Get To Know: Harvard Business School Chief Marketing & Communications Officer Brian Kenny
Since 2008, Brian Kenny has served as the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer (CMCO) for Harvard Business School, overseeing the school’s global brand.
With more than two decades of experience leading marketing efforts for large global institutions, Kenny’s responsibilities include the coordination, planning and implementation of the school’s marketing, communications and public relations efforts around the world.
Working with the dean’s executive team and leading faculty, Kenny oversees the alignment of branding, marketing, and media relations efforts across the school’s enterprise, including the MBA program, executive education, external relations, HBX and HBS Publishing.
Prior to Harvard Business School, Kenny led multi-functional marketing teams for several global institutions spanning a number of industry sectors.
Most recently he was vice president of marketing and communications at Northeastern University, where he engineered a branding and marketing program to help propel the university into the top 100 nationwide.
He also has managed global marketing for management consultancy The Monitor Group, and led marketing programs for Genuity, a $2 billion internet company, and management consultancy Arthur D. Little.
CMCO @ Harvard Business School
- Age: 49
- First Job: Busboy
- HQ: Allston, MA
- Apple or Android? Apple
- Hobby: Lead singer for The Sellouts
- First Car: Pinto Wagon with a boombox for the radio
What mobile device can you not live without?
My iPhone – I once left it at home, not realizing it until I had arrived at work following a 45 minute commute. I promptly turned around and went home to get it. Sad but true.
Can we take a peek at your phone’s home screen?
Which apps do you use most often for work?
I use Evernote for all my note taking in meetings (via iPad) and for my to-do list. I love the way it syncs across all my devices.
What social media network or website do you frequent most when you’re not working?
I’m probably on Facebook more than any other networking site with YouTube close behind. I never enter my status – I just like to look at what other people are up to and what they post.
As for YouTube, I find I can lose an hour there way too easily.
What’s the first thing you check on your phone in the morning?
My calendar for the day, then sports scores… then (deep breath) email.
Take me through your typical workday.
Typical would be atypical, but here’s a close approximation:
I rise around 5:30 a.m. and either run or head for the gym. Back home, showered and out the door around 7:30. I’m in the office by 8:30, catch up on email, and have quick hallway conversations with my team.
We are a meeting intensive place so I’m bound to spend at least half the day in meetings. Most are necessary. Some not so much.
The nice thing about my job is that I deal with such a wide range of things in any given day. I’ll go from a meeting on social media strategy to one on community affairs, and then another on launching our new online educational programs. It’s very dynamic and makes me use all my marketing muscles.
What has been the most exciting work development during the past year?
I launched an assessment of the marketing and communications function across the entire organization. We’ve never looked at it from top to bottom to uncover areas for stronger collaboration and tighter coordination. I think it marks the beginning of the next phase of evolution of marketing Harvard Business School.
How many miles have you traveled in the last 12 months?
I get to go to cool places. In the past year I’ve been to Mumbai, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Barcelona, London, Paris, San Francisco and NYC. They are all great cities.
I think Mumbai is the most interesting because it is the most different culturally. It’s the kind of place that awakens all the sense, for better or worse. I love the people there and I think that as their fledgling democracy matures they are going to surge ahead on the world stage.
What does your desk look like?
I try to keep my desk clutter free. I purge regularly and keep as little paper as possible. It’s all in the cloud.
What work challenge keeps you up at night?
I worry about keeping pace with the world around us. Everything seems to be moving so fast that it feels like we’re constantly in reactive mode. I know from conversations with others outside of here that most everyone feels this way. But that doesn’t make me feel a whole lot better.
Can you tell us about a campaign or work project you’d like to do over?
It’s important to note that nothing is done in a vacuum here so every project and campaign we do involves multiple players. I can’t think of anything we’ve done where we didn’t see areas to improve after the fact. There’s not a single one that stands out.
Collectively I think we just try to learn from each thing we do so we can do it better the next time.
Tell me about the people who have been most influential in your career.
My managers have had the most influence on me. I’ve had good and bad managers and I’ve learned from both.
By far the most important thing I’ve learned is empathy. You have to be able to put yourself in the shoes of the people you’re managing and understand things from their perspective.
You have to be honest and you have to treat people the way you would want to be treated. Pretty much true in life as well as work.
What traits does a person need to succeed in your position?
Patience. Flexibility. Sense of humor. And empathy.
Can you tell us something about yourself that your team would be surprised to know?
They might be surprised to know that the jokes I tell at home are even worse than the ones I tell at work.
Why did you go into marketing?
Purely by accident; I was supposed to go in to the foreign service after school, and I got an internship for the summer at a PR agency. I decided income was good. The rest is history.
What other career would you like to try and why?
I think I’ve got a novel in me, a thriller. My mother just published her first title at the age of 78: The Stationery Box by Janice Blessington Kenny!
What’s the last business book you read?
Blockbuster by Anita Elberse (HBS). It’s a great take on the strategy employed by major players in the entertainment, sports and publishing sectors of placing huge bets on a small number of projects.
I got to interview Anita about Blockbuster last October.
Outside of your company’s efforts, what ad campaign or video caught your eye recently?
It goes back to the holiday season, but the last ad I remember pausing to watch – and then seeking out online to watch again – was Apple’s Misunderstood ad: