CMO Files: Tom Flynn, CMO, Lavante, Inc.

Get inside the mind of the world's top marketing professionals. In 20 questions we find out what they love most about their job, what their biggest achievements are... and what keeps them awake at night. Read 'The CMO Files'.

Get inside the mind of the world's top marketing professionals. In 20 questions we find out what they love most about their job, what their biggest achievements are... and what keeps them awake at night. Read 'The CMO Files'.

Name: Tom Flynn

Organisation:  Lavante, Inc.                    

Job title:  CMO

Location:  San Jose, CA

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1.    Where were you born and raised?
Born in New Jersey; raised in California.

2.    What was your first job?  
I worked as an intern at KRUZ television station in Santa Cruz, CA for a couple of years during high school. Specifically I worked with the local area sports crew and when I wasn't playing in my own games, I was spending all of my free time at other local high school and college sporting events packing and unpacking equipment, carrying cables and periodically manning a camera. It... was... awesome.

3.    What was the first product you got really excited about?   
I spent many hours of my youth snapping and unsnapping blocks together. I liked the art and science of the toy - you could make a pre-designed kit or you could free-form build. Over the years I have remained a loyal fan of the product; I am especially impressed that the brand has become even more popular and relevant over time by diversifying into movies, TV shows, superstores, theme parks and much more.

4.    Who has been the biggest influence on your career?
I come from a dynamic and successful family and I have never had to look far for inspiration. From within that group, I think my sister, Nicole, has been the biggest influence on me; she is my biggest fan, cheerleader, confidante and more. She's helped me through my lows and she's the happiest for me during my highs. 

5.    What has been your greatest achievement?
Years ago when I was dreaming of becoming a famous author of plays and novels, I wrote, produced and acted in a musical comedy and sent the entire production to Scotland where we won four stars at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The entire production including the L.A. warm up run took several months and was one of the best years of my life.

6.    What has been your biggest mistake?
After a summer of back-packing through Europe in my mid-twenties, I was this close to ripping up my return ticket and taking up a job at a theatre in Verona, Italy. I wanted to spend a year abroad living as a local, learning the language and probably suffering an overly dramatic and failed romance with a statuesque Italian beauty. Sadly I thought my grown up life was overdue to "begin" in the States so I took the safer option, flew home and started my professional career.

7.    What is your greatest strength?
I believe I am creative and bold. I like to come up with new and different ideas and just do them because I believe in them and not because I read them in a book nor because they are polling well.

8.    What is your biggest weakness?
Strengths and weakness so often work hand in hand. The same boldness I point to as strength in the answer above can often look a little more like "Ready... Fire... Aim..."  Yikes.

9.    What do you think is the aspect of your role most neglected by peers?   
Not every marketing leader has experience in a sales position. I think that having some sales in your background can help you better understand the day-to-day world of a sales rep and will naturally help you to create more compelling sales tools.

10. Which word or phrase is your mantra and which word or phrase makes you squirm?
I find myself often coaching my team and my peers with a mantra of my own design, "Make decisions, make mistakes, but make progress."

The word that makes me squirm is "Perfect". There is no such thing.

11. What makes you stressed?
In and out of my work I am connected to many different people in many different ways - and I do not want to let them down.

12. What do you do to relax?
I relax by spending time with my beautiful wife and my awesome little rock-star daughter, Izzy!

13. What is your favourite song?
I do not have a favourite song, but I do love music. I've spent far too many hours and *ahem* dollars compiling a rather eclectic library of compact discs, vintage (and not so vintage) vinyl, cassette tapes (remember those) and digital music. The entire collection occupies about half of my home office... and keeps getting bigger.

14. Which book taught you most?
"A Tree in A Forest" by Ajahn Chah. The venerable Buddhist Monk uses similes and simple observation about ordinary objects as a powerful how-to guide for achieving a clear mind.

15. Do you have a team or sport that you follow?
I really enjoy watching and following American football. As a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, I am proud to claim the 49ers as my team.

16. Which country would you like to work in?
I would like to work in either Hong Kong or Singapore. These are both great cultures and time spent in either of these locals would complement the Western sensibilities I have developed over my professional career. I also believe that there is an obvious economic shift to Chinese industry in recent years and getting closer to that market would be enlightening and invigorating.

17. Which company do you think has the best marketing?
There are so many great examples, but for me, Starbucks is the high water mark for marketing today. Think about it... this company used to be a single coffee shop. They've made the world believe that a cup of coffee could be worth $5 and that a coffee shop can be a corporation. I admire their brand their product strategies and their use of social media. I love how intimate their products can become; many people I know feel like Starbucks products are like little secrets or escapes from the unsavoury corners of their day-to-day life. The whole exchange is fascinating and brilliant to me. I am a huge fan on every level.

18. What do you love most about your job?
Hands down, I love the people. Interacting with my co-workers whether it is a good or a bad day - whether we agree or disagree is an honor. I learn so much from every person throughout the entire organization on a daily basis. It never gets old. I feel the same way about our client base, I thoroughly enjoy interacting with and getting to know clients. They are every bit as much my teachers.

19. What is your favourite business book?
I am voracious reader; although I cannot claim to have a favourite book, I can call out Guy Kawasaki's "Selling the Dream;" Clayton Christensen's "The Innovator's Dilemma" and Geoffrey Moore's "Crossing the Chasm" as a few of the key books I go back to frequently for professional guidance. 

20. What keeps you awake at night?
I sleep pretty well these days. Work doesn't "keep me up at night" per se. I think it is truer to say that work and the many challenges I may face are what "wake me up in the morning" and send me back into office with passion.