Yale School of Management

Center for Customer Insights

Advancing the frontiers of consumer understanding

Strategic Marketing Leadership in the time of COVID-19

April 9, 2020

As universities around the country transitioned to virtual learning in mid-March in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, Yale School of Management Marketing Professor Ravi Dhar wrestled with a formidable challenge: how to recreate the experience of intimate classroom discussions with Chief Marketing Officers on a distance learning platform.

Dhar’s course, Strategic Marketing Leadership: The Role of a Chief Marketing Officer, features a signature series of guest lectures delivered by renowned C- suite leaders in marketing and branding across industries including, CPG, High Tech, Financial Services, and Healthcare. Their discussions explore the scope of responsibilities of a Chief Marketing Officer in an organization, including, for example, driving growth by transforming the organization in the changing marketplace, leading a global brand, building best-in-class insights and analytical capabilities, championing the voice of the customer, and driving deeper engagement through best-in-class experiences both online and offline. 

The class also features an impressive group of former CMOs who join weekly and facilitate discussions with the students and guest speaker, including Yale Executive Fellows Seth Farbman (former CMO at Spotify and Gap) and Jon Iwata (former SVP and Chief Brand Officer at IBM) as well as Arun Sinha (former Global CMO at MSCI). These regular attendees help raise thought-provoking questions that students may not have thought of on their own and enable a deeper discussion around topics such as the global pandemic that may not offer clear solutions for leaders.

Michelle Peluso, CMO of IBM
Michelle Peluso, CMO at IBM 

So far this semester, the course has featured guest lectures from some of the world’s foremost marketing leaders. Sir Martin Sorrell, Chief Executive Officer at S4 Capital and former Chief Executive of WPP, joined the class to discuss managing growth through disruption. Mastercard Chief Marketer Raja Rajamannar spoke on the importance of driving multi-sensory brand transformations. And most recently the class featured two speakers: IBM’s Chief Marketing Officer Michelle Peluso, who led a fascinating discussion on digital transformation of the marketing function, and AB-InBev’s Global Chief Marketing Officer Pedro Earp who spoke on creating a culture of innovation that allows them to pivot to better serve consumers’ needs.  

Professor Dhar believes it is particularly critical for students to hear directly from marketing leaders in these uncertain times. "One of the unique aspects of the course is that students hear what's currently on a CMO's mind as opposed to a neatly packaged 5-year-old case. In today's climate, hearing from leaders on how they are rapidly adjusting to the COVID-19 crisis is immensely valuable,”  said Dhar. 

Max Dworin, a member of the Yale School of Management Class of 2020 adds that “If you’re interested in a career path in marketing, there’s no better course than Ravi’s. Hearing from leading CMOs and getting a better understanding of the strategic decisions they make every day brings the work to life in a way that is just not possible in a more theoretical context.”

 In the coming weeks, the class will feature virtual lectures from Antonio Lucio, Chief Marketing Officer at Facebook; Ann Mukherjee, Chief Executive Officer of North America at Pernod-Ricard; Simon Lowden, Chief Sustainability Officer at PepsiCo; and Claire Burns, Chief Marketing and Chief Strategy Officer at Prudential International. 

Professor Dhar believes that maintaining a dialogue between current and future marketing leaders is crucial in this time of unprecedented disruption. “It is likely that the marketing landscape will look very different when we emerge from this crisis, and it’s more important than ever for our students to understand how leading marketers contend with new realities while planning for an uncertain future.”