The CMO Files: Cornelius Willis, Clari
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The CMO Files: Cornelius Willis, Clari

Name: Cornelius Willis

Organization: Clari

Job title: Chief Marketing Officer

Location:Sunnyvale, CA

As CMO of Clari, Cornelius Willis leads the marketing team for the fastest-growing predictive sales management platform for B2B sales teams. Previously, Willis led product marketing and strategic communications for Google Cloud Platform. There, Willis' team launched Google's AI product strategy, bringing to market breakthrough machine learning products, including TensorFlow, BigQuery ML, Cloud Translation API and Cloud Vision API, and debuted Google in two different Gartner leader's quadrants. Prior to Google Cloud Platform, Willis held other senior marketing roles at BEA, Rackspace and VMware.


Where were you born and raised? I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. I followed job opportunities to all four corners of the continent — Seattle, Brooklyn and Florida, before returning to the Bay Area eight years ago.

What was your first job? I had a catering business called Cornelius Catering. I was 12 years old.  

What was the first product you got really excited about? Windows 2.1. I created 3 instances of CLOCK.EXE and watched Windows time-slice the processor between them. In that moment I understood that Windows plus commodity hardware would change the world. That weekend I sent a letter to Microsoft and they hired me.

Who has been the biggest influence on your career? Tom Button, who trusted me with my first team at Microsoft. Per TomB: "If you would lead, you must serve."

What has been your greatest achievement? My 30-year partnership with my wife and three children who seem better than me in every way are by far the best things I've done. Next best is having found a craft I love that I can practice every day and share with others.

What has been your biggest mistake? One night, in the fall of 1997, Steve Jobs called me at home out of nowhere to recruit me to run developer relations for Apple. Apple stock was at $7. We had a good chat about his plans. I said no thanks.

What is your greatest strength? Perseverance.

What is your biggest weakness? I fall in love with my own ideas. Fortunately, I'm fickle with my affections.

What do you think is the aspect of your role most neglected by peers? Epistemological rigor — how do you know what you think you know? We marketers say we're data-driven, but often we don't understand the math and meaning behind the data we're betting on.

Which word or phrase is your mantra and which word or phrase makes you squirm? Mantra: Use time well, especially time you've stolen from others. Makes me squirm: "Utilize." "Use" is correct and consumes less time.  

What makes you stressed? Too many options — the endless struggle between opportunity cost and FOMO.

What do you do to relax? Jazz cooking. What can I make, using only what I can find in the yard or in the house at this moment?

What is your favourite song? Zundoku-bushi by Pink Martini

Which book taught you most? Influence by Robert Cialdini. Dangerous to the point that it should probably be banned.

Do you have a team or sport that you follow? I root for underdogs. Any team that's behind but still within striking distance gets my support. I appreciate drama.

Which country would you like to work in? Italy, if I spoke Italian better.

Which company do you think has the best marketing? Seek Discomfort/Yes Theory. They've turned a tagline into an authentic philosophy, a lifestyle brand and a business.

What do you love most about your job? Our team. We are all in.

What is your favourite book? Aunt Julia and The Scriptwriter by Maria Vargas Llosa.

What keeps you awake at night? Catastrophic climate change during my children's lifetime.

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