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High-level consulting help at midsize firms. The Houston Chronicle

By SANDRA BRETTING
HOUSTON CHRONICLE
Oct. 16, 2010, 7:39PM

new-chron-greenArt Saxby has marketing executives for hire.260xStory

In 2009, Saxby launched a consulting business, Chief Outsiders, that places chief marketing officers — known as one of the C-level executives alongside chief operating officers and chief financial officers — with midsize companies on a short-term basis.

"These are companies where the CEO says, 'I know where I want to go, but I can't afford the type of executive that will get us there,'" he said. "Companies that need a high-level marketer, but can't necessarily afford one."

With a degree in finance and beginning with a stint as a strategic planner at Frito-Lay, Saxby spent 25 years as a marketing executive with firms such as Coca-Cola, Kellogg's and Imperial Sugar.

Today he hires consultants with vice president titles on their résumé s. All happen to be over age 50, Saxby noted.

"The joke is, 'Where do all the older marketers go?' " said Saxby, who is 50. "You usually don't see people out of their 30s in these companies because they've all burned out."

Saxby cites a study that says a chief marketing officer average tenure in corporate America is some 23 months.

"There's been a real disconnect in the way we train our marketing professionals," he said. "We're not training them to see the big picture. It's not about just developing a website or doing advertising. You have to know what drives a company in order to know how to market the product."

Chief Outsiders has nine consultants working from offices in Houston, Austin and Atlanta. Saxby's goal is to end 2010 with 15 to 18 consultants, and grow to 100 within three years, he said.

Fun is in seeing results

Most of his firm's projects last six to 12 months, and the fee structure includes a performance clause that rewards results.

"We're not here to sell a CEO a marketing program and then walk away," Saxby said. "We're here to take a CEO's vision and turn it into reality."

Now in its first full fiscal year, Chief Outsiders will bill just under $1 million for 2010, Saxby said. The firm works on a retainer basis, with a portion of the cost deferred until results can be tracked and measured.

"We don't work by the hour because I never wanted a CEO to question whether they could afford to have their chief marketing officer at a meeting or on a call," Saxby said. "The marketing person needs to be there. Because these are seasoned professionals, they're seen as peers."

"From a marketing standpoint, the thing potential clients need to ask themselves is, 'Is the skill set there?' " said Steve Koch, an executive professor and director of the business consulting lab at the University of Houston's Bauer College of Business. "Whether an employee is seasoned or not, the question is whether they have the skills, and that has to be evaluated. I think it's a great idea, and other companies are doing it here in town. But they're doing it with other executives, like chief financial officers."

Burnout avoidance

For Saxby's consultants, the benefit lies in avoiding the burnout of 12-hour workdays, he said. Plus, working for smaller companies means marketing executives see results from their efforts, Saxby said.

"That's the real fun of marketing," he said. "I enjoyed working for Coca-Cola and Frito-Lay, but at the end of the day, could I make a huge impact? Not really."

From Houston Chronicle, Oct. 16, 2010