The annual list highlights chief marketing officers who are redefining the role
If there’s ever been a year where innovation, risk, leadership, empathy and evolution in marketing were needed, 2020 was it.
As the Covid-19 pandemic upended industries and economies alike, companies were forced to disrupt themselves and how they think about consumers. At the intersection of that shift were chief marketing officers. In addition to serving as translators between companies and consumers in an effort to drive connection, growth, revenue and creativity, they were tasked with a new responsibility: navigating a volatile “new normal.”
Forbes’ third annual CMO Next list is a compilation of 50 marketing chiefs who have done just that, and redefining the role in the process. Based on qualitative research, the list features a group of leaders who are spearheading a range of marketing efforts at startups, nonprofits and corporate giants in ways that elevate the role of marketing within organizations, business and the world. The list is also informed by a group of marketing experts, ranging from analysts and agency consultants to CMO recruiters. While they didn’t vet candidates, they painted a picture of how the CMO role continues to change to include heightened focus on revenue, diversity and inclusion, sustainability and product development.
Nearly half of this year’s CMO Next honorees were promoted to CMO or an equivalent role in their companies in 2020. Meanwhile, another dozen were appointed CMO in 2019, giving them at least a few months to learn the lay of the land before it would all change. Many work for companies that either benefited from or were challenged by lockdowns, changing consumer mindsets and broader shifts either accelerated or caused by the pandemic. All are highlighted for their overall career trajectory, their work over the course of the past year and what we expect to see from them in 2021 and beyond.
The 2013 Forbes 30 Under 30 alumnus helped relaunch Coke Zero in Black and led Coca-Cola’s 2014 FIFA World Cup campaign in North America. At IHG, TJ Abrams modernized Holiday Inn’s image while launching a new brand, Avid Hotels. Since joining Exos last year, he has been tasked with bringing the fitness company into the mainstream while digitizing it for B2B clients, elite athletes and a general consumer base.
Having previously built communities as CMO of VSCO and a digital training club iPhone app at Nike, Tesa Aragones is now focused on scaling Discord during a key growth season. Since joining the social network in September, she’s helped launch a college ambassador program, mobile screen share option and 200,000-person virtual event, and also oversaw marketing during the company’s $100-million Series H fundraising round.
Heidi Arkinstall spent two decades at various advertising agencies including Wunderman, Ogilvy, Cheil, Publicis and FCB before joining Logitech as VP of global brands equity. Since becoming CMO in 2017, she’s helped the tech company create a direct-to-consumer business, highlight sustainability goals for products and packaging and created a Super Bowl commercial starring rapper Lil Nas X. Logitech’s video and gaming products have been especially popular during pandemic-related lockdowns.
The former CMO of Birchbox, Deena Bahri is the first CMO of online fashion resale platform StockX, which saw more than $400 million in revenue in 2020 and active buyers increase 90% year-over-year. Along with launching new ways for brands to reach consumers, the company partnered with companies including New Balance and celebrities like Kendall Jenner and debuted virtual events and in-market launches.
After a two-year stint as head of marketing and digital strategy at Amazon, Harris Beber joined The Nature’s Bounty as CMO before joining Vimeo as CMO in 2017. While fostering community on the streaming platform during the pandemic, last year he debuted new products, such as Vimeo’s first mobile video creation app for small businesses, and a grant for small business owners and freelancers called “Stories In Place.” Beber has helped double Vimeo’s total paying subscribers from 800,000 to 1.5 million while accelerating annual subscriber growth from 8% to 24%.
Position: SVP of marketing
Company: Impossible Foods
During a decade at Netflix that culminated in her serving as interim CMO, Jessie Becker helped scale the then-fledgling DVD business while also expanding internationally. At Impossible Foods, she launched and scaled the Impossible Burger, bringing it from 150 grocery stores one year ago to 17,000 today. During the Covid-19 crisis, Becker—who was previously CMO at Room 77 and Optimizely, and director of marketing at YouTube and Google—pivoted Impossible Foods’ in-person tasting strategy to a varied digital marketing strategy, pitched and built a new DTC store and launched an Impossible Sausage with Starbucks.
After stints at CPGs like Colgate and Dollar Shave Club, Belsito joined feminine and reproductive care brand Lola, where she guided its expansion from DTC tampon business to one that spans a variety of categories, demographics and products. In March 2020, she led Lola’s rollout in Walmart, followed by the launch of the company’s sexual wellness line. She’s also launched a number of customer resources that provide people with advice via experts, support groups and digital community.
Position: President & CMO
Company: 1-800 Contacts
With a resume that includes founding Ford’s advance design group and scaling A&T’s digital business, the former CMO of GoDaddy has helped build 1-800 Contacts’ customer base while also developing new products such as an online eye exam. The eyecare startup, which was acquired by KKR last year, recently promoted Phil Bienert to president, although he’s retained the CMO title.
Just two years after joining bedding startup Buffy in 2018, Matt Breuer rose through the ranks to the CMO role. Now, at 28, he oversees revenue strategy, marketing, creative, storefront and merchandising, while driving the company’s sustainability efforts and launching new products. Last year, Buffy achieved profitability while revenue grew more than 30% year-over-year, and the company expects to surpass $100 million in revenue in the first quarter of 2021.
Company: Riot Games
Before getting into the video game industry, Jason Bunge spent a decade at Microsoft. During his five years at Electronic Arts, he learned to take creative risks, such as launching a reality show to promote The SIMs. Since becoming Riot Games’ first CMO in 2020, he has led campaigns for the releases of games including Valorant, Legends of Runeterra and League of Legends: Wild Rift. At Riot, Bunge’s marketing team is involved with finding new intellectual property to expand the company’s portfolio, as well as new types of players.
Frank Cooper spent more than a decade in entertainment and consumer goods for companies like Def Jam Records and Pepsi before going into the media business as CMO and COO at Buzzfeed. At BlackRock, which he joined in 2017, the Harvard Law grad and former Supreme Court editor of the Harvard Law Review is now tasked with leading the financial services giant’s marketing with a special focus on purpose-driven initiatives like environmental sustainability and financial inclusion.
Position: SVP of Marketing
Before leading consumer marketing at Pinterest, Elie Donahue was director of integrated marketing at Sephora, where she learned about customer retention and loyalty. That experience informs her work as SVP of Marketing at Rothy’s, where she has expanded the business’s line of shoe silhouettes from two to 17 and launched a line of handbags, masks and other accessories. Along with opening five physical retail locations in the past two years, she’s led Rothy’s increased focus on word-of-mouth marketing and sustainability.
Before joining the printer turned e-commerce business Vistaprint, Ricky Engelberg spent nearly two decades at Nike, where he led a number of digital initiatives, including the creation of a World Cup social network with Google and the Nike+ Running with Apple. Engelberg, who worked on Vistaprint’s acquisition of 99designs, earlier this month announced a partnership with PayPal to bring touch-free QR code payments to small businesses. Earlier in the pandemic, his team launched a mask business in just four weeks—today, Vistaprint sells masks featuring hundreds of designs.
As an economics major, the payments industry was nothing like it is today. After more than a decade spent in marketing at Intel, HTC and Amazon, Greg Fisher became the CMO of Venmo. Since joining Affirm as CMO in 2019, he’s expanded the marketing to 60 who co-market to both merchants and consumers. Fisher’s also helped lead Affirm through its recent IPO, and spent the past year raising brand awareness and building AI-driven personalization engines for recommending products.
Company: Pernod Ricard North America
At Walt Disney Studios, Pam Forbus used data to identify online manipulation and misinformation in movie ratings and social media, relaunched Disney’s rewards program and optimized content to grow Disney+ from 10 million subscribers on its first day to 78 million in its first year. Since joining Pernod Ricard in July, she’s expanded the alcohol conglomerate’s e-commerce team and improved upon digital initiatives like tastings, tours and classes. She has spearheaded an open-source #EngageResponsibly brand safety initiative and led Absolut’s first TV spot in three years to encourage voting.
While many marketers talk about blending art and science, Melissa Grady has been living it. To launch the 2021 Escalade, Cadillac collaborated with Spike Lee on a short film that debuted during the Oscars, partnered with James Blake for a private concert, created comedy with SNL alumnus Fred Armisen and developed the first mystery gamer show on Twitch. Grady has also modernized the brand’s digital marketing: During pandemic, she created a dashboard to update advertising and messaging about inventory, consumer sentiments and Covid-19 cases every two weeks. Earlier this month, Cadillac promoted its new all-electric vehicle with a Super Bowl ad featuring Timothée Chalamet and Winona Ryder.
Liana Douillet Guzmán
Helping scale Axiom from 30 employees to more than 2,500 in 16 offices and serving as COO for cryptocurrency startup Blockchain gave Liana Douillet Guzmán a range of atypical CMO experiences. Since joining Skillshare in 2019, she’s rebranded and scaled the online learning company while adding three million members, tripling growth projections and raising $71 million in Series D funding. This past fall, she led a campaign where celebrities learned creative skills from teachers on the platform.
Position: CMO & CRO
With a background in revenue at airlines including Sun Country, Delta and Aeromexico, Roger Harris now has a dual role heading up revenue and marketing for Amtrak’s local, regional and national operations. While Amtrak’s ridership has taken a massive hit due to the pandemic, it was on track to be profitable for the first time in 2020. Since then, he’s helped debut tools focused on safety, such as a way for riders to see how full trains are before booking.
Selena Kalvaria started her tenure as CMO of Away the year the pandemic hit, and she’s helped the luggage brand navigate a year without travel by pivoting to a focus on road trips. Along with helping launch a new pet carrier, Kalvaria created a campaign to promote voter turnout efforts and also partnered with celebrities including Rashida Jones and Serena Williams, as well as audio brand Master & Dynamic. Before joining Away, she leveraged data to identify women as a target demographic for Anheuser-Busch’s malt beverages.
Jessica Klodnicki has helped Skullcandy combine content and e-commerce. This has included a concert series with emerging artists, exclusive product collaborations with musicians and partnerships with mental health nonprofit To Write Love On Her Arms. In 2020, DTC revenue increased 60% with overall revenue up 16%. Along with her main job as CMO, Klodnicki also leads the audio company’s sustainability team, which monitors the company’s carbon footprint.
Position: Cofounder and CMO
Company: Medly Pharmacy
Instead of focusing on DTC marketing like some medical startups, Chirag Kulkarni is targeting doctors and patients to scale digital pharmacy Medly. Since launching the company in 2017, the 2021 Forbes 30 Under 30 alumnus and his cofounders—a pair of second-generation pharmacy owners—have raised $110 million and reached an annual recurring revenue run rate of $300 million while also serving more than 100,000 patients during the pandemic.
Position: SVP and Head of Global Marketing
Company: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Since joining PlayStation 20 years ago, Eric Lempel has worked his way up from e-commerce and loyalty to heading up marketing for the entire brand. In his previous role, he launched and ran the company’s direct-to-consumer business, what would ultimately become the top retail destination for PlayStation games. More recently, he and his team launched the PlayStation 5, which included innovative out-of-home strategies such as taking over London’s Underground signs.
Company: Sesame Workshop
Along with commissioning a segmentation study to understand Sesame Street’s total reach and building a new data infrastructure, Samantha Maltin created a new brand for the company’s 50th anniversary and international audiences. Since joining in 2019, she’s also helped launch Sesame Street’s streaming capabilities with archived content and a new spin-off show, expanded its humanitarian work in the Middle East and North Africa, and partnered with Doordash on a Super Bowl LV commercial that promotes local restaurants and raises money for kids and families.
In her first year at GoldieBlox—a toy, game and entertainment brand for girls in STEM—the former CMO of Tinder launched a brand refresh and a virtual camp and afterschool program promoting diverse women in STEM careers. Ferrell McDonald sees herself as an advocate for content and innovation, as well as the “voice of reason” for what drives revenue.
Barbara Messing—the former CMO of TripAdvisor and Walmart—has recently begun marketing the metaverse. Since joining the online gaming platform Roblox last year, Messing has found innovative ways to create scaled digital experiences, such as a virtual concert with Lil Nas X and a book tour for Ernest Cline’s Ready Player 2. Her successes can be seen in the company’s scaling revenue: Roblox reported 68% year-over-year growth in the first three quarters of 2020 along with 171% bookings growth over the same period.
Company: Activision Blizzard
David Messinger was tapped as CMO of Activision Blizzard in 2019 after a long tenure as co-head of CAA marketing. He is tasked with leading marketing across franchises including World of Warcraft and Candy Crush. Over the past year, Messinger and his team have expanded the company’s Call of Duty ecosystem to include premium and free versions of the game along with a mobile format and an esports league that collectively reached 200 million people in 2020. And in November, they launched World of Warcraft: Shadowlands, which became the fastest-selling PC game of all time.
When Tyra Neal in 2019 became CMO of Shinola, her mandate was to help the Detroit-based company enter a new phase of growth. That included achieving national brand recognition, new consumer types and new products for the business best known for handcrafted watches. Neal, who spent several years leading apparel marketing at Walmart and as head of advertising for menswear conglomerate Luxottica, now leadsthe e-commerce and customer-experience teams, while balancing creative work for the Olympics and the launch of a diffusion line, Detrola, that’s projected to make up 13% of overall business in 2021.
Position: Chief Brand Officer
After leading global marketing for Uber Eats and overseeing the launch of the Nike+ app for Nike, Nikki Neuburger joined Lululemon in January 2020. During the Covid-19 crisis, she worked with partners to pivot to virtual workouts, evolved the SeaWheeze Half Marathon into a virtual race with 23,000 people and oversaw the company’s acquisition of fitness tech startup Mirror. In doing so, she helped grow e-commerce sales by 93% year-over-year in the third quarter of 2020 while overall sales were up 18%.
Company: Thrive Market
After a decade marketing various CPG products at Procter & Gamble, followed by a couple years at The Honest Company, Pasha joined Thrive Market in 2019 and became CMO in May 2020. Since then, she’s created the online organic and natural foods seller’s shopping guide for members, developed exclusive products that now make up 30% of sales and launched a catalog of supplements. Thrive Market grew to more than one million subscribers in 2020 with renewal rates of 70%.
At 16, Bobby Patrick joined the FBI as a computer specialist. After college, he jumped from Accenture to a series of CMO jobs at Digex, GXS, Basho and what was then Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s cloud business. Since joining UiPath in 2017, Patrick’s put his IT background to use at the rapidly growing robotic process automation company, which has raised $1 billion in the past three years and has plans to go public. During the pandemic, his team came up with 50 use cases in a month to show how the technology can help improve science, government and healthcare.
While Zoom was merely a B2B brand before 2020, the pandemic has helped it reach a new consumer base: people who want to connect outside the context of business meetings. Along with helping to take the company public in 2019, Janine Pelosi pulled back sales and marketing efforts in 2020 to focus on organic growth. In the third quarter of 2020, revenue was up 367% year-over-year to $777 million while the number of customers grew 485% year-over-year to 433,700.
Position: Global Head of Consumer Marketing
After a decade of stints at Procter & Gamble, Google, YouTube and Uber, the Cannes Lions-winning marketer is now tasked with scaling the Facebook-owned WhatsApp. While growing its user base worldwide, Eshan Ponnadurai has collaborated with the World Health Organization on Covid-19 efforts, promoted voter turnout in the U.S. and worked to curb the proliferation of misinformation on social media. He is also working to transform WhatsApp from private social network to a tool for users in the payments and e-commerce space.
After launching and scaling Canadian telco Koodo Mobile and leading ride-hailing app Gett (Juno) to unicorn status, Nathan Roth turned to matchmaking. Since becoming CMO of dating app Hinge in 2017, Roth—who describes the CMO role as being “the customers’ advocate within the company”—re-positioned the app as being “designed to be deleted,” turning it into the fastest growing dating app in the U.S., U.K. Australia and Canada. Amid the pandemic, Roth and his team have released a number of digital dating products, including video chats featuring background images of popular dating spots, as well as partnerships with restaurants to help couples safely dine together virtually.
After a decade in marketing for the financial services giant Citi, Geoff Sanders switched to startups. He drove digital marketing at Gilt, led growth and customer at Betterment and oversaw e-commerce and analytics at Casper. Now, at wine subscription startup Firstleaf, he leads everything from brand and performance marketing to DTC and e-commerce.
Position: Cofounder & CMO
Before cofounding the herbal tonic brand, Jordan Schenck was the head of marketing at Impossible Foods, where focusing on go-to-market strategies gave her a commercialization mindset. In 2019, she launched 1,500 Sunwink locations, and in 2020, year-over-year revenue grew 170% while e-commerce grew 1,200%.
In college, David Schriber taught kids to skateboard and snowboard while running his own retail shop. Then, at Burton Snowboards, he brought the brand to the Olympics while rising through the ranks and becoming CMO and president. At Nike, he helped create NikeiD and the Fuelband. Since joining MasterClass, Schriber has led a major rebrand and other campaigns for the platform and its 100 celebrity-taught courses. He’s also given 100,000 prisoners free access to MasterClass and ran a one-day deal for college students to get a one-year membership for $1.
A Cambridge University graduate, Alex Schultz—who became Facebook CMO last fall—has spent his 13 years at the social network focused on growth and analytics. Along with tripling the number of advertisers and driving Facebook Messenger to more than one billion users, he’s also spent the past several years working on brand safety issues including infrastructure projects related to misinformation and an independent code of conduct report to combat hate speech with the EU.
A longtime CPG marketer at P&G, Patrick Schwing joined the sandwich chain in March 2020. In addition to updating e-commerce channels, he spearheaded the launch of a deep-fried turkey pillow and infomercial, created a 1,000-piece puzzle covered with roast beef sandwiches and invested in a successful TikTok marketing campaign with a plot about a missing menu. He also worked to improve the quality of the food, adding healthy and seasonal offerings.
Position: CMO & Chief Platform Officer
Company: Sun Exchange
The former head of marketing for Tencent Africa is now CMO and chief platform officer of the South African solar energy startup. At Sun Exchange, Kath Sharfman is marketing a cryptocurrency-enabled business with an online marketplace to enable solar projects. Last year, the company completed 14 projects totaling more than $1 million in revenue while memberships have grown 165% across 173 countries.
At Mozilla, Lindsey Shepard is on a mission to make data privacy more mainstream for search engines and other parts of the internet. As CMO, she oversees brand, creative and community for productions like Firefox and Pocket, as well as Mozilla’s own VPN. Since becoming CMO last year after just a year as VP of product marketing, the former director of marketing and integrity at Facebook launched an initiative called “Unfck the Internet,” which aims to improve data privacy. She recently launched another campaign supporting Apple’s new data privacy features.
Anne Marie Squeo
Position: Chief Communications and Brand Officer
The Pulitzer-prize winning former journalist spent 15 years covering business news before joining the communications teams at defense giants Raytheon and Lockheed Martin. After a few years as head of comms at Netflix, Squeo left for IBM to work on communications for emerging technology. At Xerox, she’s been tasked with transforming the brand from being focused on printers to a wider range of workplace technologies, building a data-driven CMO dashboard and a pandemic-era campaign focused on the future of work.
Labwork isn’t something that usually gets a lot of attention, but during the Covid-19 crisis, it rose to the moment. Amy Summy led the charge on two campaigns, one focused on blood plasma donations and antibody testing, another encouraging people to not stop seeking out medical care during the pandemic. Labcorp also brought several new testing kits to market, including one for at-home use.
The former CMO of e-commerce and marketing firm Sticker Mule and car-rental platform Skurt, Everette Taylor uses data and pop culture to democratize the art world. In his first year as the CMO of Artsy, total new buyers increased by 30% and more than one million users downloaded the app. The 2018 Forbes 30 Under 30 alumnus is also the founder of a portfolio company made up of social media automation tool PopSocial and marketing firm Millisense.
Janice Tennant helped turn around Merrell’s declining market share 60 days after becoming CMO through a combination of local marketing and retail programs, along with a social media campaign that invited people to spend time outdoors during the pandemic. She’s also launched a social accountability task force focused on improving diversity and social justice in her company and industry, and developed a digital and DTC e-commerce strategy that includes Merrell’s first mobile app, set to launch this year.
Position: Head of Global Marketing
Nick Tran has navigated TikTok’s rapid rise while tapping into trends that resonate with creators, viewers and brands. In his first year, Tran—who previously led brand and culture marketing at Hulu—launched a global TikTok campaign, partnered with brands like Airbnb, Postmates and Ocean Spray, and helped bring the popular “Sea Shanty” trend from TikTok to TV stardom. In addition to heading up social media and digital marketing for brands like Taco Bell and Samsung, Tran also worked at Stance Socks, where he won a Gold Lion at Cannes for a Star Wars collaboration
Position: SVP Online And CMO
Company: Home Depot
With a new personalization marketing strategy and customer loyalty program, Adolfo Villagomez in 2020 launched The Home Depot’s new media network, which lets suppliers advertise with the company. In 2018, he helped grow e-commerce operations to nearly $8 billion in sales, and in the third quarter of 2020, digital sales were up 80% year-over-year while overall comparable sales were up 24.1% and 60% of online orders were fulfilled though stores.
More than a decade of experience in consulting and finance, as well as stints at eHarmony and Netflix, have prepared Louisa Wee to lead marketing at the subscription box startup. Since joining in January 2020, membership has grown to more than 1.5 million while expanding the company’s e-commerce platform. Last fall, Wee helped launch a refills program and sustainability initiative to make boxes 100% recyclable.
Position: Global Head of Marketing
With a background in measurement at companies like Nielsen and comScore, followed by in-house insights at MTV and Yahoo, Lauren Weinberg has the balance of B2B and B2C marketing needed for the rapidly growing payments space. She’s also helped the company adopt a more holistic focus: During the pandemic, for example, Square built a hub with resources to help small businesses and ran its first global brand campaign featuring small business owners’ experiences with Square.
Since being promoted to CMO in 2017, Mark Wilson has been pivoting BlackBerry from being a smartphone manufacturer to a company focused on cybersecurity, AI and the Internet of Things. He’s used VR to demonstrate AI-assisted motorcycle safety features and recently ran a campaign showing how all employees are vulnerable to cyberattacks. Today, BlackBerry’s technology is embedded in more than 175 million cars and used by more than 12,000 organizations.
Steven Tristan Young
Seven years at GrubHub taught Steven Tristan Young to have a growth mindset, while years marketing Amex’s credit cards gave him experience in luxury and customer loyalty. Both play a role in his role at Poshmark, where he’s helped the platform grow internationally, expand its focus beyond fashion and create a new content strategy during the pandemic.