Karen Jones
January 31, 2020

173: Turning Obstacles Into Opportunity

Guest: Karen Jones - Executive VP & Chief Marketing Officer, Ryder

“It’s not if—it’s how.”

That’s how Karen Jones, CMO of Ryder, a supply chain management and logistics company, started wrapping up our interview. It’s also what she tells her team often, and an integral part of how they approach business hurdles. The key to their success, though, isn’t just relishing the opportunity to overcome a challenge—they also rely heavily on a deliberate, test-heavy approach where they have room to explore, experiment, and find bold solutions that work. Another crucial element is the CEO relationship—for Karen to succeed, she noted the need for support from the CEO and board to have leeway in her marketing endeavors.

In this episode, we’ll hear more about how she’s formed her marketing mindset through her career, and how learning from failures has helped shaped her current approach. Listen in for a candid conversation about the pitfalls of marketing in a silo, marketing’s limitations within a business, and how effective marketing can accelerate a product’s demise.

Have you seen the CMO role evolve?

I think marketing, unfortunately, is often relegated to—and I hate to use these words—but a sort of airy, fluffy, feel-good role. For me, it’s more about tailoring to specific goals. There are a lot of divisional presidents, and some of my peers, who initially weren’t too ready to embrace marketing. But, I go to them, sit with them, and focus on understanding what their biggest challenges are in the business. Then, I start crafting marketing initiatives that help them get to whatever they’re trying to get to. This has been crucial to the staying power of my success in many of the jobs that I’ve done, and it’s tough to do. I think marketing still, no matter what, brings insights, because we tend to be much closer to the customer. Evolving those insights and bringing them back to the business I found is a really powerful tool. And then being able to sit with those divisional presidents and really understand what their revenue goals are and how together we can create a winning solution is really important these days.

Nothing like great marketing to kill a faulty product—you have some experience with there, can you talk about that?

When I joined DHL, we had just made an acquisition to spur rapid growth. But the company that had been acquired simply didn’t have the operation capabilities to deliver better than the incumbents in the US—UPS and FedEx. We strategized about what we needed to do to really come into the market and take over. We did an amazing job, with a lot of money, to get the brand kicked off in the US. We did probably some of the most creative advertising I’ve ever done in my life, and we actually put the competition in our television commercials because when you’re a third-tier player, you really have nothing to lose by acknowledging your competition. It was quite aggressive. The moral of the story, though, is that we built way more new business than we could actually handle. Our service level and the product offering just was not good enough to compete, at the time. You have to make sure your products are competitive, reliable, and that you have something better to offer. Better, or different enough that it they’ll last in the spotlight.


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