Katharine Mobley: “Know when to move on”

Know when to move on. When I had been on the agency side for several years, a mentor asked me what I wanted to do next. That was tough for me because the only path I saw for myself was the one directly ahead of where I had been. But she said, “You’re meant for […]

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Know when to move on. When I had been on the agency side for several years, a mentor asked me what I wanted to do next. That was tough for me because the only path I saw for myself was the one directly ahead of where I had been. But she said, “You’re meant for bigger things than this.” And I realized she was right. It was then I began putting things in motion for the next phase of my career.

As a part of our series about powerful women, I had the pleasure of interviewing Katharine Mobley, an award-winning marketer who specializes in branding for B2B technology companies. With over 20 years’ experience in her field, she has witnessed drastic changes in marketing and advertising and their impact on technology-focused companies. She is a highly regarded marketing maven, as well as a self-proclaimed data geek and social media addict. Prior to joining First Advantage as Global CMO, she served as CMO at Crescerance and WeCareCard Mastercard®. Her prior experience includes managing brands such as Coca-Cola, Bank of America, Michelin, and Dodge Automotive for global agencies: BBDO, Millward Brown, and Allison+Partners. Katharine is a proud graduate of The University of Georgia with a BA in Marketing from the Terry College of Business (1998). She resides in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and two sons.

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

Growing up, my father was a General Manager for a large, multi-brand car dealership. I spent a significant amount of time there as a young girl, and I learned so much just by watching him in action. How to negotiate. How to boost employee morale. How to deliver exemplary customer service — even when the customer in question was particularly tough to handle.

My dad not only managed that business, he was also a part of the Dodge Automotive Council at the national and global level. That’s where I got my first taste of marketing and advertising. I thrived on the creative energy that came with that side of the business. When I was deciding what to do with my career, those are the memories that really stood out and made an impact.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

When I was first brought on, I knew that our brand reputation wasn’t great. The previous CEO was notoriously difficult to work with, and almost as soon as I came on board, I discovered how much that negativity had damaged our image in-market — burning bridges with customers and influencers alike. My first instinct was to rebrand completely, but that was immediately rejected for budgetary reasons. I quickly realized that this would be one of the greatest challenges of my career: Rehabbing a brand without rebranding or even increasing the existing budget.

So, I went to work. I cleaned house, exercising existing agency relationships and identifying the most capable and productive employees. With no one left to do much of the work that needed to be done, I rolled up my sleeves and personally began creating content, curating social media channels and taking steps to clean up the brand’s image. I built relationships with influencers and ambassadors both in- and outside the company. By working in the trenches, I was able to identify exactly who we needed on our new team and was able to recruit and hire those I knew would buy in to my vision. In just a few months, we were able to turn that brand around, and now I work for one of the most respected brands in the industry.

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 had a lot on my mind the first time my team would all be meeting one another in person. There were so many things to discuss and plans to be made that would impact us over the long-term. What I did not realize is that my head was so in the game I neglected to notice that I had put my shirt on inside out. Even worse, everyone on the team was so new that they didn’t feel comfortable saying anything about it until the end of the day! At about 4 p.m. someone said, “I’m not sure if it’s just the style of shirt or what, but your top may be on inside out.” I cracked up! It ended up being a great icebreaker for all of us, and I learned that day not to take myself too seriously!

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?

I spent many years on the agency side. I loved the work because it was fun and often fast-paced. But I realized what I really wanted to do was own an entire brand and its narrative, soup to nuts. I wanted to dive in and really get to know an industry and its players and make a true impact at the business level. Working in an agency you get to own a piece of the brand, but as CMO, you compose the playbook.

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?

Being an executive means figuring out, at a strategic level, how you can help deliver positive economic growth for your company. As a marketing executive, my role is to increase market share and to develop a strategy that will help to make that a reality.

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

I love the strategy element; identifying key areas of focus for the coming year and then putting money behind the efforts that I think will result in the greatest success. As an executive, I’m part of the leadership team, so I can see where we’re headed from a high level, but with my team, I’m able to truly hash out multi-faceted plans, optimizing every dollar to yield maximum success for the business.

What are the downsides of being an executive?

One of the downsides of being an executive — particularly at the global level — are the hours I have to put in. Some days I’m on calls from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. so I can help shape strategy across different time zones. It can be tough, particularly because I’m a mom of two teenagers, and I want to be available for my kids. But being successful means putting in the work, and I think that being a successful female executive is a positive example for my sons.

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

People think that once you’ve made it to the top, it’s smooth sailing. That it’s this glamorous role and not that much work is involved. It may seem glamorous, but it’s hardly smooth. You’re on call 24/7 and, if you work for a global organization, there’s often a lot of travel involved. You also have to make some really tough decisions. I know many leaders right now are having to make difficult decisions that impact employees’ livelihoods. These are decisions that have to be made to save the business. They’re not easy, but without them, there wouldn’t be jobs for anyone. Sometimes people forget that.

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

Unfortunately, unconscious bias still exists in the way the world thinks about women and their contributions. Not too long ago, I was flying first-class wearing business apparel when I overheard another first-class passenger (a man) asking those around him if anyone knew of a good CFO candidate for his company. He went person by the person asking everyone else in the section if they had any recommendations — but he never asked me, the only woman in that section.

This translates into the workplace as unconscious assumptions people make about your skills or abilities that you never realize are being made or have the opportunity to counter. It’s challenging, but all you can do is your best and support those coming up behind you.

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

The average tenure for a CMO is only 3.1 years. You know from the get-go that you’ll have to move quickly to gain executive buy-in. But some companies have been burned by marketers who don’t tie strategy to ROI or who contributed significant agency spend with limited results. That’s the role I found myself in. I knew it was my responsibility to overcompensate for mistakes made by others before my time — and fast — if I wanted to make a positive impact on the company.

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 have to be a visionary with a true passion for what you do. If you can’t see beyond today and visualize a plan to drive significant growth or change, you’re doomed to failure.

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

Emotional intelligence is key. Different people need to be managed in different ways, and it’s up to you to identify how to manage each person effectively. If you’re able to manage each person as an individual, your team will thrive and it will result in positive outcomes for the business.

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

I’m lucky to have benefitted from mentor and mentee relationships throughout my career. My first mentor, Cynthia Porter, was my manager in one of my first roles out of college. I first met Cynthia when I responded to her job posting looking for a support person to help her with the day-to-day activities of her market research firm. At that time, I was going through a career transition as I was beginning to consider motherhood and took a drastic pay cut to “balance it all.” She guided me through that period in my life, and to this day, I have not taken a position in which she hasn’t advised me.

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

I’m passionate about mentorship. I serve as a mentor for the Atlanta Tech Village, a leading startup development community, and I have a keen eye for developing talent, particularly in young women. At any given time, I have multiple mentees that I connect with on a regular basis to ensure they have a resource to work through challenges with as a woman in technology.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Trust in your abilities.
  2. Keep a quantitative list of your achievements.
  3. Hire the right people and get out of the way.
  4. Negotiate.
  5. Know when to move on. When I had been on the agency side for several years, a mentor asked me what I wanted to do next. That was tough for me because the only path I saw for myself was the one directly ahead of where I had been. But she said, “You’re meant for bigger things than this.” And I realized she was right. It was then I began putting things in motion for the next phase of my career.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Mentorship has made such a positive impact on my career. If everyone working today could commit to mentoring someone coming up behind them, we would all benefit.

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

My mother always said: “This too shall pass.” That phrase has stuck with me over the years as I have faced countless setbacks in my personal and professional life. At my most stressed, I just take a deep breath and remember that even the worst things in life pass away and that nothing bad is forever.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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