conservative with little appetite for marketing vision or innovation. One board member used to refer to marketing as “voodoo”!

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

1. Brands are living things and in large businesses. They are normally but not obviously tied to organisational culture. Know your internal culture and communications and understand the HR functions. Culture is about belief systems and the organisation’s culture has to believe in the brand and what you’re doing with it to be successful.
2. Be careful of too many plans and processes. Markets are increasingly fragmenting and consumer behaviour is more dynamic. Plan to be flexible and innovative from the get-go or by the time you’ve finished your beautiful document – it’s out of date.
3. Plan to change. After five to six years with one brand, it’s easy for hubris or even arrogance to creep in. This isn’t good for the brand – but it could be a career killer for you. Change. Refresh yourself, your outlook and your skills. Go kill another giant!

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

VERY happy! Now it’s about innovation and flexibility. Here we thrive on innovation. We know our consumers are innovating in their needs and wants and it is professionally rewarding to work to match that or even be predictive. The timing of the GFC wasn’t great, however our business plan remains solid and we’re getting back on track. Like many start-ups, we may have been wrong about a few things initially, but the one thing thankfully that we were right about was our consumers’ behaviour.