Soul & Science
Soul & Science

Season 1, Episode · 4 months ago

S1 Episode 8: GE CMO Linda Boff | Success Through Reinvention


GE CMO Linda Boff joins the pod this week to tell us about achieving success through reinvention. Through her career, including 18 years at GE, Linda has continually revitalized both career and company through practicing a restart mindset, knowing the difference between being recognized and being relevant and tapping into the innovation and marketing chops of Thomas Edison. Linda has one of the biggest jobs in marketing, overseeing global marketing, brand content, digital and sponsorships. Linda is also GE’s Vice President, Learning and Culture, meaning she manages the company’s legendary GE Crotonville center, and she is President of GE Foundation.

In this episode you'll learn:

  • How to climb the corporate career ladder when there’s no ladder in sight
  • The re-start mindset
  • What reinvention looks like at a global corporation
  • The difference between being recognized and being relevant
  • How to combine the fresh with the familiar
  • A new take on Edison’s classic 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration formula
  • How believing in people and living strong values pays off
  • Why to always assume “good intent”

I always wondered if marketing lives in the heart or in the head. Should you trust your instinct or your integers? Often the answers both, but should you lead with one more than the other? So bring your heart and your head and join us in the conversation. Welcome to the PODCAST. Today I'm joined by someone that I have admired for at least over a decade in marketing, Linda Bof chief marketing officer at Gee. We're going to have a fantastic conversation. Linda is Gee's CMO, vice president learning and culture and President of G Foundation. She oversees global marketing, brand, content, digital and sponsorships, while also managing Gee's learning and leadership at G Crottonville, Gee's philanthropic arm and Co leading the GE women's network. She brings a strategic mindset, global perspective at expertise in communications to her role. She also ties together marketing, learning and philanthropy to expand and show Gee's impact on the world. Under Linda's leadership, GE's marketing campaigns and fresh approach to media, technology and content have driven strong results in global brand growth and recruitment efforts. Passionate about all things digital and the future of media and communications. Linda's recognized as one of today's most influential executives. Chose named two thousand and seventeen ad week brand genius and was named number five on business insiders fifty most innovative CMOS list. She's not been on many more lists, but those were only two that we pulled so Lynda has been long applied in the industry, very well known and has done a lot throughout her career, and today's episode theme is Success Through reinvention. Thank you for joining us, Linda. We are very excited to chat with you. Jason, thank you for that extremely warm introduction and I can't think of some place I'd rather be, of someone I'd rather talk to. You and I have been up to some good fun in the past and been great co conspirators and Partners, and I love the idea of your podcast. Soul and science. That's what it's about, so thanks for having me. Before we get into success through reinvention, I always want to know the Linda boff origin story. How did you get into marketing where you are? happenstance marketer, or was it a career that you sort of by design knew you wanted to get into. I think it was Jason. It's a great question. I think it was a little bit of both. So I've never been a believer in career ladders, probably because I've never had a career ladder of I was on the bottom wrong and I saw the top wrong and I wanted to climb that and I knew what that would never had that. I think what I had was a lot of curiosity about how people think and behave and what influences them. I was a psychology political science major, so you know, runs a little bit deep there. I come from a relatively big family, oldest of four girls, so I am endlessly fascinated with the application of what you and I call marketing right, not just the work but how it's received, how it's taken. So I think it's one of those things where the more I understood what marketing is, the more I started to fall in love with it. Yeah, and how did you find your way to Gee? Before I got to Ge, I was working at City Group, Big Financial Services Company. Really liked it and I got a call from from GE and I was intrigued. I again goes back to this idea of you know,...

I'm not much of a step ladder person. I'd never worked for an industrial company. I'd work for a Financial Services Company, I'd work for a publisher, I'd worked on the agency side and I think in some ways to be in marketing is to love the new, to love what's around the corner, what's, you know, for me, something that I hadn't done. So I was immediately intrigued by Hey, here's a company that at that point was making everything from refrigerators to to sign field to jet engines. Right, like truly eclectic at the time, and I was in it. So I was intrigued by that. Then I started to meet some people here. The first person I met with somebody who is still a friend and I consider a mentor, belcom stock. Sort of fell in love with with death and her vision and and then the more I got to know folks here, and I will I spoket, we'll talk about this a little bit. Ge Really is Thomas Edison's company. It is a company that is about invention and figuring out what problem there is and then trying to solve it. So company a problem solvers and I found that eighteen years ago hard to believe that it was as though I put on a glove that fit really well that I didn't know was quite missing. I you know, it wasn't as though I didn't like my other jobs that I'd had up until that. So there was a cultural fit and, I think, a fit to around the the mission of what we do for the world and haven't looked back. I Love I love the fits like a glove and I think when we think about successful careers through reinvention, sometimes we often think about that as moving to a different industry or moving to a different career path. How do you think about reinventing yourself as a marketer but still staying at a company for almost two decades? Yeah, I love the question because I think in some ways and I admire people who've who in their career, have reinvented by going to holy new companies and holy new industries, and I think that's terrific too. So I guess I was able to reinvent at Ge for a few reasons. One, we are such a diverse company. You know, jet engines, when turbans, MRI's, you know, we've run the gamut. So there isn't a it's hard to get bored with our products set at Ga and, of course, within our products that were always innovating. So there's a there's a diversity when it comes to the technologies that that that we put into the world. We're in, you know, just about every country. So there's also the diversity of landscape and when you know, when I sit here and think back, my God, two decades, you know, while the world has changed, when I got to gee we weren't even in web one point. Now now we're in web three point now. So I think when you're when you have the kind of opportunity I've had at gee, it's been that of an evolving set of technologies. Certainly in evolving business, we can talk more about that, but also the world of media and technology and content has evolved as well, and the opportunity, Jason, to match those things up, match our invention with what's going on culturally, what's going on technologically, those opportunities. Wow, I love that. I love those intersections. Do you have any advice for people that want to stay somewhere for a long time and don't think jumping to the next thing for growth is the answer, but they really want to. They found a glove that fits and they want to stay. Do you have any advice for someone? I would say a couple things, maybe maybe two pieces of advice,...

...if you're at a company and you don't necessarily want to leave, but but maybe you're a little bit stuck. So one is that it is remarkable how tempting something on the outside can be that feels as though it's it's offering this white sheet of paper. Sometimes it is. But I have seen great career reinvention inside a company. I don't think you need to leave to reinvent. But I'll tell you something I have done with you know, with varying degrees of success, which is every now and then I will ask myself if I were starting this job today, today, what would I be doing and it? Would I be doing exactly what I thought I'd be doing that day, or would I have a fresh look? Would I be talking to different people? Would I be exploring different things? So I think some times you have to give yourself permission to to restart yourself and and I find that pretty invigorating because we can all obviously you know, you get into the groove and in some ways grooves are good and in some ways they're terrible. Because all of a sudden you're just kind of, you know, having the same conversation and you have to almost shake yourself up and say, nope, got to start again. Yeah, you're going. You can get stuck going through the motions versus deciding that, you know, this is what we're going to accomplish this year or this this next, you know, three years, whatever the goals might be. So yeah, I love that you describe yourself as a keeper of the flame for, Gee Geez, a hundred thirty years old. It's a hundred seventy five countries. How do you we? I think your advice about career reinvention is really great. How do you keep a hundred thirty year old flame alive? And how do you think about, as leading marketing for the company, reinventing the brand? I'm a big believer, Jason, in this idea of fresh and familiar. To your point about keeper of the flame, there's a bit of okay, you know, we've got something that is that is revered, you know, treasured. You you don't want to want you want to keep that trust alive. At the same time, I think if you only have familiarity but you're not kind of on taking that fresh lens and thinking about okay, well, Yep, it's terrific. We have a well recognized brand. What makes it relevant? It's not enough to be revered. How Are you relevant? How are you contemporary? We are fortunate because our brand has long stood for innovation and, as you know, one of the things that we've done even in our marketing is say, well, we've got a lot of permission to be innovative in our marketing because it's part of our DNA, it's part of our business strategy. So, you know, whether that's, you know, how we express ourselves on different social channels or, frankly, even, you know, doing things in meteor technology that haven't been done before. To me that reinforces who we are. It's not it's not something cacophonous, it's actually something affirming. So I think it is this zoom in zoom out that I'm so fond of. Right, you know, great mission, strong bed of trust. The world needs to a the world wants GE to succeed. That's wonderful, but how do you kind of make sure that you just put some fresh deposits in the bank all the time, not leaning back only on the past? I love the I feel like...

...fresh and familiar can apply to the brand and to personal careers as well, and I think that idea of reinvention is really poetic in a great way. To think about it. And you mentioned Thomas Edison and I know you often look at the future, but go back to the founder and is there something that you look at when we think about building for the future that you draw on from from him, or values or something that you always sort of think about? What I admire when I think about Edison, or couple things on. Yes, he was an inventor one of the great inventors, but he was somebody who invented and commercialized. It wasn't as though it was just about inventing the light bulb, it was actually bringing it to households around the country and I love, you know, Jason. I love you know, the twinning of things and the idea that he was an inventor as as well as, in some ways, a commercial marketer. That's prop stretching it a little bit far, but it's not enough to just have the idea. You know his famous quote genius is one percent inspiration in ninety nine sent perspiration. You know the ideas, the magic. You got to have the idea. Without an idea, I think you're just crunching some numbers. But the work that goes into it is often that x factor to make sure that the work is finding its way into the world in the right way, and I think to me that is at Asnia. In many ways, you think about invention and innovation and then you assume the world just adopts it, but you don't think about, okay, that was the one percent. Then you had to make sure it was everywhere, and that is the selling and the marketing and the you know, boots on the ground of making it come to life. One thing about your career at Ge is, you know how there's all those studies that come out about the ten year of CMOS and how they last, you know, I don't know, two point two, two point eight years. How how do you think? You must have some magical leadership quality that you've been able to to, you know, stay as long as you have. How do you, and that's obviously probably because reinvention, because the company's constantly changing, how do you? How do you have a philosophy on on how you've been able to be successful for so long? I'd say maybe there are a couple things that have helped me and maybe we'll help people listening. I don't know. So I am a cock eyed optimist. That is my approach to life. It's my approach to life, and so I am interested in getting to yes if there's a way to get to yes. Now there's an Acil of heel to that right, which is, you know, sometimes that can mean that I have too much on my plate, that I'm considering and I'm juggling a few too many balls. But I have a proclivity. Maybe it goes back to what you and I talked about with regard to curiosity, to what what the possible is. And you know, when you've been some place for a while, I think it is important to recognize the possible, recognize what what you could do, to to reinvent, to look at something from a from an entirely different Lens. The second is I have been blessed with extraordinary teams of people who are a privilege to lead and often, Jason,...

I will feel as though, you know, if I have a good day, it's because I've spent, you know, thirty, forty percent of my day on my team and culture and clearing obstacles. Right. There's a point in your career, I believe, where you know, if you hire great people, you make it possible for them to do great work on and I think that the you know, as you get, you know, further along in your career, the the people leader side, the culture side, is just that much more important. On I tend to presume good intent you know, I'd say most of the time it serves me well. Once in a blue moon I'll be caught naively, but most of the time I actually really believe people intend well and life's a whole lot more fun when you'd have that view because you're not kind of, you know, listening to that crazy inner voice saying, Oh, you know better, watch out for that. So I think those are some things that I think those are fantastic life values, not just work values. I think the good intent is I mean, I subscribe to that as well, and it could be hard sometimes when you're proven wrong, but you have to keep going with that. And I think the optimism, that's a value that we hold as well, and I think that is just critical to not get stuck in the obstacles but to keep going and it has to be balanced with pragmatism right, and you can't have blind optimism. You have to have real, real pragmatic optimism and it has to be grounded in reality. So I think that those philosophies are are fantastic. Switching gears a little bit, because we do talk about start, soul and sign ants, and obviously when people think of Gee, science comes to mind. I mean it has to. And the brand also, even though it's be to be worldwide, it has to have a soul and it has to be one of those are you know, brand has to be recognized so that if you're do buying MRI machines or jet jet engines, that the brand has value. So how do you foster soul inside the brand with a brand that's so sort of science, science focused and science driven? So, Jason, when I think about like how we show up, how the GE brand shows up to me, it's always about showing up the way a person would show up on the more human, the more relatable, the more humorous, the more magical, the greater opportunity I believe we have to engage people, and I'm not talking about necessarily being frivolous, but rather being on a brand that is just so damn interesting and I think in embracing our interestingness and doing it in a way that's human versus how a conglomerate would show up or how a company would show up, that in North Star for me, in almost every piece of content that we put out right as we focus on this idea of reinvention. You're not only the CMO, but you're the president of the G Foundation and you also do a lot with the GE women's network. I think you co lead it, and learning and culture for G overall. So those are a lot of hats. There's a lot of hats to wear when you've... cloud and success at an organization or a brand, when you want to take on these other things like the GE women's network. You know that's part of your reinvention. I'm sure those are things that you know you want to leave that that legacy. You want to scratch that Itch of like I'm not just marketing, I'm also making a dent and a difference. I guess maybe just talk a little bit about why that work is important. I guess I see the the things I work on as being additive to where the company's going and that's what's important. To me and I'm I'm a dot connector. I mean by Nature Im a collaborative person. I like to connect dots and you know, you've been a company for a while, you you get particularly good at that and I think when I connect some of the dots that we're talking about, you know, we're talking about different ways to drive forward the soul of the company and in some ways I think quincmos are doing their very best work. They are guarding the soul of the company. I love that, the Guardian as CMOS, the guardian of the Solo Company. I've got one more question than I'm going to ask you some personal questions, but one more question on Ge I know they're you know, there's been a lot of press and a lot of talk about it's moving into these three separate companies. Healthcare, energy, aviation. There are many more sectors prior what do you what? How does that make you feel as seeing it undergo so much change, and is that like, are you excited about this change? How do you feel like that's going to reflect on the brand? Yeah, I mean this was we made a big announcement last November that we were going to form three separate companies. The Way I think about this from a brand lens is GE is had this incredible role in history, as you and I have talked about, and in present and or the role that g will have in the future will continue, but it will be through, you know, the formation of three gees, so to speak. Now, we haven't announced the branding yet. I'm working really hard on that part of it, but the the DNA of GE will live on in these three companies on. I think it's a it's a great move for our employees at those three companies. They will be able to get that much closer to customers. I think it's a great move for investors who are interested often in hey, I want to I want to invest in a midtext stock. You know, I don't necessarily want to invest in an aviation stock or vice versus. So I think it brings a lot of focus in. I think you know this in some ways is cord of the conversation you and I are are having today, which is how do you reinvent? You know, if you fall to in love with how things have always been, you're not open to the possibility and I think this unlocks a lot of possibility. Yeah, I love that. Yeah, it sounds like a really smart, innovative move that will make every make each of those grow faster and stronger than trying to have everything combined. Yeah, I think focus is always good. Focus is good. Okay, so some some lend a bob questions, because we are at the tail end here. I always wonder, is there someone in your career or personal life, or an author, anyone that you looked up as a role model that sort of helped you in your growth or your career or grow as a person? You have a role model that comes to mind, Jason. So many people have helped me, people I've worked for, people who've worked for me, but number one is my dad. My Dad was a physician until he was eighty two years old,...

...a practicing physician until he was eighty two years old, and then he started after that just going to a local clinic so that he could continue to do what he loved doing. And ever since I was a little girl, you know, he would say to me, you know then, I don't care what you do, just make sure you're passionate about it. And you know that's a gift. I mean that's just a gift. And to have had to have seen somebody who loved what he has done for an entire lifetime and then to kind of know that it. You know, for my dad it didn't matter what we did, it mattered how happy we were, and I I don't think it gets better than that. I mean there are lots of people I admire and business, but for my whole life that's that's rock solid. You're a self proclaimed modern are junkie. Is there a piece of art that is inspired you or when you close your eyes you always think of a particular piece of art? HMM, beautiful question. I don't know that I have a single piece of art, but there is something, Jason, when I walk the halls of a a Moma that just fills me with almost that religious like feeling that I guess other people get a Church of, just like spiritual opening. I love it. It does something for me that's amazing. What is a quote or a mantra that Linda buff thinks about you? There's an innocent quote I really love which goes back to some of our conversation. It's I will not say that I failed a thousand times. I will say that I discovered there are thousand ways that can cause failure. That's amazing. Linda, you are a powerhouse. You're smart, successful, empathetic and one thing from talking with you and working with you a little bit, you're a kind person, which is the most important element for anyone to have. I think. Thank you for your time and we really appreciate it. Jason, I love the conversation. Thanks so much. Thanks so much for listening to soul in science and we'll see you next week. So in sciences, a mechanism podcast produced by the amazing Frank Risco, Ryan Tillotson, Tyler Nielsen, Emma Swanson and Sophem around, with the music by Kyle Mary. I'm your host, Jason Harris.

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