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10 Best CMO's of the Year 2019

Going high on marketing: Syl Saller CMO of Diageo

thesiliconreview-syl-saller-cmo-diageo-19Alcohol has been consumed in one form or the other for millennia. From the first megacities of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia to later classical Greece and ancient Rome, all the way into medieval times, alcohol has been an integral part of society for a very long time. The current alcohol industry rakes in billions and billions of dollars each year. Whether it is a birthday party, an anniversary, New Year, wedding or any other occasion, lots of people love the occasional drink or two. One of the leading companies that distill premium alcohol is Diageo.

Diageo is a world leader in beverage alcohol, with an astounding collection of 200 of the biggest brands in the business old and new, large and small, global and local – that are enjoyed in more than 180 countries around the world. Created in 1997, Diageo’s business is built on the principles and foundations laid years before by giants of the industry – Arthur Guinness, John Walker, Elizabeth Cumming and many more. Today, the company stands on the shoulders of these giants and, inspired by their ideas, philosophy and audacity, act with the same entrepreneurial spirit and determination.

Founding Based On the Rich Heritage

Although Diageo has existed since 1997, some of its brands have an impressive heritage. Its ambition is to be one of the best performing, most trusted and respected consumer products companies in the world. The ongoing wave of globalization has resulted in the expansion of the middle class and higher income levels overall. Riding this wave of prosperity is the liquor sector. Moreover, the rising population and social media have resulted in brands being able to penetrate previously obscure markets. Diageo’s strategy is to support premiumization in developed and emerging countries. The company’s wide portfolio means that it has access to various different consumer occasions across the whole spectrum of price points.

In emerging markets, Diageo aims to grow participation in international premium spirits. To support this, the company participates in mainstream spirits so consumers can access various brands at affordable price points. This also enables the organization to shape responsible drinking trends in markets where international premium spirits is an emerging category. It has operations in 180 countries with 150 of their brands being produced in over 150 of their sites, employing over 30,000 professionals. The company has made significant strides under the leadership of its maverick Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), Syl Saller.

Syl joined Diageo as CMO in 2013 and is a member of its executive committee. She oversees all global marketing, innovation, design and Reserve, their luxury division worldwide. Before Syl was appointed CMO, she was Diageo’s Global Innovation Director, responsible for Diageo’s innovation strategy including all new product development, launch programmes, and R&D worldwide. Prior to that, Syl was Marketing Director for Diageo Great Britain. She has also been a Non-Executive Director of Domino’s Pizza Group plc where she chaired the Nominations committee and served on RemCo. She is a member of the 30 Club, the Marketing Group of Great Britain, Women in Advertising and Communications of London and is the President of The Marketing Society.

A graduate of the prestigious Harvard Business School, Syl had no business experience and was a state school grad. During her time, Harvard ran a “look to your left, look to your right, one of you won’t be here” system and Syl was afraid that it would be her that wouldn’t make it. However, she made it through with flying colors and the experience taught her to never underestimate her abilities. She joined Diageo because it presented an opportunity to shape the culture of a young company with a portfolio of brands to die for.

At the time of her joining twenty years ago, the industry was still broadly dominated by print media, TV and direct mail. The internet was in its infancy and marketers had a limited choice of media to play with and audiences were concentrated in a small number of spaces. One TV ad in the right break could reach a lot of people – but not always at the times when they were making decisions about what to buy and what to drink. But today, social media has been a major game changer. The competition for people’s attention has never been fiercer and it’s creativity that makes the difference. There are more platforms, channels, and formats open to everyone than ever before. Marketers must be a deeper understanding of consumers, customers, stakeholders, markets and the competition while speaking the language of the company, which is growth – the growth of brands, company, and people, no one at Diageo does this better than Syl Saller.

Syl has been a constant beacon of innovation and facilitated steady growth throughout her tenure. She perfectly understands the market and has a knack for understanding the pulse of consumer demands. Her perseverance and unshakable resolve continue to guide the company to ever higher peaks.

“Our ambition is to be one of the best performing, most trusted and respected consumer products companies in the world.”