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“5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became the CMO of Spartan”

As an executive, the buck stops with you. You are ultimately the one who is responsible. If something goes wrong, it’s not your team’s problem, it’s your problem. You need to motivate, you need to quickly cover, pivot, and help. You also need to keep a broad vision and offer guidance. You cannot be bogged […]

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As an executive, the buck stops with you. You are ultimately the one who is responsible. If something goes wrong, it’s not your team’s problem, it’s your problem. You need to motivate, you need to quickly cover, pivot, and help. You also need to keep a broad vision and offer guidance. You cannot be bogged down too much in the details. You need to be high-level, but at the same time, you need to pick up every piece when it falls because it’s your team and it’s not necessarily the problem of all the other team members.


I had the pleasure to interview Carola Jain. Carola oversees marketing and brand strategy at Spartan, the leading obstacle course racing company. She is the co-lead behind the global launch of Spartan Women, a female focused platform connecting women in sports and girls from all over the world by promoting camaraderie and empowerment. The community platform has been designed to cross borders, defy stereotypes and share the inspiring stories of women who overcome the challenges of everyday life.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I grew up in Germany and then I studied International Business in London. I planned to work in finance, but my passion was more in marketing, so I met in the middle and started at Interbrand, a brand consulting company. I worked in their brand valuation department, which is essentially finance meets marketing.

I stayed for 16 years total at Interbrand. During that time, I touched all aspects of branding — corporate branding, consumer branding, internal branding, employee branding, not-for-profit social responsibility branding. I then moved to Spartan about a year and a half ago, and in this new position, I took all the advice that I was giving clients on how to build a strong brand and how to strengthen a brand, and putting all that to work in a very entrepreneurial environment where every day we’re innovating and doing something new. It’s a great fit because of my interest in health and wellness, but also, it’s exciting being at the helm of such a strong brand.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I’m not sure if this is so funny but I would say that a mistake when you start out is that you don’t dare to speak up. You always think there’s people in the room who have more experience, who know more than you, and you’re not sure if your opinion is right or if it will be appreciated. I think what being in New York and specifically at Interbrand, where I really started my career, taught me was that if you work hard, do your homework, read the backgrounds, and try to make quick connections then you don’t have to be the person whose been at the job longest or knows the most to offer valuable insight. I think now at my job at Spartan, we’re looking what the customer opinion is so much and what the customer wants, so listening to new people on my team, especially about social media and digital is important, since they are closer to the voice of the customer. I think any opinion is a good opinion as long as you come prepared and do your homework. Therefore, I think it’s a mistake not to speak up, or to not think you can have an impact.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What is it about the position of CEO or executive that most attracted you to it?

Working in corporate branding and corporate branding consultancy, you have to look at a lot of brands that don’t necessarily have a very strong story and don’t have a very strong brand identity. Spartan is the opposite. It’s an extremely strong brand with a very strong story. We don’t have to put lipstick on a pig. Everything we’re saying is actually true — and more. It’s a brand that people love. It’s a brand that has changed a lot of people’s lives. So that really attracted me to working there and another thing I love is the speed to market. There’s not a lot of pontification. Basically, we come up with an idea and bring it to market. Sometimes we have too many ideas, so we bring too many things to market, but it’s a true entrepreneurial environment. It’s not like in the consulting world where you just spend a lot of time thinking and analyzing.

Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

As an executive, the buck stops with you. You are ultimately the one who is responsible. If something goes wrong, it’s not your team’s problem, it’s your problem. You need to motivate, you need to quickly cover, pivot, and help. You also need to keep a broad vision and offer guidance. You cannot be bogged down too much in the details. You need to be high-level, but at the same time, you need to pick up every piece when it falls because it’s your team and it’s not necessarily the problem of all the other team members.

What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?

I love working with my team. I have a great team, and everybody’s really motivated. I think that a great leadership team is where everybody really believes in the vision and ultimately, I think a great team and great leadership is a result of having a real product that has soul. We’re not just selling T-shirts. We’re selling real transformation for people and a lot of people make real changes in their lives because of their time with Spartan or participating in the races. It’s more of a lifestyle than a job.

What are the downsides of being an executive?

It’s 24/7 and there’s never an off-season. It’s a company that just doesn’t stop, and with so many opportunities in the marketplace, it can be difficult to prioritize. That’s really our biggest challenge, prioritizing our biggest opportunities and going after them in a big way.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

People probably think at some point you just come in and you make a call. You say yay or nay. But the biggest myth is probably that you’ve become an expert and you don’t need to constantly learn. Being a constant learner never stops no matter where you are. The world is constantly changing in this digital era. Social media is constantly changing. Just because you have mastered something five years ago or two years ago, and you were on top of the game, you could be disrupted tomorrow because the platform is changing, the algorithm is changing, the game is changing, new competitors come in. You’re forever learning, you’re never just an expert because you’re an executive.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

I have three kids. I have a husband who wants to see me sometimes 🙂 . I have friends who I love to spend time with. I’m a daughter and a sister. It’s difficult to fit all these roles. And as a woman you’re often viewed as the default parent, for example if the school calls and needs a parent to come, they expect the mom to show up even if the mom has a job. I think that’s a little bit difficult.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

The job is a lot about both strategy and execution. I thought it would be a little bit more just high-level strategy, but it turns out the devil’s in the details. When you are executing the strategy, you can’t just take a step back. You must always be hands-on.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive?

You need to be a lifelong learner and always push yourself even when something is hard to understand. You must never think, “that’s for young people or that’s for XYZ” and not be willing to learn yourself. You need to be able to stay focused on a vision and long-term goals while still being able to dive into the details. I never want to get to the point where I think the details are below me and I cannot do something. It might take me longer than people on my team, but I want to try to do every part of the job. Other people can obviously do better or faster, but I just think when you become too removed or don’t even understand what other people on your team are doing, that’s dangerous.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Something that I’m trying to work on more is really inspiring the team and understand how everyone works. Everybody has different working styles or different things that make them tick. You obviously want your team to work long hours as much as possible but you also need to understand that everybody has their own personal circumstances and realities. I really try to work with people individually so everybody can have their own style. When I started out, I was very happy to have some flexibility. And now with the whole new millennial workforce, people want as much flexibility as possible. It’s difficult to balance the two between running a team and wanting people to be there and the type of flexibility people want in the workplace.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are a few people. One of my first bosses, Andrew Bateman, he was definitely having me do things that at the time were a little above what I’d been hired to do. He was letting me lift into the next job. Also Lisa Bernstein — who was the head of HR at Interbrand and she then went on to become the COO at Interbrand and the head of HR at Apollo — her message was that you can’t wait for the company to design your career and your next job. You have to decide what you want your next job to be and what you want to grow into and start delivering on the profile of the next job. That definitely inspired me.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I’m pretty actively involved with this organization, Student Sponsor Partners or SSP. You mentor young kids and help them fund their Catholic school education. So these are disadvantaged children that you’re paired with and you do an active four-year mentorship program, helping them go to college.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Whether you think you can or you think you cannot, you are always right. It’s really mind over matter. If you think you can, you’ll be able to do it. If you think you cannot and you hide or you say it’s too difficult, then you won’t be able to do it. This has been relevant in my life when I jump into opportunities. You have to take life by the horns and can’t wait for opportunities to come to you.

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