Gary Briggs, Former CMO of Facebook, on the Gift of Serendipity
Many marketing leaders would be thrilled to rise to the top at just one heralded brand. Gary Briggs has done so at over half a dozen. Since his early days directing brand strategy at both PepsiCo and IBM, he has led the marketing charge at eBay, PayPal, Google, Motorola Mobility, and Facebook. And along the way, he turned down the offer to take the top marketing spot at the Wrigley Company.
Gary’s original goal was to be in politics. Straight out of Brown University, he ended up in Washington DC working as a legislative aide for his Congressman. “I found the environment too slow, and realized I liked the political races more than the governing part,” explains Gary.
According to Gary, numerous chance encounters changed the trajectory of his life. The first came during his time in DC. While attending a fundraiser for his Congressman, he made small talk with a man running for the Board of Finance in Gary’s Connecticut hometown. After sharing his interest in marketing – sparked by his father’s advertising career – Gary was offered an interview at Pepsi in exchange for helping with the man’s campaign. Gary landed the job as a marketing analyst, which led to a series of promotions that saw him ultimately become Brand Manager for Pepsi.
I learned how good the political industry is at driving rapid iterations in creative and being tactically agile.
At PepsiCo, another serendipitous event further changed the course of Gary’s career. Two mentors – John Talbot and Bruce Alanbottom – encouraged him to go to business school. “A career is a mix of serendipity and choosing which door to walk through.”
While his career has taken several twists and turns, Gary left his mark at each stage of his journey. Those include building a bottled water known as Aquafina for Pepsi, wrestling with Howard Schultz over which new products to launch at Starbucks, and navigating the Russian election scandal of 2016 at Facebook.
Gary found his way back to politics later in his career, working on the Bloomberg campaign in 2016. “I learned how good the political industry is at driving rapid iterations in creative and being tactically agile.”
These days, Gary sits on the boards of Etsy, Petco and Afterpay while serving as senior advisor at McKinsey & Company. Interestingly, Gary attributes a great part of his career success to something few businesspeople openly discuss: love. “There’s been a lot of serendipity in my life, but the throughline has been my wife Catherine. Everything in life is so much easier if you get love right.”
Some of Gary’s other keys to success:
- Appreciating all aspects of the job. Gary understands it’s just as important to work for the right person as to move into a great position.
- Cultivating an open environment. Gary creates an atmosphere where employees speak from the heart based in love rather than fear or calculated manipulation.
- Sharing missteps. Knowing people can benefit from each other’s mistakes, Gary shares his own and encourages others to do the same.