THE TALENT REPORT: The skill I couldn't live without

We asked senior marketers about the attributes that make the biggest difference to their success stories. Their answers give a revealing insight into the factors and choices that have shaped their careers.

Jonathan Mildenhall: vice-president, global marketing strategy and creative communications, Coca-Cola
Jonathan Mildenhall: vice-president, global marketing strategy and creative communications, Coca-Cola

Jonathan Mildenhall, vice-president, global marketing strategy and creative communications, Coca-Cola

The skill of multi-motherhood. No, I don't have kids, and the last time I checked I was a man. But the main skill my mum showed raising five boys with only a seven-year age difference between them is a skill that I use every day. That skill is the ability to demonstrate no favouritism.

This is hard, really hard. In business you work on different projects, on different brands, with different agencies and with different people. Sometimes you love them; sometimes you loathe them.

That was the same with mum. Even though I now know she sometimes had to grit her teeth in order to do so, she never allowed herself to show any favouritism to any of her boys.

The more responsibility I am given in my job, the more important this becomes. Add this to the fact that I deal mainly with creative people, who are, by nature, emotional and insecure at the best of times, and the burden of staying neutral weighs heavy.

Sometimes I just want to scream and shout: "I really don't like you/it/this/right now. In fact I'd rather never see you/it/this again."

And then, just as I'm about to break it, I remember mum's words: "No favouritism, Jonathan. We are all born equal."

Sarah Gavin, vice-president of communications and marketing, AOLSarah Gavin, vice-president of communications and marketing, AOL

My choice is a weird one, it's being direct.

I have always been good on the empathy side of things, having started my career in educational psychology. I picked up a lot of skills and an understanding of how people work.

It is a combination of understanding human motivation and cutting through the fluff in terms of what needs to be done.

Working in the area I do, marketing can often be dismissed as the flower-arranging, so showing you can get to the point, understand business and know what you are doing has its benefits.

I think living in London for a long time has something to do with being direct, because everything is moving fast you can't afford to mess around, otherwise you would never really get things done.

I need to be surrounded by people I am always learning from. I have been very lucky in the past few years to be among very bright people. At Bebo it was Joanna Shields and the team, at AOL there are a lot of smart people, so you listen and learn.

Jan Gooding, global brand director, AvivaJan Gooding, global brand director, Aviva

The skill I couldn't live without? Appreciating collective intelligence.

When you have a global role and have worked at big companies such as Aviva, BT and British Gas, there's something valuable in this.

There is a lot of talk about collaboration, but, as a senior global marketer, it's incredibly important to recognise the input of others.

I'd like to think I have an intellectual generosity and concede that, frankly, I don't always come up with the best idea in the room.

I try to approach my working day with some humility and to work with the best ideas rather than those of the most senior people. I would hope that I'm humble enough to put this into practice.

I suspect other people would be best-placed to describe my most important skill, but I think that acknowledging the input of others and not thinking of oneself as the source of all ideas and inspiration is something I do well. 

Jenelle Tilling, vice-president, marketing, KFC UK and IrelandJenelle Tilling, vice-president, marketing, KFC UK and Ireland

I wouldn't be where I am without the support of mentors. Yum! Brands, KFC's parent company, has a formal mentoring programme and developing leadership skills is an integral part of our future.

My mentor is Roger Eaton, president of KFC USA. He's an experienced and down-to-earth business leader who has had a huge impact on my career development, taught me humility, given me courage, and brings me back to reality.

He's my biggest cheerleader, always encourages me to play to my strengths, and taught me the importance of the softer side of leadership.

I'm proud to mentor colleagues from various Yum! businesses, and I'm on the executive committee of WACL (Women In Advertising And Communications In London), where I'm able to learn from, and pass on advice to, talented women.

Workplace mentoring boosts employee development and performance. I am a huge advocate, and the benefits are self-evident.

Daryl Fielding, vice-president, marketing, Kraft Foods EuropeDaryl Fielding, vice-president, marketing, Kraft Foods Europe

I couldn't live without a good sense of humour.

I'd be horrible to work with, as my drive and ambition would not be tempered, and at 6ft tall, enthusiastic and expressive, I'd be a scary monster without it. I also believe it adds value in a career that requires people to take risks.

Creating a lighter mood in a meeting or a relaxed and happy atmosphere enables fearlessness in those around you.

It also matters to take your job seriously without taking yourself seriously.

A sense of humour vaccinates you against pomposity or arrogance, qualities I despise.

Being able to see the ridiculousness of well-paid adults discussing things such as the size of a polar bear's Speedos is the only way to get through sometimes. (Yes, this was a recent conversation.

I had to insist on them being skimpier, and hope consumers of Trident gum in Spain appreciate the effort.)  

Craig Inglis, marketing director, John LewisCraig Inglis, marketing director, John Lewis

Always be restless.

I play golf and I run. I did the London marathon this year. Both sports are very singular – it’s you against yourself and there’s something rooted in that for me, which is why I love working at John Lewis – there’s a definite restlessness that drives us on to achieve more.

When I play golf I always think, inside my head, I can beat the next guy. There’s a certain restlessness that tells me I could have done better and the desire to beat myself drives me on.

John Lewis is a business that’s not particularly self-congratulatory, and in some ways that can be risky, as you do have to remember to celebrate success but overall it's a positive as we are always thinking about the next thing and raising the bar.

At John Lewis you get challenged all the time. I love it – it’s what makes the job interesting. I never sit still. 

Troy Warfield, Vice President, Family Care, Europe at Kimberly-ClarkTroy Warfield, Vice President, Family Care, Europe at Kimberly-Clark

In my career I’ve made sure I developed the broadest set of skills I possibly could – a marriage of multiple functional, geographical and corporate experience together with a sense of urgency to deliver, and an ability to listen and work with people from many disciplines.

Being Australian has helped me along the way. There's a more open, straight-talking culture there that instils a competitive streak in you. Competitiveness is almost innate, in terms of striving in the sporting arena, and that’s filtered into the business world.

These are the kind of people we embrace, and the agencies we embrace are very much like that too.

My experience comes from multiple disciplines – marketing, sales and general management at board level – together with an understanding of the business, from the paper mills through to marketing.

Though I started with functional skills in marketing and sales, I complemented these with an MBA in strategy and finance. Overlaid on top of that I ensured I had geographical experience – I started in Australia, then I moved to the UK and Europe.

You must also have the ability to listen, and not just in a tokenistic way but with empathy. And have the ability to work with people to set out a common vision or goal that can make that vision happen. 

Matt Brittin, managing director of Google in the UK & IrelandMatt Brittin, managing director of Google in the UK & Ireland

One of the things that's most shaped how I work is I was a rower at a very serious level internationally for a few years and, therefore, working as a team together is the only way that you can go faster.

I often think about that experience when I’m trying to draw together people to make things work better whether their inside my organisation or people across different organisations.

I’m always thinking about how can we make the boat go faster together? There’s nothing outside the boat that’s going to help us so we need to figure out how to do it together and I find that’s quite helpful. 

Russell Morris, commercial director, LoveFilmRussell Morris, commercial director, LoveFilm

I still recall things that Mrs Griggs said to me in my first year at school.

When colouring a picture of a face, she asked me to explain why I was using a yellow pen when faces are pink.

I took the neon pink pen she handed to me only to hold it against the back of my hand. A few moments of contemplation were followed with me returning the pen declaring confidently that my hand was closer in colour to the yellow.

Outside of school, I was equally inquisitive and the memories are equally vivid.  As my dad swam off in the pool, I thought it would be a great time to walk on water.

It wasn't until I'd managed to get the second armband onto my legs and my body had started to spin that I realised the idea had a potentially fatal flaw.

Fortunately I didn't drown but that's only part of the reason I am where I am today.

I think a key reason for me being where I am is my innate need to beg questions. For me the status quo is merely the quo that has lost its status. Believing there is a better way and working with others to find it is exciting.

Questions asked honestly can be liberating. It's amazing where they can take you.

Frank Van Der Post, managing director of brands and customer experience, BAFrank Van Der Post, managing director of brands and customer experience, BA

I've always done what people don't expect me to do.

It started fairly early. When I was 15 I was determined to go into the hospitality industry. I told my Dad, "Look, I want to work in hotels and restaurants," and he didn't speak to me for a week because he felt I should be studying something else.

After two weeks he said to me: "Go and find yourself a job somewhere in town," figuring that after six months of cooking and dishwashing I would change my mind, and I started
working in a local restaurant as a dishwasher.

I worked Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and after school. It was the best time of my life and I eventually did go to hotel school.

I think you always have to set yourself targets and goals, you get there in different ways, and sometimes you have to be a bit more forceful than in others. But in the end, you have to have clearly defined determination to get you there.   

Abigail Comber, head of brand engagement, BAAbigail Comber, head of brand engagement, BA

It's too easy not to do things. If you're resilient and people say to you. "That'll never work" and "that's not going to happen," but you really believe in it, you do eventually make it happen. You've got to be resilient to people who don't like change.

There is a lot of change out there, and I've worked with BA for 15 years, you have to be resilient to the things that come along, especially in this industry, in order to know that there's a possibility at the end of it and that things can change.

It's just another day, you move on, you get on with it, and you keep going.