Looking to earn a little spending money and experience, Jo Ann Herold’s summer as a 16 year–old McDonald’s employee helped spur a love of marketing and serving that set her on a course to her current role as Global CMO at Interface Inc.
Not many girls discover their perfect career at age 16, especially while working at a McDonald’s. But Jo Ann Herold leveraged that summer experience—helping market the restaurant in the community and getting involved in the franchisees’ charities—into a successful marketing career.
“I learned that I loved the marketing aspect, and that I also loved serving people,” said Herold, now Global Chief Marketing Officer at Georgia-based Interface Inc.
Most of her career has been spent in the consumer fast-food industry. Over the years, she’s worked for Shoney’s Inc./Captain D’s, HoneyBaked Ham Co. and Arby’s Restaurant Group Inc. She even opened her own marketing firm. But last year Herold landed her plum marketing position at Interface, a global company specializing in the design and production of carpet tiles.
Getting to the Heart of Marketing
She’d admired Interface, who “charted the course on what a sustainable company could do,” for almost 20 years. “It’s always been on my ‘Top 5’ list of companies to work for,” Herold said. “I was very intentional about coming to Interface.”
At first glance, going to a business-to-business (B2B) organization that is in no way related to the fast-food industry may appear to be quite a leap, but Herold, age 48, takes it in stride.
“Marketing, at its heart, is being able to listen and hear what the businesses and customers are looking for, and translating that into actions that will grow the business and the brand,” she said. “That’s true for any industry you’re in.”
The difference is getting to know the business. “With a B2B like Interface, customer segmentation is very important,” she noted.
Other experiences prepared Herold for her new role. Both McDonald’s and Arby’s were global in scope. And Herold had studied abroad in China and Hong Kong while completing her MBA studies; while there, she met with some of the team that helped McDonald’s enter China, which was the topic of her Capstone Project. As a consultant, she’d worked with a variety of businesses, and her nine years as an Adjunct Marketing Professor increased her awareness of the marketing issues different businesses face.
Hitting the (Global) Road
Herold estimates that she’s met with more than 1,000 customers in her year with Interface. On her third day on the job, she was introducing herself to the European Sales and Marketing team and immersing herself in the business. Herold has eight direct reports and responsibility for about 80. One of her first priorities is to get everyone speaking in one centralized Interface voice—a necessity given that their customers are global.
“There’s a very knowledgeable, passionate team in almost every country we serve,” Herold said. “So the local market intelligence is very rich. But because our customers are very global, we want to make sure our messaging is similar while letting them do what they do best at the local level, which is sales and knowing their customers.”
Regular, frequent communication—in the form of in-person visits and biweekly conference calls—is key to keeping everyone working toward a common vision. Herold is also a firm believer in “putting it on paper.” “Early on, the team worked together on developing a global framework,” she said. “And we put that on paper. That’s the roadmap the team uses as they plan and go to market.”
She’s also working to recruit new hires that will fit in with the unique culture at Interface. “The team is very passionate, fun-loving and very sensitive to the world around us,” Herold conveyed.
As such, she seeks out people the team has worked with previously, referrals and folks who have a great reputation in the industry and a track record of success. “They also have to want to be part of something big,” she said. The key skills Herold is trying to grow are in the digital and social marketing as well as media realms.
Taking Lessons to Heart
Herold had enjoyed many successes along the way, but she recalls a time while working for HoneyBaked Ham when things didn’t go as planned. She created a spinoff brand and business called Bonfetti comprising high-end gift products sold on an ecommerce site. The timing for the launch, during the 2008 recession, unfortunately couldn’t have been worse.
“I learned the importance of timing,” she said. “In my gut, I knew the timing wasn’t good. I probably should have spoken up earlier.”
Fortunately, the investment was minimal and HoneyBaked eventually continued with the brand.
Two mentors played a notable role in advancing Herold’s career. Nancy Gibson had held a senior global role at Coca-Cola both prior to and after working at HoneyBaked Ham. “She taught me about brand management—how Coca-Cola would lead a brand,” Herold said.
Hala Moddelmog, a former English teacher who served as President and Chief Executive Officer of Arby’s, hired Herold to help build relationships with Arby’s franchisees and bring a more disciplined, analytical customer approach to its marketing efforts. “Hala was very fast-moving and focused on excellence,” Herold recalled. “I ended up doing her communications, so I learned the importance of writing well under a very fast deadline.”
Both Gibson and Moddelmog gave Herold the opportunity to chart her own course, and that may be the most valuable lesson of all.♦
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