The Adweek 50: Media, Marketing and Tech Leaders Who Delivered the Goods Despite Trying Times

Indispensable execs from Target, TikTok, GroupM, Disney and many more on stepping up for their brands when it mattered most

Presenting this year's standout leaders in marketing, media and tech. Adweek

This year’s showcase of standout leaders in marketing, media and tech reveal how empathy, agility, diversity and fresh thinking fueled success for their brands despite challenging times.

(Read our cover story on Hulu president Kelly Campbell and how she is positioning the streamer not just to meet the present but to triumph in the future here.)

Ali Weiss, svp, marketing, Glossier, FY 2019 valuation: $1.2 billion

Courtesy of Glossier

Weiss’ theory is that beauty is, above all, personal. “We’re always looking for new ways to bring joy to our community, and they certainly don’t lack imagination when it comes to ways they’d like to incorporate Glossier into their lives,” she says. Among the company’s recent “joy” initiatives: GlossiWEAR, a line of branded merchandise whose inaugural 2019 collection featured a pink hoodie that racked up a 10,000-person waiting list before it was available for purchase. To underscore the brand’s “skin first” beauty philosophy, Glossier unveiled Futuredew, an oil-serum hybrid that sparked a new category of aesthetic skin care. And last year the brand launched its “Feeling Like Glossier” campaign highlighting the beauty narratives of the brand’s devotees—for that extra-personal touch. —Richard Collings

Ricky Strauss, president, content and marketing, Disney+, $9.3 billion (Disney’s direct-to-consumer and international segment)

Patrick T. Fallon/Getty Images

It’s never easy debuting a new streaming service in a crowded entertainment market. But Strauss, who joined Disney in 2012 and now heads up all original programming and acquisitions, made it almost look easy. With help from Baby Yoda, the adorable alien from Disney’s blockbuster original series The Mandalorian, the burgeoning streamer notched a whopping 10 million sign-ups by day one. Disney+’s lineup of family-friendly originals, overseen by Strauss, has landed other hits, including Beyoncé’s Lion King-inspired Black Is King, long after The Mandalorian’s Season 1 finale, and early releases of Frozen 2 and Hamilton, plus an experimental release of Mulan, have helped sustain interest in the subscription streamer as viewers ravenously consume programming. As of June’s end, Disney+ had 60.5 million subscribers—making the streamer look less like an upstart and more like a bigwig. —Kelsey Sutton

Brad Hiranaga, chief brand officer, North America, General Mills, FY 2019 revenue: $16.87 billion

Courtesy of General Mills

Similar to other big-name food manufacturers, the maker of Cheerios, Pillsbury and Nature Valley has seen an uptick in sales during the pandemic. The increase in attention has come with newfound social responsibilities, and under Hiranaga, General Mills has risen to the occasion. The company developed an initiative to produce $5 million worth of cereal, waffles and granola bars specifically to donate to Feeding America’s network of food banks. And, aware that plenty of people have been forced to make their own meals at home—some for the first time—GM’s Betty Crocker brand has created simple and affordable recipes that cater to individuals with limited cooking experience. “Covid-19 has accelerated the need for marketers to have deeper empathy for the consumer, understand the problems that they’re facing and lean in to create solutions to help,” Hiranaga says. —Paul Hiebert

Suresh Kumar, evp, global chief technology officer, chief development officer, Walmart, FY 2019 revenue: $514.4 billion

Courtesy of Walmart

Even before the pandemic (and long before President Trump gave his blessing to a deal that would see Walmart take a 7.5% stake in TikTok Global), Walmart played a vital role in the lives of many Americans, in some cases serving as the sole grocery store or pharmacy in a rural area. But when Covid-19 changed the way people were able to shop, it became even more of a lifeline. For Kumar, the challenge was creating new, easier and more innovative ways to shop. Walmart rolled out 130 new features during the pandemic, including the accelerated debut of Express Delivery, which will deliver items in two hours or less. Kumar says Walmart’s ability to “to innovate at speed and scale,” even amid the pandemic, has played a major role in the retailer’s continued success. “We have a strong strategy and incredibly talented team in place,” he says, “and we remain focused on transforming retail.” —Diana Pearl

This story first appeared in the Sept. 28, 2020, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.