Kathy Button Bell is responsible for global marketing and corporate branding for Emerson (NYSE: EMR), a $24.7 billion diversified global technology and engineering leader, and oversees all corporate communications, market research, and professional marketing development programs. Button Bell launched Emerson's global brand strategy, creating its first-ever global advertising campaign and television commercials; later broadening its integrated campaigns into multiple languages; and expanding into today's digital/social marketing strategies.
Button Bell serves as chairman of the 2013-2014 Business Marketing Association (BMA) board and was named the "Top Marketer of 2013" by BtoB magazine, and has steadily been recognized among the best marketers since 2005. She frequently speaks at national and international conferences on marketing and innovation.
She is on the board of directors of Sally Beauty Holdings, Inc.; the Foundation Board of St. Louis Children's Hospital; and is a member of the board of trustees of the St. Louis Art Museum. Button Bell previously ran her own marketing consulting firm and before that held senior marketing positions at Converse Inc. and Wilson Sporting Goods. She is a graduate of Princeton University.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
There have been two things, by far, that have made me the leader I am today. The first would be my parents. My father was a congenial, successful marketing executive and my mother was a quiet, highly dedicated athlete and mother. The combination of the two of them propelled me into high school and college sports, which ultimately led me to a high wire marketing career.
When I was at Princeton, I played varsity field hockey and in my second year there, the U.S. Olympic coach joined as our coach. She taught me so much about myself -- how hard you can work at something, how you can die trying. She inspired us to do things that was impossible.
How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Emerson?
Before Emerson, I worked at two sporting goods companies, which really allowed me to work on programs that were incredibly relevant to me personally. My "care about" and dedication were extremely high. In each case, we were the underdog in our markets. This allowed me to really have to use grassroots, avant-garde and guerrilla methods to try and get the job done.
I also ran my own business twice, which gave me some of the leadership skills I now have. In those types of situations, you learn how to get things done and not count on anyone else to do them.
Finally, I was fortunate enough to serve on two public boards along the way. This offered me a much fuller picture of what the outside world demands. It gave me the opportunity to look at a corporation from the other side of the table.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Emerson?
A big highlight during my tenure at Emerson was successfully rolling out our brand architecture across the company. The brand architecture influenced our ability to move from focusing on components to a problem solving and solutions-orientated organization.
One of the challenges has been to create an appreciation for the importance of marketing in an industrial company, but it's really starting to flourish now after 15 years.
Serving as the Chairman of the BMA has also been a great highlight, where I've had the privilege of getting to see and share best practices from different types of B2B businesses. I've also been able to help shape the future of what the BMA will look like, especially during a time of really tumultuous change.
What advice can you offer on the topics of developing robust digital programs and connecting efficiently with IT?
Robust digital marketing programs should be based on a good, broad view of the customer experience. The vision cannot be just "sales funnel" long, but more "life and relationship" long. Digital isn't just about your social channels and it isn't just your dotcom. It is the exploration that your customer has, from seeking you out to living with you. Robust digital programs really have so many different customer experience opportunities based on easy-to-use components.
Also, video and bite-sized pieces are getting much more important. I think that easy consumption is what we need to learn about for the rest of our digital lives. How easily you can access information is a defining factor.
I rely on my IT department to help evaluate outside opportunities and share proven outcomes. This group really "wins" when they aren't encumbered by legacy systems or governance.
What advice can you offer women who want to follow a similar career path?
Try a lot of different jobs early in your career and really wander around the marketing spectrum. Personally, I have worked in multiple job arenas from an advertising agency in media to pitching stories at a public relations company. These different experiences gave me a flavor for the variety of marketing disciplines, as well as where I could or couldn't excel.
Pursuing a number of different opportunities also helps people better understand if they are more destined for a role at an agency or in corporate marketing. While agencies are service-oriented and offer a lot of variety, corporations offer the chance to be a hub in a big wheel. There may also be an opportunity to run an independent business. The wide variety will also prepare people for a bigger marketing role later in their careers.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
It never really occurs to me that I'm trying to balance my work and life. I think you find yourself doing exactly what you really want to do.
We are all lucky enough to be super mobile with our iPhones and computers, so a mad dash to a lacrosse game isn't a total unplug and likewise, the teacher or your child can reach you 24/7. In general, I think we all accomplish most of what we deem is really important.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Women have to balance being authentically great "women" with being "one of the guys". It's challenging to remain being a "woman" in your job while business culture tends to drive traditionally male social behavior. Women tend to have better empathizing skills and shouldn't suppress abilities like that which can be valuable to diversifying the business environment.
It's also each woman's responsibility to keep herself relevant as she moves through the many different versions of herself outside of work, including being single, married, a mother of small children or college-aged kids, etc. - it's important to remain connected socially, both inside and outside the company.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Professionally, I've had very positive experiences with mentorship. I've had a number of absolutely off-the-chart bosses that gave me a lot of the recipe for success. Although all three had very different personalities, they all helped build resiliency -- they taught me how to take a hard knock and survive. In some cases, they gave the hard knock, and in some cases, they were the ones that picked me up. Great mentors and bosses do both. More often than not, they save you from yourself.
Great mentors also teach you how to prioritize what's really important at work. They teach you to not worry about the things you can't change, as well as how to be a great employee and boss. They teach you to be an empathetic, supporting player.
All these exact same lessons apply to my personal life, especially when it comes to prioritization. While the lessons are the same, the teachers are sometimes different. Mentorship has made me a better employee, boss and overall person.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
More than anything, I admired my grandmother. I think she was far ahead of her time. Born in 1890, she marched for women's suffrage, was a power player in the city of Chicago in a rough and tumble time in Chicago politics and made a big difference. She was a real social activist, but at the same time was a complete lady. She lived by the University of Chicago and many of the people at her lunch and dinner table were Nobel laureates. She was tiny - only 5'2" - and could laugh like no one else. She was a great athlete long before women were athletes, and a fabulous woman, hostess and playmate. She was so fun and so smart.
In your year as Chairwomen of the BMA what did you accomplish?
We had some very deliberate goals this year for the BMA. My job was to get our "house in order". This included the infrastructure, redoing the branding, relaunching our website and trying to make deeper connections for our chapters. Mainly, we established a mentality and culture at the top to be able to set a great example for B2B marketers during this time of extraordinary change. We have done an excellent job of leveraging some of our smartest key board members to help rebuild the pillars of the BMA for branding, content development, regional events and certainly our national event. Now I'm handing off the role to the able hands of Steve Liguori from GE.
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