Human Resources

CMO Files: Rhiannon Prothero, Marketing Director, SAP UK and Ireland

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:  Rhiannon Prothero

Organisation: SAP

Job title:  Marketing Director, SAP UK and Ireland

Location: London, UK


(1) Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Cambridgeshire but spent some of my life growing up in the Far East – mainly in Singapore.

(2) What was your first job?
I was a Marketing Executive at a small, disruptive fibre optic technology business and have been in marketing for emerging technologies ever since.

(3) What was the first product you got really excited about?   
The product that most excited me was a life changing piece of technology I came across when working at Vodafone called M-Pesa. M-Pesa is the world’s most successful money transfer service. It enables millions of people, who otherwise have little to no access to a bank account, to send or receive money and make bill payments via their mobile phone.

(4) Who has been the biggest influence on your career?
My father has had the greatest influence on my career. He was a Marketing Director for a very large multinational. Over the years we had many conversations about the marketing world and his enthusiasm encouraged me to go for it. I have also worked with several directors over the years who have inspired me, in particular those who challenged me to try new things and step outside of standard thinking.

(5) What has been your greatest achievement?
I’m really proud of the work our marketing team is doing at SAP around our recently launched Run Simple Campaign which is the company’s largest, multi-platform advertising campaign in its 27 year UK history. This global campaign is helping companies discover how they can remove complexity in their operations to allow them to focus on innovation, which is something I’m truly passionate about. 

Outside of SAP, my biggest achievement would definitely be my management of the mWomen programme for Vodafone, run in conjunction with GSMA and UN Women’s Council. This was a truly rewarding experience for me as it focused on connecting and supporting women in developing countries, using mobile technologies. As part of this programme, we delivered many amazing services, like security trackers in Tanzania, health services in Ghana, and education services in Egypt, really changing the lives of women in those countries.

(6) What has been your biggest mistake?
Fortunately I have never had any monstrous clangers, rather, a series of smaller learnings which enabled me to think and do things differently. So my biggest mistake might be believing the entire world can be changed all at once, when realistically, even though you may have tons of energy sometimes that just has to happen a little more slowly.

(7) What is your greatest strength?
My greatest strengths are leadership, vision and innovation.  And humour!

(8) What is your biggest weakness?
Overcommitting, on behalf of myself and my team. I find it difficult to believe we can’t do everything!

(9) What do you think is the aspect of your role most neglected by peers?  
That marketing is a process, not a reaction. What a sales driven business like ours needs is a marketing organisation which delivers a managed customer journey, and a valuable customer experience. That takes data, insight, proposition development, planning and execution, but the business really only sees the execution.

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

Mantra: I would say my mantra is: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got”.  My team might say my mantra is: “Die trying”!

What makes me squirm:  When people tell you to do more with less or when people ask you to give 110%. It’s lazy management, and meaningless.

(11) What makes you stressed?
When we miss an opportunity because we weren’t quick enough.  When our internal structure prevents us from doing the right thing for the customer.

(12) What do you do to relax?
For me, I find being around friends, having a drink and talking about non-marketing stuff the most relaxing. I’m lucky that only a few of my friends are actually in marketing, and I love the diversion of their stories. Aside from that, I also enjoy playing tennis, horse riding, sailing and other outdoor activities.

(13) What is your favourite song?
Waterfall by Stone Roses – I am also a massive Radiohead fan!

(14) Which book taught you most?
The Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome are classics. The kids in those stories were capable of anything; they engineered, they adventured, they competed, and they had tonnes of fun. I have read them over and over.

There are a couple of marketing books that have been really helpful over the years like Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore. Blue Ocean Strategy by Renee Mauborgne is a great reminder on how, and why, to differentiate... This is particularly crucial nowadays in a very competitive technology industry.

(15) Do you have a team or sport that you follow?
Everyone in my family follows rugby and it is something that I have always enjoyed watching.

(16) Which country would you like to work in?
If I had to leave the UK in the morning, I would most like to work in Brazil. Aside from the amazing food drink and culture, their economy is booming and the opportunities are endless.

(17) Which company do you think has the best marketing?
Businesses that have scale have the most visible marketing. For example, while IBM doesn’t have wow-factor marketing campaigns, I think the company’s marketing is well targeted, and they are super-efficient. Other than that, anyone that holds data at the heart of its business usually has great marketing campaigns, and I love seeing how nimble and quirky highly segment-specific businesses can be.

(18) What do you love most about your job?
It would have to be innovation. From having an idea to developing the concept and seeing it through - I love that light bulb moment when you know that for a clear customer group, you’ve got it right.

(19) What is your favourite book?
I read a lot – a few of my all-time favorites would be The Lord of the Flies by William Golding and of course The Hobbit.

(20) What keeps you awake at night?
Data. Questioning what I don’t know. And the constant challenge of asking myself whether I have really found a compelling competitive advantage.


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