The Alkaline Water Company
Tom Hutchison is a highly experienced marketing executive with a rare combination of deep experience in both the art and the science of marketing, which he complements with expertise in technology, data, and analytical skills. A veteran of the retail and CPG industries, he most recently served as the Vice President of Marketing and Customer Engagement at Sprouts Farmers Market, a Fortune 500 rapidly growing grocery retailer. Prior to that, within the grocery retail industry, he served in roles that delivered high-performing long-term and immediate growth strategies for mid-size ($3B) retail and wholesale. Before the grocery industry, Tom led global shopper and retail customer insights and analytics for Brown-Forman, the adult beverage company that owns Jack Daniel’s, Woodford Reserve, Herradura, Sonoma-Cutrer, and other brands.
Tom’s passion is in continual evolution and growth towards excellence, and his career focus is on developing customer and marketing strategy, combining the art of creativity with the science of advancing data availability, systems, and neuroscience towards truly superior results.
Supporting his business and technical acumen, Tom has a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Purdue University, an MBA from the same, and post-graduate in Nuclear Engineering with the US Department of Energy and US Department of Defense. He served as an active-duty Officer in the US Navy from 2000 to 2005 and a reservist until 2017.
CMO Council: Tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are now.
HUTCHISON: My career has taken so many twists and turns that I’m not sure I can tell you “a little” and convey the path in any meaningful way, but I’ll be as concise as possible. My early career was as a U.S. Naval Officer living domestically and internationally in Italy and Africa. My undergraduate degree was in engineering at Purdue University, but I wanted to transition to the business world, so after the Navy I went back to Purdue for my MBA. Upon completion of the MBA program I joined Brown-Forman, venturing into the marketing world for an adult beverage company that owns Jack Daniel’s and a host of other wonderful brands. Given my years of engineering and passion for optimization, I gravitated towards areas and projects at Brown-Forman that brought more science to the “art & science” of brand building, and I also did a lot of work in shopper marketing.
One area I covered was in consulting to large national and strategic retailers (on premise and off premise), where my role wasn’t to sell our brands; my role was instead to consult on how to drive category or department sales overall, knowing our ships would rise with that tide. Sometimes I’d do that alone and sometimes in partnership with other DSD companies like PepsiCo and MillerCoors (we rarely got any traction with what we were proposing). I didn’t understand why and it continued to weigh on me. Ultimately, I left Brown-Forman on an intellectual journey to find out why exactly we weren’t breaking through with the retailers. Thus began a set of grocery marketing chapters through Raley’s, Alex Lee / MDI, and Sprouts Farmers Market.
I’m extremely lucky to have gotten to experience traditional grocery, wholesaler/independent grocery, and natural grocery, all at really good companies that are doing things differently than their peers. And, at present, I’ve managed to get back to the brand and product side! This time for a small and rapidly growing company. I feel incredibly blessed for all of the experiences I’ve had and my journey thus far.
CMO COUNCIL: What are your priorities when it comes to organizational change, operational lift and staff development?
HUTCHISON: From a marketing standpoint, when I arrived here The Alkaline Water Company (flagship brand Alkaline88) was immature. We had a really strong foundation for our Alkaline88 that our CEO built, but it was all living within his head and with an outside contractor designer. We had a lot of opportunity to get our agency structure in a better place. My immediate key priorities were:
(1) Get the right agency for where we are in our company’s journey
(2) Develop our brand strategy and architecture
(3) Develop our consumer strategy
(4) Develop our creative platform
(5) build process across a variety of things.
To accomplish all of that, from an organizational change perspective, it was imperative that the CEO, CFO, and head of Sales, the folks who had built this company all the way to where we are, be engaged and aligned. I am incredibly fortunate that all of them have depth and passion in marketing and brand, especially the CEO.
That all took priority over sales or operational lift as our sales were doing great, and these things absolutely had to be done first. Team development is something that is ongoing. It was something that we looked at in the beginning, made assessments and plans, and continue to refine and execute.
CMO COUNCIL: What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given? Or what career advice would you give to developing marketing leaders?
HUTCHISON: Best piece of career advice I’ve received: Decide what’s going to bring you fulfillment and never settle until you get there. When your vision of fulfillment changes, adapt your plan, and continue your navigation.
My career advice: In addition to the above, figure out what kind of marketer you are, go deep there, and surround yourself with highly talented people in the other areas. Strategy and resource allocation, media, creative, storytelling, insights and data modeling, CRM, etc. Know what you are and don’t pretend to be something you aren’t. If you want to be a senior marketing leader, you need to make sure you’re developing the strategy and resource allocation areas as part of your quiver.
CMO COUNCIL: What are some of the secrets to better collaboration with peers in the C-suite and lines of business?
HUTCHISON: There are some incredibly rare people that are not only naturally very affable, approachable, and well-liked by everyone but are also able to navigate those waters without being run-over. As for myself, I can be polarizing early on with folks. As I’ve continued to mature in my life and career, I’ve moved the balance of that far to the good side, but I’m never going to be someone who doesn’t ruffle at least a few feathers initially. I’m honest, direct, and assertive, which creates discomfort for some, but I win them over when they come to the realization that I care about them and that all of my thoughts and actions are done with positive intent and aimed at what’s best for the company and team. There’s so much lack of trust in this world. It can be demoralizing, sad, and sometimes paralyzing. In my opinion, the secret to better collaboration with peers, at any level, is to be someone that deserves their trust. Be honest, be empathetic, listen, and be human. And professionally stand up for what you believe.
CMO COUNCIL: How do you describe your leadership style?
HUTCHISON: I categorize my leadership style within the “leader as learner” bucket. I care about everyone surrounding me and do my best to help them do the best work of their lives, gain clarity on their professional goals, and develop their careers towards that as best as I can. Now, please allow me to get on my soapbox to show how I frame up the technical aspect of it all.
In my opinion, we don’t talk enough about followership and the relationship between followership and leadership. In fact, I would challenge anyone reading this to think of the last time you saw anything at all on followership. We’re all both leaders and followers but, we need to spend time making sure we’re being good followers. By doing this, the folks under our leadership can better understand what good followership looks like too.
I have a clear distinction between leadership and management:
- Have a clear vision
- Inspire and motivate
- Encourage risk taking
- Focus on people and their development
- Take care of your people, and they will take care of the job
- Hold everyone accountable, including yourself and your peers
- Define the desired end state
- Communicate a clear set of priorities
- Ensure alignment on KPIs and reporting expectations
- Ensure efficient and effective ways-of-working and protocols
- Handle administrative requirements of a manager
- Ensure you’re clear on the desired end state
- Identify the gap from position today to desired end state
- Consolidate resources
- Institute change to navigate the gap
- Resolve conflict
- Report progress
- Gain or pass knowledge
- Ask for help when you need it - never suffer in silience
Leaders create environments that enable followers to make the right choices
CMO COUNCIL: What is your personal philosophy on marketing?
HUTCHISON: I wish I had this figured out. I’ve had several philosophies over the years, but they weren’t great because I was too naïve, too arrogant, and/or not thoughtful enough. I do feel comfortable saying that, as a marketer, you should do the necessary work to have a clear consumer strategy based on comprehensive data and knowledge from multiple angles. As well as knowing that your consumer touchpoints and content should be topical and aimed at that consumer strategy. There is so much more that I don’t know how to boil down into a “philosophy.”
Oh, and be a good, honest, human being.