Investing in unicorn talent is essential to ensure long-term business success, but how do you discover and develop that talent into a pipeline for the future?
As we sorted through a list of CMOs to speak on this subject for the MTM Summit held at Intuit Headquarters in Silicon Valley, we knew it couldn’t just be anyone. We needed speakers who embody Unicorn Talent because, as the saying goes, it takes one to know one. At the event, Lara Balazs, EVP, CMO, and GM of the Strategic Partner Group at Intuit, and Vineet Mehra, CMO of Chime, shared their insights on cultivating talent and climbing the corporate ladder, or, more accurately, the corporate jungle gym.
Lara Balazs’s responsibilities cover much ground at Intuit, but her strengths work together to grow businesses and bring brands to life. Vineet Mehra thrives working with disruptive businesses, making an impact, and creating new categories. What they share in common is their multi-dimensional leadership style, exuded by a passion for fostering new talent in an age where the role of the marketer is constantly changing.
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- What is Unicorn Talent?
- Mehra’s Five Mantras for the Modern CMO
- Developing the “Human Swiss Army Knife” Mentality
- Retiring the Corporate Ladder Metaphor
- Spotting the Unicorn
What is Unicorn Talent?
A company’s success depends on its employees. Strong, passionate employees empower businesses to do well, so it’s critical to identify that talent and make sure they’re on your team. Lara Balazs and Vineet Mehra refer to these superstar employees as “unicorn talent” or “Human Swiss Army knives.” These employees excel in shades of grey, aren’t afraid to try everything, ask questions, roll up their sleeves to mine new solutions in unchartered territory, and have their eyes on the top and bottom lines. These qualities drive collaboration among cross-functional teams to produce the best results for the company and brand. That’s a lot, and as Lara has always said, “scrappy, resilient, and resourceful” are the most important skills no matter what role you are in.
Mehra’s Five Mantras for the Modern CMO
The last decade has been one of dynamic change, and much has transformed within the corporate world. Top marketing executives and emerging marketers have started to ask themselves: what is the modern CMO? Inspired by a passion for the marketing industry and a desire to see aspiring marketing leaders succeed, Vineet Mehra developed five mantras as a guide for future CMOs.
Customer First The number one job of the modern CMO is to unify the C-Suite behind the customer. Beyond the general customer insights and consumer insights function, it’s more about nurturing customers and taking them along meaningful, personalized journeys into your company’s ecosystem.
Be Your Company’s Growth Hacker The most effective marketers utilize performance storytelling (brand-building) and optimized conversion funnels to create profitable businesses. By doing this, you can spearhead your company’s progress exponentially.
Connect Purpose and Commerce Your purpose is to be the heart of your organization and connect that heart to commerce. You will inevitably drive more revenue by centering your brand’s purpose, mission, and platform around positive impact and then connecting that to the commercial outcomes of your business.
Make Everything Personal Modern CMOs must know technology thoroughly and understand how to leverage data pipelines and engineering to personalize the customer experience effectively. Personalization leads to long-term engagement and customer loyalty. Customers want to interact with businesses that see and treat them like individuals; if a company can do this well, they’ll have a customer for life.
Cultivate Unicorns To be a great CMO, you should be thinking about how to develop more CMOs. When you spot an up-and-coming marketer with potential, as a leader, work alongside them to develop a career path early on. The best way to do this is to begin with the end goal in mind: you are cultivating a modern CMO. Work back from there and develop career paths for your best talent.
Developing the “Human Swiss Army Knife” Mentality
By: Lara Balazs
To be an effective CMO, you can’t just be the best at marketing—it’s a lot more than that; you must know how all the pieces of the business fit together. Having a well-rounded skill set is essential. You must always be customer-focused, think end to end, move with velocity and speed, and know that experimentation is part of the job. You need all these qualities if you’re going to be a CMO; this is the “Human Swiss Army Knife” mentality, and it will get you the CMO job of your dreams.
Swiss Army knives are multi-use tools known to be helpful in almost any scenario you can imagine. To have a Swiss Army knife mentality is to be a well-balanced and seasoned individual that allows you to be useful in almost any situation.
While this takes time to develop, and no direct A-to-B path will get you there, with an open mind willing to do what it takes to develop the skills you need, you will be prepared for the mantle of responsibilities the CMO carries. To do this right, a new perspective on how you navigate the corporate ladder is necessary.
Retiring the Corporate Ladder Metaphor
If being a multi-dimensional leader is an essential piece of the CMO puzzle, how do you achieve that? According to Lara, it’s time to stop treating the corporate world as a ladder and more like a jungle gym. For modern companies, the path upward isn’t always as clear-cut as it was back in the day. The myriad of available roles allows for room for valuable horizontal and vertical movement.
Speaking as an experienced corporate jungle-gym navigator, Vineet shared an example of a move he made that left people in the industry wondering what was wrong with him. He shared, “I went from working at Walgreens Boots Alliance with 3,000 people reporting to me to 3 at Good Eggs Inc. A $140 billion business to $100 Million. But, we were successful. Now I’m at Chime and my pay went down 80%, but when you enter a startup, that’s what you do. You get everything ready for scale, and you make it happen.”
“The point is, chase experiences, not levels, title, or pay. All those things will come. If you are dangerous enough across the modern CMO spectrum, you’ll be in demand. Don’t worry about the next move or two moves from now. Think ten moves from now. Play chess, not checkers.”
For talent, this means being willing to go down, go up, or even go sideways in your career and keeping the future in mind. For CMOs, this means coming down from the top of the ladder to equip talent, encourage them to set goals, and guide them on their journeys to meet those goals.
Lara warns, “Back in the day, you would work vertically. In today’s world, you’re working horizontally in teams of teams. Now, you have an ecosystem of different roles reporting to you.” A variety of skills is essential for managing this level of talent and investing in them from the beginning sets them up for success.
Spotting a Unicorn
Effectively fostering talent isn’t just about identifying those who stand out from the crowd; it’s also about being able to do it early in their careers. For Vineet, this means developing career paths that start early: “Ask employees, where do you want to be ten years from now? And help them understand the path that it’s going to take to get there.”
He strongly cautions against a “one size fits all” model—every individual needs a personalized career path. If they know what they want to do, help them find a way to get there. But if they don’t, take them on a journey to find out. Ask questions, show them different roles, and introduce them to new mentors. Vineet adds, “Help them find a path that is theirs and then work back from there on a development plan.”
For Lara, Intuit offers online training for their employees to develop their skills in four functional areas: strategic thinking, analytical mindset, technology forward, and compelling communication. This training can spark a desire to develop skills, but career development must ultimately be self-led.
💡 Key Takeaways
Cultivating enthusiastic talent is difficult, particularly in a dynamic corporate setting. By encouraging intentional career development and horizontal movement, however, emerging marketers can embrace the “jungle gym” by being open to gaining the necessary skills to become CMOs with Unicorn Talent. It’s all about having a “Swiss Army Knife” mindset and remembering the mantras that make a modern CMO. Vineet’s final advice for employees is this: “Own it if you really want it, have the courage to go for it and remember that no one will bet on you as much as you bet on yourself.”
Visionaries, hosted by Nadine Dietz, airs every Tuesday at 9 AM PT and is brought to you in partnership with The Wall Street Journal. Each week, two new visionaries share their game plan and how that impacts today’s teams, talent, and hybrid work environment.
Vineet Mehra, CMO of Chime: Vineet Mehra is the Chief Marketing Officer at Chime, overseeing Chime’s growth initiatives across the U.S. in addition to developing impactful marketing and advertising initiatives. Vineet joined Chime from Good Eggs, where he was Chief Growth and CX Officer. Before working for Good Eggs, he was Global Chief Customer Officer at Walgreens Boots Alliance, where he helped steer the company through the peak of the pandemic across the U.S. and U.K. As former Global Chief Marketing Officer at Ancestry, he and his team transformed the brand, bringing consumer genetics into the cultural mainstream and making Ancestry DNA one of the best-selling products in the category. He also served as the Global President of Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Care Division and their Marketing Function. Vineet is a recognized leader, and Forbes named him one of the world’s 50 most influential CMOs. In 2019, AdWeek named him one of their Top 20 Tech CMO’s.
Lara Balazs, EVP, CMO, and GM of Strategic Partner Group, Intuit: Lara Balazs is Executive Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer and General Manager of Strategic Partner Group for Intuit, a global financial technology platform that helps people and communities prosper by helping them overcome their biggest financial challenges. As Intuit’s Chief Marketing Officer leading marketing and communications for the company, Lara is responsible for driving company growth and building Intuit’s brands and reputation in support of Intuit’s mission to power prosperity around the world. As the General Manager of the Strategic Partner Group, Lara leads Intuit’s ProTax software business and is responsible for strategic partnerships to deliver the most important benefits to our customers. Lara also manages Intuit’s Corporate Responsibility efforts, which focus on job creation, job readiness, and making a positive impact on the climate.
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