CMO Files: Rick Jackson, CMO, Qlik

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'.

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Name: Rick Jackson


Job title: Chief Marketing Officer 

Location: Austin, TX, United States


(1) Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Nashville, TN and I moved to California when I was three so I personally identify as being Californian.

(2) What was your first job?  

I worked in a fast food chain for approximately two weeks. This didn’t really appeal to me so I started a new job as a camp counsellor in a summer kid’s camp which was much more fun! I joke that I see this as my first marketing role as positioning was key:  “If you get on the bus now, you’ll get a treat faster!"

(3) What was the first product you got really excited about?   

That’s easy. It was NextStep, the operating system and application environment that powered NeXT Computers, and still underlies both MacOS and iOS today! NeXT provided me with a machine to take home and play with over a weekend and I agreed to join the company the following Monday. I loved the product and I knew then that it would change the world, I just didn’t know it would be under a different brand name. 

(4) Who has been the biggest influence on your career?

In all honesty, it has to be Steve Jobs as he gave me my first big break in marketing. I reported directly in to him for two years at NeXT mainly focusing on product management and marketing. I can’t say that every moment was great but I did learn more from him than any other individual in my career, hands down.

(5) What has been your greatest achievement?

My two boys, aged almost five and three, are my pride and joy. Career-wise, I’ve also been very fortunate to work at some great companies, and to be part of some great teams. The thing I talk about most are past employees that were a part of my organisation, or even reported directly to me, that were able to springboard into new career opportunities, growth opportunities, executive roles, etc. I believe leadership is one of the most important aspects of the CMO role.  

(6) What has been your biggest mistake?

Taking a job based on a monetary decision. Earlier in my career, I switched companies primarily due to the significant increase in pay. I’m not saying money doesn’t matter, but it matters a lot less than believing in the company and people around you, and being passionate about what you are doing every day. 

(7) What is your greatest strength?

I’d say two things have contributed to the success I have had, and they somewhat work together. First, I take pride in taking complex problems or scenarios, and breaking them down into simpler ones that can be solved. The second thing is building high-performance teams. Success is based on teams, not individuals. Give me a strong team of motivated, committed, respectful members any day over a handful of individual superstars who tend to work in silos. Teamwork is crucial.  The best way to work with teams – break down complex problems into simpler ones that can be distributed across team members, with clear roles. That’s how the two strengths come together.

(8) What is your biggest weakness?

I’d have to say that I do have a strong tendency to want to dive in and take over, and sometimes just do it myself. I like to think I come from a good place of “wanting to help”. The truth is I am impatient for progress and fall into that trap of taking over vs. helping out. It’s an honest and real personal struggle for me.

(9) What do you think is the aspect of your role most neglected by peers?   

I firmly believe that marketing is the change agent in any company. And therefore, by definition, the CMO has to be a leader of change. When you think about it, marketing is in the position of being between sales and product (engineering), and so we are expected to tie it all together. I’d say I’ve been fortunate enough to work for some great CEOs that see this, however this can sometimes be overlooked by the board and executive teams in some organisations.  

(10) Which word or phrase is your mantra and which word or phrase makes you squirm?

My team will tell you I have many mantras. But one that I live and breathe is simply: “Less, with quality, is more.” This is simply the reflection that marketing is asked to do so many things, and everyone has a “great” idea that you should be doing. The trap I find many marketing organisations fall into is trying to actually do all those things. It always devolves into random acts of marketing without a clear and consistent strategy. On the converse, I hate the “Top 10 Priority List”. Honestly, does anyone really have the ability to focus on 10 things? Keep it simple…

(11) What makes you stressed?

Letting my customer down, and my customer is sales and partners. I firmly believe that marketing’s number one priority is to drive business towards sales (including partners), and helping them win that business the vast majority of the time. I regularly review our progress against specific business KPIs in this area, and sweat the details. I appreciate the fact that my counterpart, heading up sales, has a specific number to hit. It’s not their prerogative to say… “we didn’t hit the number, but look at all these other great metrics and activities we did during the quarter.”

(12) What do you do to relax?

Wake surfing. It’s a sport that is growing in popularity, and it’s very big here in Austin, TX where we love our water sports. I literally surf on a short surf board behind my boat on an over-sized wake. With the music blaring, I feel like I’m in a completely different world. I try to do it every weekend. 

(13) What is your favourite song?

Imagine Dragons “On Top of the World”. Something about the rhythm of the song dovetails well into my surfing moves. My kids say “that’s your song” whenever it comes on the radio. 

(14) Which book taught you most?

I have read enough business books to make-up a PhD curriculum. But the books I appreciate most are ones about true leadership. So I’d say the book was: Endurance:  Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage. If you are familiar with the story, you know it’s a miraculous journey against the odds, and primarily due to Shackleton’s leadership. I’ll never face anything like he did, but he inspired me! 

(15) Do you have a team or sport that you follow?

I’m a big American football fan and I still love the San Francisco 49ers – they’ve been so close lately!

(16) Which country would you like to work in?

I love sun and warmth. I love great food and wine. My wife is Italian. I’d have to say Italy. We both love it there.

(17) Which company do you think has the best marketing?

I’d have to say Apple, because they stay so true to their brand. They’ve always appealed to people who don’t think of themselves as the “masses”, and yet they have mass appeal. Now they’re transitioning not only into a lifestyle brand, but a luxury brand. What a great way to protect their rather attractive margins!

(18) What do you love most about your job?

I love the fact that marketing is never static. Markets change, competition changes, tactics change, customer attitudes and buying behaviours even change. So what worked last year, or at your last company, may not and probably won’t work again. I love that! 

(19) What is your favourite book?

The Blind Side. I am a big fan of Michael Lewis and how he weaves human stories into books about detailed topics. I am a fan of most of his books, but I particularly enjoyed this one as I’m a big football fan. 

(20) What keeps you awake at night?

Usually nothing keeps me awake as I’m typically exhausted and I tend to sleep well until I get woken by my three year old!