Interview with CMO, Olaf Gueldner: driving growth strategies and financial results

Author Wendy Gray
May 1, 2024

At Carter Murray, we connect leaders in the marketing world to exciting businesses across all sectors – from start-ups and scale-ups to established brands.

Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) work with us to find their next exciting role with confidentiality and expert guidance. Some of these professionals have partnered with us throughout their career while others have found us at this pivotal moment in their personal and professional lives.

To celebrate these partnerships, we’re interviewing some of the industry’s leading CMOs to find out more about their roles, careers, approaches and guidance for others looking to get ahead in marketing.

We sat down with Olaf Gueldner – an MBA-qualified, multi-lingual and international board-level CMO with expertise in leisure, sports, travel and entertainment sectors.

Olaf’s career began in management consulting and product-focused marketing roles, which led to a series of C-suite roles for customer-insight-led marketing transformation. This involved digital change agendas, brand alignment, customer experience improvements and new go-to-market approaches.

Olaf’s passion is to lead strong internal marketing teams – driving growth strategies and financial results. He is a firm believer in innovation and customer-driven ambition for organisations and the marketing industry as a whole.

Can you tell us about your role as a Chief Marketing Officer?

My interpretation of the CMO role is to “fly the plane while you fix it”. That includes two key aspects of this key role:

  1. One, to fly the plane – i.e. take responsibility for (some of) the key revenue drivers. I think that this is important to own if you want to become a true contributor to the organisation’s main purpose. This reflects my focus on day-to-day trading and the importance of all performance marketing across all available channels
  2. Two, to fix the plane. This means starting with a thorough understanding of the consumer and their needs and then becoming the voice of the customer in the boardroom. It’s crucial to drive a company-wide, agreed change agenda that creates new internal capabilities as well as better products for the customers

Fundamentally, I am a strong believer that those companies that create customer satisfaction will see a healthy profit.

Can you tell us about your career to date?

I think about my career in three phases: first I studied in Germany and France. I then joined Accenture for a couple of years before going to New York to do my MBA. After the MBA I joined Bain & Co in the US. These are in the broadest terms my education and strategic footing.

Phase two begins with my role as turnaround project manager, Head of Product and then Global Marketing Director at DHL. It continues with working my way up at Avis from Head of Marketing to Head of Marketing and Sales. I then join Travelport as their General Manager for EMEA. These various roles gave me a thorough functional experience across marketing and sales while gaining hands-on experience of big turnaround projects.

Phase three consists of four CMO roles at, Sands China, Goodwood Group and The Jockey Club. Each role had its unique circumstances but oversimplified, I was in charge of driving a consumer insight and marketing led transformation including brand repositioning, digital transformation, consumer insight focus, customer experience improvements and building internal teams and capabilities. I was fortunate enough for these to go hand in hand with strong profit and revenue growth.

What’s your approach to building and leading a successful marketing team?

I really have just a few principles that I believe in:

  • If in doubt try to insource it (if it makes commercial sense). The added benefit of having the skillset in-house is worth it – as long as you allow for enough training to keep up-to-date
  • Hire good people with a shared vision and values – easily said but hard to do. But that’s the backbone for a high-performing team – together with frequent constructive feedback
  • Stay close to everyone personally but allow your team members to grow professionally in their role. If you managed point 2 well, then they will do the right thing at the right time. As long as…
  • …you have set clear direction and strategy – a simple yearly plan and three-year strategy that everyone in your team can understand and enables them to adopt a role within the chosen framework
  • Don’t take yourself as a leader too seriously – have fun, be part of the team, learn from mistakes and celebrate success

What skills and experience do CMOs need for success?

I think that really depends on what kind of CMO you are – for me it was:

  • Strategic thinking but practical and hands-on ambition
  • Insight, data and customer perspective at the core of everything
  • Technical understanding of your key levers – from out-of-home advertising to paid social
  • Become more than a marketing expert if you want to succeed on the C-level – develop in financial acumen, HR and the various industries that you are working in

There are four parts to that:

  1. Broaden your horizon (see last point above) – you are now the board member first and marketing expert second
  2. Learn with your team – spend lots of time with new and junior marketers. Send your team on training days and conferences with the understanding that they have to teach the rest of the team. Go to conferences yourself too
  3. Learn online – there is so much free training available
  4. Talk to peers and people in similar roles about what their challenges are and what they are doing about them

What advice do you have for those trying to get ahead in the industry?

I will quote the best advice that I ever received – “Do what your passion is and do it with passion!”

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