Forbes CMO Leadership Talk: Claire Cronin, Virgin Atlantic

Claire Cronin
By Thomas Barta
Last updated: March 17, 2017

In this interview with Claire Cronin, CMO of Virgin Atlantic, several insights into successful CMO leadership are highlighted:

  • Connecting to a Higher Purpose: Claire emphasizes that marketing leaders play a crucial role in connecting everyone in the organization to a higher purpose. Marketing frames this purpose, making it clear why each individual’s contribution matters. Virgin Atlantic’s purpose, “Enabling everyone to take on the world,” exemplifies this approach.
  • Marketing’s Reputation: Marketing at Virgin Atlantic is viewed as a growth engine. Claire attributes this reputation to the marketing team’s visionary approach in setting high standards for the company’s growth and profitability.
  • Defining Leadership Experience: Claire’s defining leadership experience occurred when she stepped out of marketing to lead a broader business function in a different country. This experience broadened her perspective and skills as a marketer and member of the C-suite.
  • Getting Things Done: Strong customer insights and a track record of success are key factors that help Claire gain trust and implement her plans. Crises also provide opportunities for introducing new ideas.
  • Future Leadership Challenge: Virgin Atlantic’s future leadership challenge is to respond to low-cost carriers and prevent the commoditization of long-haul travel. The focus will be on adding value for customers to maintain the airline’s leadership position.
  • Customer-Centric Approach: Claire emphasizes the importance of measuring and aligning priorities with a balance scorecard that places customer advocacy at the forefront. This approach ensures that all employees understand the company’s commitment to acquiring and delighting customers.
  • Balancing Innovation and Profitability: While innovation is crucial for enhancing customer experiences, Claire acknowledges the need to strike a balance between innovation and profitability. This balance involves managing the cost and complexity of implementing new technologies and experiences.
  • Leadership Over Time: Claire believes that the fundamentals of leadership in marketing have largely remained unchanged over time. While technology tools like Slack and Yammer have become more prominent, the core principles of leadership endure.
  • Digital’s Impact: Digital transformation has shifted the focus from using technology to reduce costs to using technology to unlock better customer experiences and drive profitability.
  • Breaking the Rules: Claire shares an example of breaking the rules by creating an advertising campaign with Warren Buffett without permission. The successful campaign became a testament to taking calculated risks.
  • Leadership Advice: Claire advises against tolerating “brilliant jerks” within a team, emphasizing the importance of teamwork and collaboration. She likens leading a team to leading an orchestra, where all members must work together in harmony.

Claire Cronin’s leadership philosophy centers on connecting employees to a higher purpose, focusing on customer advocacy, and maintaining a balance between innovation and profitability in the airline industry.