Author Marc de Swaan Arons

Author Marc de Swaan Arons

Effective Brands co-founders, Marc de Swaan Arons and Frank van den Driest  recently released their new book, The Global Brand CEO: Building the Ultimate Marketing Machine.  Marc and Frank should know what it takes to be a great marketing leader. Effective Brands leads The Global Brand Project study. This study, over 9 years so far, encompasses over 250 global brands, more than 2,500 in-depth interviews and many thousands of respondents.  Therefore, if you work in Marketing and want to know what it takes to become a great leader in the field, you probably want the opinions of Marc and Frank. And what do Marc and Frank suggest for marketing leaders? Servant Leadership.

Servant Leadership Characteristics in Marketing

In Chapter 10: Characteristics of The Global Brand CEO, the authors explain why servant leadership is important to global marketing leaders. They highlight many great examples from their study, including brands like Coca-Cola, Dove, Bacardi, American Express, Unilever, Starbucks and more. Each example includes quotes from Marketing Leaders from these organizations, resulting in something far better than touchy-feely theory: real world practice. Here I summarize some of my favorite servant leadership quotes and examples from the book, broken out by key principles.

Author Frank van den Driest

Author Frank van den Driest


One of the most commonly recognized principles of servant leadership, the authors begin their analysis of servant leadership by tackling humility for marketing leaders. This is no easy task, particularly when adressing a target audience who lives in a world often identified with flashy messages, high profile celebrities and egos the size of planets. This is why I was particularly impressed with the examples provided. We’re not talking about little companies or names you never heard of before. Instead, you find here a veritable “Who’s Who” of the marketing world – each suggesting servant leadership plays an important role in their success. 

To go deep into priority markets without pushing away the local marketers, you need to be very humble in your approach and explicitly acknowledge that you don’t really know the markets as well as they do. -Peter Vaughn, SVP Global Brand Management and Marketing, American Express 

…although ‘celebrity’ CMOs who skip from company to company tend to create a lot of fuss, they’re not necessarily the most successful global marketing leaders. -Marc and Frank (authors)

 There are some common DNA qualities around most of the folks who are doing the job really well… a kind of ‘high EQ, low ego’ quality. -Greg Welch, Global Practice Leader, Consumer Goods & Services, Spencer Stuart

Their (Global Marketing Leaders) own egos matter less than serving their organization’s needs. -Marc and Frank (authors)

Global Leadership is about weighing the options, then choosing the right path for the company and not for any one individual country. -Marc and Frank (authors)


I don’t know about you, but I am thrilled to see an increasing emphasis on brands reinforcing their commitment to community service. Sure, we can still do better than what you see today, but it is improving. This comes out in the book as well. In the chapter on servant leadership, several executives underscore the importance of serving the communities in which their brands operate:

I like the servant leadership concept for global brand leaders… To steer the right course for your brand, you need global brand leaders who are in touch with both the markets as well as their internal compass. -Silva Lagnado CMO of Bacardi

I think that the Marketing Leader of the future is the man or woman who leads with purpose. Who builds brands to be purposeful. Who recognizes that the brand’s success will be about more than just sales. -Marc Mathieu, SVP Global Brand Marketing, The Coca-Cola Company (2003-2008)

We all feel kind of helpless when we look at the problems in society or problems in the environment. Actually, at this level, rather than just standing helplessly by, you can influence the company to do the right thing, and I think that’s tremendously exciting and frightening. -Simon Clift, CMO of Unilever (2008-2010)


In a field that is often challenged by the ability to capture and report return on investment (ROI), transparency may be a difficult topic. Yet it is called out as key component of successful Marketing Leaders:

The best marketers create an air of transparency around their marketing efforts. They’re not afraid to show you how they’re spending, what they anticipate, what the measures are, what the goals are… -Greg Welch, Global Practice Leader, Consumer Goods & Services, Spencer Stuart

People Development

Considered by some to be the most critical attribute of great servant leaders, the development of people shines in this book. Several of the companies cited provide great examples on the importance of developing others:

If you’re visiting local markets and you’re just being taken on tours or having dinners as opposed to really helping the local team, you’re not necessarily adding value. -Karin Koonings, VP of Brand and Marketing, Starbucks International (2004-2008)

(Global Marketing Leaders) strive to achieve their goals by empowering others. -Marc & Frank (authors)

The really good CMOs somehow seem to find the time to nourish, coach, provide feedback and improve the careers of their people.  -Greg Welch, Global Practice Leader, Consumer Goods & Services, Spencer Stuart

Global Marketing Leadership Requires Servant Leadership

The Global Brand CEO: Building the Ultimate Marketing Machine
When confronted with these examples, it would be difficult for a global marketing leader to argue that servant leadership is needed in their role. After all, when it comes to global marketing, there are not many examples of success that shine better than Starbucks, America Express, Coca-Cola, Bacardi, Dove, Unilever and others represented in “The Global Brand CEO”. In fact, it could be argued that the examples presented in Mr. de Swaan and Mr. van den Driest’s book are appropriate for global leaders in roles beyond the marketing field. Therefore, the question is, why isn’t your company’s leadership practicing servant leadership? Don’t you want to be as successful as these organizations?

Question: Does your brand or marketing team represent servant leadership principles? If so, how has this helped you? If not, how could it help your organization?

Disclaimer: Although it came with no qualifications, the authors furnished me a free copy of this book. Regardless, I would not have written such a favorable review if I did not stand by it. I highly recommend this book for leaders in any role or marketing or any form of global leadership.