GM CMO Shows Us How to Exit With Grace (w/Internal Memo)

Mark Addicks spent 26 years with General Mills

McDonald’s is the big loser on the PR front this Super Bowl week: Chief Global Brand Officer Steve Easterbrook may well be a good replacement for outgoing CEO for Don Thompson, but the company’s sales reports were incredibly disappointing and its recent rebranding efforts haven’t quite inspired a “lovin'” response.

On the other side of the corporate coin, there’s General Mills CMO Mark Addicks, who announced his retirement in September after 26 years and officially said goodbye to the company today.

This is a big deal because Addicks, as the company’s blog explains, was “responsible for the company’s global brand-building strategy, including its advertising, promotions, public relations, design, packaging, online, licensing and multicultural initiatives.”

Now take a look at the company’s performance over the past year: in January 2014, it earned attention for addressing the “GMOs in Cheerios” issue, and over the summer it issued a clear statement on climate change. The company’s biggest press boost, however, concerned its ads featuring interracial and gay couples…and its bold response to LGBT haters.

We’d say Addicks played a large role in securing a place for Cheerios/GM on YouGov’s list of 2014’s biggest reputation winners.

For a glimpse into the “why,” here’s the internal memo Addicks sent to the GM team this morning:

From: Mark Addicks
Sent: Friday, January 30, 2015 9:22 AM
Subject: Good Bye and Thank You

Today is my last day at General Mills.  Whew! 26 years went pretty fast…

Thank you.

Before I go, I want to make sure to send a note of thanks for all that you and this community of unique, talented and fun individuals, have given me.  I am walking out of these hallowed halls very humble and awe-struck by the opportunities that I have had, the people I have had the fortune to work with and the brands that I have been able to touch. Oh, if these halls could speak….

Thank you for all that you have taught me, all you have given me, and all the ways you have indelibly touched and inspired me. I am forever and deeply grateful.

Take a look around you:  there are wonderful people here to support you, partner with you, challenge you, and make you better at what you do.  And they just might be your friends for life.

People matter. A lot.  A community of great people create and achieve incredible things. Great people make all the difference in strategies, ideas, executions.  And great people need your encouragement, commitment and support.  Our community—and the culture that defines this community–needs to be differentially great so that we can make a difference out there where it counts.  So, please never stop believing and investing in each other.  Please don’t leave culture for someone else to define. Jump in with both feet. Take the opportunity in front of you to define the community and culture you want to be a part of.

After people (and of course I have to say this):  Our brands matter. That is why people vote with their wallets everyday. Why investors place their funds in our stock.  Why we have amazing art on our lawns.  Why we have day care for the next generation…And why it is fun being here.  There is NO single place in the world with so many legacy brands under one roof. Without our people and our brands, we would have nothing different to offer.

Products come and go. Brands endure.

They are a challenge to build, a challenge to steward as consumers and markets change, a challenge to evolve strategically.

Brands force us to make choices, such as who to be for, where to play,  when to urgently accelerate–and when to stop and have the courage to say ‘no’.

And it is far easier to destroy a brand than to build one. Actually, frighteningly easy.

Building and growing a brand requires that we, too, continue to grow and evolve at the pace of the consumer and marketplace. And that we are accountable for stewarding each brand to a better place.

I wish you, and our brands, the very best. They are in your very talented and capable hands.

I can’t wait to see the next chapter.

I am now, simply, one of your brand champions.

Mark Addicks

Strong exit, no?

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.