CMO to CEO: How this former lawyer, customer and marketing chief is owning vulnerability and brand in leadership

Renee Garner

Amaysim’s former marketing and customer leader and now business chief, Renee Garner, believes it’s curiosity, rather than a linear career path, that has led to her to the top job.

“The way I describe it is I let my curiosity and interest guide my decision making, rather than think or worry about what the next role is,” Garner tells CMO. “Most of the moves I’ve made in my career have been into roles I’ve never done before. I’ve either been offered an opportunity and said absolutely yes – don’t know how I’ll do it, but yes, or I’ll figure it out – or I’ve agitated to go for something that’s sparked my curiosity where I’ve wanted to try something out.

“In doing that, it’s given me a lot more breadth and diversity of experience, which I’ve managed to carry with me into future roles.”

She certainly has. From training as a lawyer and working as a solicitor, Garner authored a global climate change Australian policy and law review before switching to managing government and corporate affairs for Energy Australia. From there, she worked on purpose, brand strategy and development before being appointed GM and head of customer strategy, marketing planning and segments, leading the utility company’s retail P&L.

An 18-month stint as chief operating officer at RevTech Media was swiftly followed by becoming the chief marketing and sales officer at Australian mobile telco, amaysim. And in March this year, Garner’s experiences culminated in her promotion to head of amaysim.

This mix of roles has seen Garner awarded the 2014 AFR BOSS Magazine Young Executive of the Year as well as ‘one to watch’ in the 2020 CMO50 of Australia’s most innovative and effective marketing leaders. She also oversaw amaysim’s ‘Little SIM, big love’ brand positioning and program of work, oriented around being the most loved telco in Australia by its customers.

“This breadth of commercial and experience has benefitted me coming into the head of Amaysim role – I’ve seen different business problems through different lenses and parts of the business,” Garner comments. “As a trained lawyer, you get great critical thinking and good foundational disciplines and how to write well and think clearly. But unless you’re very senior, you don’t get heavy commercial experience or in leading numbers. In the back of my mind, I’ve always known the next notches on my belt that I’d like to get through experiences and followed them.

“I encourage all the people I talk to about career development to let go of any expectations around the kind of job they think they should have had when they were younger. Let the curiosity get you the experience and breadth to try new things. In doing that and learning, you know what you like, and you’re also gaining experiences that can take you into the next job. And breadth helps when you want to get into general management.”

Marketers and the top business job

During her time as amaysim’s CMO, Garner has spearheaded a number of innovative campaigns and customer efforts. These have helped amaysim become one of the most loved telcos in Australia with one of the highest Net Promoter Scores (NPS) recorded across the industry (+57).

For example, as the owner of amaysim’s ‘Little Sim, big love’ brand positioning, Garner has dabbled in everything from an original music video with Gangs of Youth lead guitarist, Joji Malani, to billboards and radio placements featuring quotes from its real-life customers, to its ‘Big love legends’ program recognising its customers going above and beyond in their communities.

Credit: amaysim

She says the critical equation as a business leader is harnessing commercial, creativity and customer obsession – her three Cs, and a mixture of attributes marketers are especially in command of.  

“Knowing how to play with creativity to drive commercial outcomes, and doing it for real customer value, is the magic formula,” Garner says. “Businesses nowadays have to win customers’ hearts – whether it’s B2B or B2C. You have to deliver the value in their lives – societal value to society; customer value to individual customers – otherwise you’re just making widgets and pushing them down people’s throats. As a leader of a business, you also have to know who your customers are and what they are looking for. Marketers get that more than anyone else.

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