The goal of our current study on Canada’s CMO Search was to examine and compare the quality of marketing leadership in Canadian and American tech companies. We looked at the qualifications of the most senior marketing officer at Canada’s top private venture capital-backed technology firms. Out of the 67 companies we examined, 47 had an identifiable marketing leader. We then compared this person’s qualifications with those of the top marketing officers of 47 U.S. “Unicorns”, which are defined as private companies with valuations of $1 billion or more.
On the whole, we found that Canadian-based marketing leaders are less qualified and less experienced than their American counterparts:
- Thirty-eight per cent of the leading Canadian firms had made the strategic decision to place their marketing functions in the U.S. The U.S-based senior marketing leadership had a job title that featured the term “marketing” in 61 per cent of cases. In Canada, there was a senior marketing person only 35 per cent of the time. In the other 65 per cent of cases, the role was more junior or was included in another position.
- In the case of American firms, marketing leaders had a senior marketing title 90 per cent of the time. In only 10 per cent of the cases we examined was the marketing role part of another title. Compared to Canada, US companies are much clearer as to who is responsible for marketing. The role is more senior on average, and it is not combined with other roles in the company.
- In terms of educational background, there is a clear difference between the qualifications of Canadian and American technology marketers. Forty-eight per cent of Canadian marketing leaders on both sides of the border had no business degree. Ten out of these 23 individuals had a STEM degree (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) degree. Only two per cent had both a graduate and undergraduate degree in business. In comparison, 75 per cent of American marketing leaders had a business degree and 26 per cent had both a graduate and undergraduate degree in business or economics. There were five times as many business graduate degrees among U.S. marketing leaders as there are among Canadian marketing leaders.
- We also looked for experience at growing technology firms. We found that 83 per cent of U.S.-based marketers working for Canadian firms had prior experience with high-growth firms, while only 38 per cent of Canadian marketers had prior experience. Similar to the U.S.-based individuals working for Canadian firms, 85 per cent of U.S.-based marketing leaders had prior experience at a VC-backed high-growth firm or industry leader.
- In terms of international experience, our review of the foreign qualifications of Canadian marketing leaders shows that only 10 per cent of those based in Canada have U.S.-based experience, and 66 per cent have no international experience.
Another factor that is seldom mentioned in Canada is the domestic brain drain. This refers to situations where a foreign tech company such as Google hires Canadians in Canada. These foreign firms attract the best candidates through reputation, better wages and more aggressive recruitment. They get the best talent in the country and train them to do tasks that are not immediately applicable to Canadian tech startups. Thus, the marketing talent trained at certain foreign firms cannot leave directly to help a growing Canadian firm.
When Canadian companies are sold early, very few Canadian tech marketers remain in Canada because they do not want to miss the opportunity to gain experience taking a company from a startup to a global player. Since successful Canadian tech firms often move their marketing offices outside of Canada, there are very few people in Canada developing a base of experience that can help us address our marketing challenges.
With foreign firms taking our best talent, and Canadian firms conducting marketing out of U.S. offices and being sold before they flourish, we have a severe problem. We are not developing a local talent base that will enable us to solve the marketing challenges our firms face. This has implications for public policy and the development of support programs aimed at accelerating the growth of Canadian companies.