Forbes CMO Leadership Talk: Mika Yamamoto, Marketo

By Thomas Barta
Last updated: August 06, 2019

For my Forbes CMO leadership column I sat down with Mika Yamamoto, who left her mark at firms like Amazon, Microsoft and Adobe, to talk about what matters for marketing leadership success. Here’s a summary (you can read the full piece on Forbes):

Thomas Barta: Since we started talking, you went on an incredibly journey. From SAP’s CMO you joined the Marketo top team —weeks before the merger with Adobe. And now F5. How do you feel right now?

Mika Yamamoto: It’s beyond my wildest imagination how my life has turned out, both personally and professionally. I’m grateful for the incredible leaders who have offered me roles that I thought were outside of my reach. I feel really blessed.

Barta: Did you always plan to become a top company leader?

Yamamoto: Not at all! I grew up in Calgary, Canada. Some of my childhood career aspirations included florist and veterinarian. Junior high career testing indicated my talents would be best applied towards nut sorting or bee hive keeping. My dad’s formal education topped out at 9th grade in Japan. He immigrated to Canada as a barber in his 20’s and my mom worked in retail. My up-bringing focused on commitment to hard work, an expectation of excellence and the notion of limitless possibilities.

Barta: Women in the C-suite still aren’t the norm. Did your parents prepare you?

Yamamoto: I honestly didn’t have any idea that I could be at a disadvantage as a women. I didn’t hear dinner stories about the trappings, trials and tribulations of corporate life. My blue-collar upbringing was completely devoid of conversations about such things. Throughout my career, I’ve always thought I’m treated the way I am because I’m Mika—for better or for worse.

Barta: What would you say to a young leader who aspires to your role but shy’s away from hard work?

Yamamoto: I’d say that they should pick another goal. There are infinite possibilities, but you have to be willing to do the work. Not everyone has to have the goal of making it to the c-suite. Not everyone should feel like they should aspire to be a senior leader. That’s ok.

Barta: How do you juggle all your priorities?

Yamamoto: I have a simple rule: Do fewer things exceptionally well. I can’t be great at everything. The critical part for me is outlining what matters most in my life and defining what it means to excel in the areas of family, friends, community, health and work. It involves talking to my kids, my partner, my friends and colleagues frequently to determine what means the most to them.

Barta: Let’s go back to marketing. How can CMOs get a strong voice in the boardroom?

Yamamoto: I think a strong boardroom voice is an earned position. As a marketer, you are an enabler of customer connections that drive results. Marketers who can play in the boardroom have strong business acumen. They’ve built trust among their peers. They are driving meaningful value for the company. Sometimes you don’t get asked. If you have something to contribute or say, don’t wait for the invitation.