Martyn Etherington

Title: Chief marketing officer
Company: Mitel
Size: $1.01bn market capitalisation; 1,610 employees

RESTRUCTURE: Making customers the focal point of an organisation

Growing up in the working-class town of Portsmouth on England’s southern coast, Martyn Etherington had big dreams. His father had worked all his life in the shipyards, and, after leaving school at age 16, he worked there, too. Mr Etherington realised, though, that if he wanted a different life, he had better return to school. “Education was my way out.”

Mr Etherington earned a degree in computer science. To enhance and expand his experience, “I knew I had to get myself a one-way ticket to the US”, he says. He got one in 1996 when he joined Sequent Computer Systems, an Oregon-based computer maker that was later acquired by IBM. He feels lucky to have found a mentor in Casey Powell, Sequent’s chief executive.

Today, Mr Etherington, age 51, is chief marketing officer and chief of staff at Mitel, a Dallas-based business communications company. When he joined the company in 2012, he saw that decisions were often made based on internal dynamics rather than on the needs of customers—thus, the company was missing opportunities for growth.

In response, he developed an outcomes-focused, customer-centric social approach that he describes as “outside in, rather than inside out”. Three-quarters of Mitel’s customers are “self-serving before they pick up the phone”, he says, which means the company must use a social strategy that reaches them where they go for information and conversation.

To reorient the company to focus more on its customers, Mr Etherington made a host of changes. He dramatically expanded the number of “customer user groups”—clusters of business customers who exchange experiences and insights and provide product feedback to Mitel—and condensed the number of contact centres from six to one. He also created a more centralised organisational structure, replaced more than half of his own staff to ensure a commitment to his customer-centric mindset and trained more than 1,100 employees in social business to improve listening, collaboration and, ultimately, customer experiences.

To document and share openly, internally and externally, what he learned from “the good, and many not-so-good experiences” during his transformative first year at Mitel, he co-wrote a monthly journal with a writer from Direct Marketing News.

“I have an innate fear of failure. It’s something that drives me relentlessly,” says Mr Etherington. But today he possesses a “grounded confidence”, he says. “If you’ve had success a few times, you recognise it’s not by accident.”

Mr Etherington believes that the keys to business leadership are “having a passion for customers, delivering results, building a good team and seeing in others what they sometimes haven’t seen in themselves”.

But his primary professional purpose is to recognise and respond to the needs of customers, a priority he learned from Mr Powell. “So many companies forget why they are in business,” he says. “Everything we do is based on our customer—to create and keep customers.”






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