Career Boosters: Cheri Chevalier and Gregg Tilston discuss success in marketing

Career Boosters is usually an e-panel discussion that scouts out leaders in the marketing, digital, communications and advertising space to provide their perspectives on industry topics related to career development, talent acquisition and hiring practices. This month, however, Career Boosters asked two marketers about the experiences that led them to their senior positions at major international brands.

Today’s panel: Cheri Chevalier is CMO at Microsoft Canada and Gregg Tilston is global social media leader at Flight Centre Travel Group

What led you into the marketing industry?

Cheri Chevalier

Cheri Chevalier

Cheri: My first real exposure to the marketing discipline was in a high school business class. Part of the curriculum was a field trip to Toronto, to an ad agency that had the Coca-Cola account. I absolutely loved it. The psychology in the marketing, the intelligence in the insights, the creativity in the executions. I was hooked!

Gregg: After years in B2G and B2B business development and start-ups, I was looking for a career move that was more strategic and long-term. I read Don Tapscott’s Wikinomics, and it was my “Oprah a-ha moment.” I knew immediately crowdsourcing was what I wanted/needed to leverage for my move into marketing and more specifically digital and Social Media.

Did your education and training point toward the career you have today? Or has your career taken an unusual trajectory?

Gregg Tilston

Gregg Tilston

Cheri: My education absolutely ties in to what I’m doing today. I went to the University of Waterloo, and graduated with a double honours major in English and Business. The focus of my study was essentially communications, which is what I live and breathe every day. Co-op work terms were also a part of my degree program, which is what lead me to Microsoft in the first place. I started here as a co-op student nearly 20 years ago.

Gregg: Unlike most of my extended family who are educators, I was the black sheep and instead of heading off to university I hit the road as a musician. I took care of most of the business dealings and contracts so, though not a formal education, it was more a business education from the road, if you will.

Before you got onto the path you’re on now, what occupations were you interested in?

Cheri: I think I knew what I didn’t want to do, before I realized what I was passionate about. I grew up in a small town and my first jobs were on farms. It taught me that I needed to do something where I didn’t “watch the clock” (painful!), something that was varied and dynamic from one day to the next vs. repetitive, and something that didn’t require manual labour! I also learned that I wanted to be surrounded by people. For me, being surrounded by great people made everything better – and fun. That holds true to this day. I considered things like teaching and being a guidance counsellor.

Gregg: Though I thought I was going to be a music teacher (per my previous answer), I was the 10-year-old kid knocking door to door with the Regal catalogue (aging myself) selling to the neighbourhood housewives, or soliciting local businesses for products and prizes for Muscular Dystrophy fundraising carnivals (really aging myself!) I’d run out of my backyard, or making jewelry with my mom and selling it to my teachers and classmates in middle school. I guess it’s safe to say sales and marketing have been in my DNA since I was young.

What do you know now that you wish you had known earlier in your career?

Cheri: I wish I had known not to sweat the small stuff. I spent too many years pain-stakingly focused on making all the small details just right. I had a wonderful manager who said, if its 90% right, just “go, go, go.” It is about the bigger picture and the impact your actions are having on the business, not whether the pantone colours on a direct mail piece are half a shade off.

Gregg: Crises and challenges are opportunities. It’s as true today as it was when I started my career and, on more than one occasion, not heeding this advice led to a less than successful or desirable outcome. To this day, I continue to remind and challenge myself to look for the opportunity when tested.

What skills that you gained outside your professional experience do you apply to your current role on a regular basis?

Cheri: Being a mother is an incredible gift on so many levels. To survive (and thrive), it forces you to hone certain skills like trusting and delegating, masterfully multi-tasking, and ruthlessly prioritizing – and that translates into the working world. It also provides you with a healthy perspective on life, which is invaluable when you are managing challenging situations at the office.

Gregg: Easy – building relationships. My entire career has been based on the relationships I’ve built; from signing multimillion dollar deals with governments to the global role I have today at Flight Centre Travel Group where I combine relationship building (online and offline) with the concepts around crowdsourcing.

How do you define success in your career today versus at its start?

Cheri: I define success now by the success of those around me. My job as a leader is to help others be successful – to enable them to reach their potential, and realize their career goals while making valuable contributions to the company.

At the beginning of my career, success still very much involved working collaboratively with others to do exciting things (it’s how we work at Microsoft at all levels). Success meant working with a team to dream up a new campaign or program and seeing it land in the marketplace and really project the business forward in a tangible way. Even better was then having other countries in the world adapt those ideas to drive success in their own markets.

Gregg: Whether it was to support my band, or at one point raising my kids as a single dad, or today taking the family to Sun Peaks for a ski vacation, I’ve always looked at my career as a means to an end to do the things I love in life. At the risk of using the word ‘fortunate’ yet again, I’m just really fortunate I love my work life with Flight Centre Travel Group at the same time. To me that is the true definition of success.

Rachel Scott is the marketing and content manager and Trina Boos is president of Boost Agents, a specialist recruitment provider to the marketing, advertising, design and communications industry.

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