Talk to us


How to develop the non-marketing skills needed to be a CMO with Mosala Phillips of Old Mutual Limited

Share on

Welcome to another episode of Scratch!

In this week's episode Eric Fulwiler is joined by Mosala Phillips, Chief Marketing Officer of Old Mutual Limited.
Old Mutual Limited is the largest insurance company in Africa, and work across 14 markets!

In this conversation we touch on the balance between creativity and numbers, Mosala's background as an electrical engineer, and what he means by "In God we trust, but everyone else bring data!".

This is a fascinating conversation, tune in!


Mosala: The only way you can be able to gain respect and be able to become a business partner is when you are able to understand the business. Being able to read that income statement and the balance sheet and understand the nuances because you are there to bring in the customer voice, you are there to bring in the insights to help unlock business opportunities.

I'm Eric Fulwiler and this is Scratch bringing You Marketing lessons from the leading brands and brains rewriting the rule book from scratch for the world of today.

Hey everyone, my guest today Masala Phillips, the chief marketing officer of Old Mutual. So if you don't know Old Mutual, they are I believe the largest insurance company in Africa, but they're massive. They're across 14 markets. There's 270 people in Mosala's marketing team and he actually came up through the ranks in South Africa and also regionally and globally at Proctor and Gamble. So it was really interesting to dig into his experience there and how that really provided the foundation in many ways for stepping up into this CMO role that he's been in for about a year and a half. So few of the things that I really love from this conversation, and I think you will too, the balance between creativity and numbers. So actually Masala has an electrical engineering degree and as you hear him talk about, he's really into the data and the number side to the point that one of the things that he says to his team is in God we trust, but everyone else bring data.

I love that he also talks about coming from p and g where marketing was at the quote heart of the business and how he's trying to bring marketing more towards the center of the business at Old Mutual as a general push to make the organization more. We talk a lot and he's got some great advice around how to manage what I call the work around the work, the people, the conversations, the buy-in, the alignment that you need from other stakeholders within the organization to go get the marketing job done. So lots of great stuff in this conversation with Masala. I know you're going to enjoy it as I did. That's it. Hey Masala, how you doing today?

Mosala: I'm good on you Eric.

Eric: I am good. To kick things off, tell us about a brand that you are very passionate about right now and why

Mosala: Right now there's a couple of them but I think the one that I'm really passionate about is BMW Motorcycle adventure bike specifically. So I have a 1250 Gs I call it a Swiss knife of motorcycles. You can go off road with it you can do road. It's super versatile so love it.

Eric: We love motorcycles here at Rival. So I had a Ducati GT for years that I actually just sold unfortunately because I couldn't ship it over to the uk. Jenna has an old BMW as well and Michelle Dalaman, one of our advisors and was actually a Unilever for a long time, has a BMW 1250 up in France that he takes around Europe with him. So we'll have to baby. We'll set up a motorcycle marketers podcast at some point. We can talk more about that

Mosala: <laugh> for sure

Eric: So Masala, tell us a little bit about your background, your journey toward until eventually becoming the CMO of Old Mutual and like we were talking about again before we press record. I think it's interesting, you know went to U C T where I actually spent a semester but I was not in the electrical engineering department and actually you don't come across a lot of marketers that come from an engineering background. So maybe we can start there and then you can tell us about the 15 plus years you spent in p and g and what led you to take in the CMOrole at Old Mutual now.

Mosala: So I tell people that marketing chose me versus me saying I wanted to be a marketer. I was running a way to be honest from engineering. I wanted to study accounts in high school and my science teacher was like there's no way I'm going to let my top medicine science student go and study accounts. We've got enough of those around, we need more engineers. So she managed to convince me, convince my parents that I got a scholarship to go to cts study electrical engineering and I enjoyed the technical side of things, the studies, but I didn't want to be an engineer. And I think the reason being that in South Africa specifically, you end up either working for the mines most of the time and that's always in the middle of nowhere. So when I started working, I was based in Northern Cape in cartoon in one of the mines there and there was nothing and I'm like social thing's going to kill me from a young boy just came out of university. I had big dreams and it was not working for me. So it was really me trying to get engineering And I have to say though, most of my peers in my class they're also, they're in consulting or in finance or somewhere. So then I did a course afterwards after graduating and leaving without another job. It was a bit of a long story behind that I was stuck without job so I decided no what I always wanted to get into business. So let me go and register at vets one of the universities here for postgrad in finance. And when we were there, every second case that we are doing was Proctor Gamble, p and g, this P Gamble. I was like these guys I'd never heard of them before. Started reading more about them and I bumped into brand management and I was like okay, that sounds interesting A sounds like there's a bit of creativity solving of problems. But also as well there's a, there's numbers which I really enjoy and love from the engineering background. So basically then I went to the website and I saw there was a job for the assistant brand manager on head and shoulders too. I just gave HR a call and they're like, no, we like your clients. I don't know anything about marketing, I'll be honest with you. I didn't even know what an assistant brand manager until I called you now. So do you hire engineers to do this? They're like, nah, we like your kind. Come over apply. And that's how I end up in marketing and it's been an amazing experience since then. And at p and g it was quite fun cause what I appreciate about my P experience is that marketing is at the heart of the business. So it's commercial, right? It's got a lot of commercial. So until recently the, the CEO doesn't have a marketing background but all the past CEOs have a marketing background. The general management of the company mostly comes from marketing because it is really, the brand is at the heart. So you got exposed to running a p and l get exposed to working with guys in logistics and sales and hr. So it builds you as an well-rounded business person with a specialty in marketing. And that has made one really appreciate the commercial and the business, understanding the business side of things. Not only just about creating communication but also the same time rooted in the top line and bottom line deliver of the business and great market share. Yeah and that came with a history of moving around. That's a great thing about working for global companies. So despite I was there for 15, 16 years, I'd never did the singles job for more than three years in either change brands or I change locations. So that kept me going and excited and growing in that sense. So to your question then how did I end up at taking up the job and moving in to Old Mutual? I think it was and there's nothing wrong with PPG at all. I think it was more the point where I didn't want to be boxed in into an F M C G boy let alone being a p and g boy. It was more that I wanted people and also for myself to learn something new in a different industry and hence I even jumped to financial services cause I wanted to go to either extreme where marketing is not even at the heart of the business and there's an opportunity that we can help the voice of marketing to be the heart of the business, not just the supporting function. And when I looked at different industries, there was one that one in South Africa's very well developed. There's great opportunities. Most of the brands are local brands. I wanted to also work for a local brand as which had in South Africa as well and a public listed one in South Africa. Cause it comes with the certain dynamics as well. But it was more of where one I wanted to gain different experience versus what I'm used to moving to services versus consumer codes. So that comes with its own different challenges. I wanted to work where I believe I could add the biggest value and impact from what I've learned from p and g where in financial services, their work they're going now is moving from being product to becoming customer centric. And I've lived that journey. So I've seen that move, lift, that move. I think I could have the best impact. And also as well to the point I've raised, I wanted to have a diverse exposure so I don't get boxed. I wanted not to be an FMCG marketer, I want to be a marketer.

Eric: I have five questions I jotted down to build on from what you said. But the first thing I will say is it's funny hearing you your story about how marketing chose you. It's actually how I think about it with me. And obviously we've got slightly different paths, but I went to school for music, I was going to be a jazz musician and decided really quickly I did not want to do that. And then I worked in non-profit and I was going to be kind of non-profit government world, but I got kind of frustrated in that space feeling like I wasn't going to have much of an impact. Actually I was supposed to be stationed in Mozambique that was going to be my first posting in the non-profit world moving from from Cape Town. But ended up doing it in Latin America and said anyway, I had the same process of hey why don't I get into business? And then ended up sitting down with the CEO of who was like, Hey we need you to figure out this social media marketing thing. It actually wasn't even called marketing. It was just like what is Facebook and what does it mean for our business as a publisher? And so yeah, Kati your thing about assistant brand management, my thing about it's, I kind of fell into it and here I am 15 years later. Okay cool. So I think there's that overlap, which I think was interesting. Let's start with, so one of the things I think about a lot and that I'm very grateful for in my own experience is having commercial p and l general management experience and actually how you kind of talked about being a well-rounded business person with a specialty in marketing. It's actually kind of how I think about myself as well. And some of the advice that I give to marketers coming up now of yes our discipline, the role that we play within an organization is marketing. But actually so much of what makes that successful is understanding the business implications of it, how businesses work, how to build teams, how to scale all the stuff around it. And so go into a p and g or a Unilever or these big organizations certainly gives you that experience and skillset. And so I guess my question is how for people listening that want to be on a CMO track, if they're not getting that now, how important do you think it is to go seek that out?

Mosala: It's super crucial. I think it's a matter of, because the challenge that you have when you start getting the CMO seat is that everybody else who has another seat sitting with you is a cfo, chief CEO or et cetera. Well whoever it is, you're sitting in that leadership position don't one, you have a challenge that they think they know marketing because it's one of those it's both an art and a science and everybody appreciate the art part of it. So everybody is going to have an opinion more than even have an opinion about their kitchen. The only way you can be able to gain respect and be able to become a business partner is when you are able to understand the business. Being able to read that income statement and the balance sheet and understand the nuances because you are there to bring in the customer voice. You are there to bring in the insights to help unlock business opportunities. And when you don't know how the money works and you don't know how the business operates, you got to find yourself very frustrated because then you'll not be able to translate your marketing plan in a language that your fellow business partners will be able to understand because you don't understand their language. It becomes very difficult for you to translate what you want to do in the way that they will understand and then you'll be able as well to demonstrate whatever your plans are to be able to help drive the business objectives. And I think the challenge coming in into financial services historically it's been about marketing is those guys who do events and do fun things. But when the real business conversations are happening, people are asking for your input because they don't think you have anything of value to provide. So there's been two mottos that I've been drumming to my team at p and g and the team here, one in God we trust for everyone else bring data. So you need to elevate the science of the marketing. Cause everything we can almost test track, measure a whole lot of things. And with digital coming through, it enables even things that we could not measure before. Help to measure. You can test things very quickly and get response very quickly. And people understand numbers. The understand a lot of what you do, but general people understand numbers. If you're sitting in the same space, you're sitting with a lot of smart people and numbers is the easiest way to explain what you're doing.

And the second, what I tell people is that follow the money you need to understand the business that you're in, how it makes money in order for you to be able that when you come with your plan and proposing the plans, you can speak to how you'll help grow the business. But you also understand how the money works and how the business makes money and you know can help to with efficiencies et cetera. And when you have someone says to you, show me your roi it's one of those biggest things, right? What's the R roi? What's the R roi, what's the R roi? And we stumble to demonstrate that and sometimes it's not, some of the things are very difficult to show the R ROI the way people will be asking for that roi. But you can't demonstrate demonstrating how it'll help deliver the business results, not from an ROI point of view, but using the language that they use, whatever they call the top line, the bottom line, et cetera, et cetera. And also it's very important is that you partner with all the other people. Cause when you start solving people's issues for them, the trust will grow. And that's critical. And I think that's what a lot of marketers they struggle with is that they understand the business, they can't interpret the data so they struggle.

Eric: One of the things that I think about a lot, and actually I was on another podcast this week and the question to me was, it was something like what's the thing that a lot of people get wrong or what's the mistake that people made? And I think that this person was expecting me to give an answer strategically, tactically. And my thing was I think particularly a lot of young people coming up, they don't recognize that so much of the work is actually about the people around the work and being able to communicate effectively, being able to drive clarity with what you want to do, buy-in, being able to reach across the aisle, the sales or finance or the executive team, unless you're a team of one, you don't get to just do what you want to do, you have to do it with other people. And so there's being a brilliant marketer, but then also particularly if you want to get into a role, if you want to be a cmo, so much of it is the people around the work. And that's not a negative thing. Sometimes it gets thrown around as politics, which has a negative implication. Of course there's some of that. But a lot of it is just like the CFO has a job to do, the CEO has a job to do that. The CRO has a job to, everybody has a job to do. It's not your job, but it is your job to help them understand how their job can get done with what you want to do. And so I'd imagine working in big organizations, you kind of get more experience and you have to learn to be able to do that. And so I'd imagine that that helps you set up, help you up for a CMO role. And for me, I haven't worked a big brand, but I think being on the agency side for a long time, nobody does what you say just because you say it, that's for sure. And so you have to understand the business realities of your client, you have to understand what matters to them. You have to understand how they need to navigate those decision making processes within the organization. So I'm curious talking about what you've done at Old Mutual and the roadmap and game plan that you have there. So one would love to hear how it's gone. I think it's been about a year and a half, maybe a little more that you've been there now. So maybe just kind of a quick reflection on how it's going so far, what your plans are for the future. And then I'd love to double click a little bit on, you mentioned being at p and g where marketing was really at the core of the business and now coming to Old Mutual where there's an opportunity to maybe actually use the term heart move marketing more towards the heart of the business.I'm really curious how you've approached that and how it's going. Because sometimes particularly with big older organizations, it's really hard to change culture. And I would say that marketing at the heart of the business, which is a huge part of making an organization more customer centric. Because at the end of the day, the of marketing in many ways is to make an organization more. And I think good marketers make organizations, the organizations they work for more. So yeah, how's it going? What's on the roadmap for you and then that specific objective of moving marketing more to the core of the business to support it being more, how is that going and how have you approached it

Mosala: Despite p and g being a big organization but worked in markets with us, you're smaller. So and I say less complex. So coming into All Mutual, it's a complex machine, it's a big organization, operating 14 markets about 270 odd marketers. And we are like one of the smallest <laugh> in the organization, 30,000 employees. So coming in I had to pace myself to understand because I come from a total different industry and one thing that I underestimated it is joining during covid working remotely because that delayed the culture piece because the culture piece is in the office by having coffees, et cetera. So for a long time it was very difficult for one to connect just with the culture. But with that said, it's just been amazing because one it's a very culture wise very supportive and very collaborative culture and also very open and more open than I thought the organization will be. Right? And I think that that's one of the things that the leadership team was so supportive because they knew that they would bring in a very different animal, <laugh> coming from FMC into financial services. So there'll be a lot of things that probably would bring in that are different and not what they used to. But at the same time there was support. And I think that subsequently helped, which I'm going to get into details in terms of what's the plans and going forward, et cetera, is that support just has been enabling despite the challenges of joining remotely, et cetera. It's very well welcomed and people are like, okay, cool. They were stand up like, hey, you know what? We don't know about this, but man let's go. We used to do it like this, but that's why we brought you in. So the key thing for me that's been thing, it's one, getting into the belly of the business, trying to understand the business and then picking because knowing that people don't know me and I never worked with any of the people, they don't know who I am. Stephen Covey has a concept on seven habits. He talks about you know, focus on the circle of influence. There are things in the circle of concern, but when you own and you grow your circle of influence, it can start growing into your circle of concern. And as much as, yes, I have an on distribution and what they're doing, and I think I can help on that piece, yes, I want to get into the kitchen with the finances team, because I managed p and l before et cetera, I needed to firstly focus on the job I was hired to do of firstly just making sure I'm building the capabilities and being clear on just the basics of marketing across the team from just media understanding, digital creative, communication, planning and all those fundamentals because, and having clear measures and we start having wins there. Cause I went to the company, said, guys, this is what I'm going to do after eight months being in the business and I'm going to focus on these key business issues and this key initiatives partnering with these business units. There are many things that I think we need to fix, but this is what we are focus on. And studying on those right early on and having EL wins starting to demonstrate, okay, if we do this thing, these measures are going to move up. If we focus on these things and the delivery is coming, people are like, okay, cool. You said if we do this, this is what's going to happen and this is what's happening. So the confidence is growing on the delivery and we can have results demonstrate that this is what we said, we are bringing in that science and the data and that is starting to expand and grow. And it's going to be a journey. It's going to be a journey. Because I also have a team that also they're changing their mindset versus before and when I used to get the conversations of, hey, I have this idea, can we sponsor this? Et cetera, et cetera. Know when someone comes to you with already an execution, they haven't really understood what you do and what value you can bring in. And now starting to get into conversations where people are like, you know what? I have this customer challenge, or I have this child business challenge. What do you think we should do? We start having those conversations then that people are starting to respect your expertise. They're not coming with solutions, they're coming with problems. And that's the conversations that we wanted. We're not a marketer and people are starting to involve you, invite you into their problems, then you know that you, you're starting to knock at the right door. But if people are saying, Hey, I've done this thing, go and sell it for me or go and advertise it for me, then that we are not there yet. And that has been the journey and the conversation is starting to change which a year and a half I'm quite happy with where we at.

Eric: And it's interesting because to the point about moving marketing more to the center of the business people starting to reach out to you and your team for those conversations isn't just good for you and what you want to accomplish, but it also potentially means that people are starting to think of marketing differently. It's not just those people that do the events and those people that do the creative things, or even just those people that get our product and our brand out there. It's growth. It's people that can help unlock growth for the organization, which moves marketing to where it should be within the organization. So I think that's great and it seems like it's going well. So I saw recently that Old Mutual was named as the 10th strongest brand in South Africa by Bra brand finance. So congratulations. And I'm sure that there's a lot more on the roadmap, but unfortunately we are out of time. So two quick questions for you to round it up, round it out. The first is, what is one thing that people should do differently after listening to this conversation?

Mosala: Sure. Spend more time with your customers or consumers, spend more time. Be obsessed by spending more time. You said what I'm going to give to the second one be brutal with execution. I think we spend too much time with PowerPoints and slides, et cetera. So that's what I would say.

Eric: What does that mean? Be brutal with execution? I think I know, but is it just make sure that you kind of get started getting started, get your hands dirty, get stuff out there, or is it something more than that for you?

Mosala: Yeah, for sure. I think it's more of spend more time in the details of the execution. When what's going to go where and who's going to see it. Tracking the execution and adjust as you go, right? Because nothing goes as planned, but the more you can and be quick to go to, we debate a lot of things, right? Debate too much. A lot of things be quick to speed to market and execute track and the little things matter. Your brand reputation is just one tweet away. Your brand reputation is one in-store promoter saying the wrong thing to someone, right? So other than just the reputation piece, the org ag lovely used to say that execution is the only strategy that our customer sees and they say that execution will a strategy for breakfast. So being obsessed and being brutal with execution. I'd rather have an 60% perfect plan, but executed 90%, then I have a 90% plan executed 50%.

Eric: Totally agree. I love that. All right, last question before I let you go. In your Twitter bio, you say that you're working to get husband the century. How's that going?

Mosala: I've been ready for 15 years. 85 to go,

Eric: All right, well, we'll see if somebody's keeping the ranking somewhere and we'll see where you fall. All right, masala, thanks so much for the time. Really appreciate it. Really good chat. Thank you.

Mosala: Thank You very much.

Eric: Have a good one.

Mosala: Take care. Bye.

Eric: Scratch is a production of rival. We are a marketing innovation consultancy that helps businesses develop strategies and capabilities to grow faster. If you want to learn more about us check out If you want to connect with me, email me at or find me on LinkedIn. If you enjoyed today's show, please subscribe, share with anyone you think might enjoy it. And please do leave us a review. Thanks for listening and see you next week.

Have a thought on this topic? We’d Love to hear it.

Thank you for sending us your thoughts!
Something went wrong while submitting the form. Please check that all fields are complete.
Find another article

Quick jump

Breakthrough ideas and insights from challenger brands, straight to your inbox

Join over 5,300 marketing leaders from Google, F1, Monzo, and more. ideas and insights from challenger brands, straight to your inbox

face of a womanface of a manface of a womanface of a womanface of a manface of a womanface of a womanface of a manface of a womanface of a woman
By clicking “Accept”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts. View our Privacy Policy for more information.