Kristen Lemkau manages a $5 billion marketing budget as the CMO of JPMorgan Chase. Lemkau stopped by Business Insider for an interview with CEO Henry Blodget. She explains what her brother meant when he described her as “fearless” and why this quality has been so important to her success and career.
Following is a transcript of the video, which has been edited for clarity.
Henry Blodget: Let’s talk about you in particular. I watched something recently where your brother was introducing you for one of the many awards you have won.
Kristen Lemkau: This industry loves to award themselves.
Blodget: Yes, I know, but some people are worthy of those awards. So he said, two words that come mind, smart and fearless.
Lemkau: This is the nicest my brother has ever been to me, by the way, which I noted on stage.
Blodget: Very good! Your mom was there, too. Smart, speaks for itself. Fearless, talk about that. What has to go along with fearless is making mistakes. Have you made mistakes, are you okay with making mistakes?
Lemkau: All the time. I make mistakes as a parent, I make mistakes as a spouse, as a boss, as a marketer. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve been at the company so long, even when I took this job, I remember Jamie Dimon and Gordon were looking at me and I think they were a little nervous, frankly, when they gave me the job. And I said listen, if I screw it up, I’m going to come to you and let you know and then I can go back to doing what I was doing. I had enough credibility that they were willing to take a chance when I didn’t have the experience you would have thought I needed.
And I think that’s true within marketing, particularly at a time when it is changing. If you’re not failing then you’re not learning. Everybody will say that across every practice, every athlete, everybody. You have to fail in order to develop what the new playbook is. And I think what Jeff Bezos says about one-way doors and two-way doors is a really powerful statement. Which is if you’re going to fail, fail in a two-way door and know that it’s a two-way door, not through a one-way door.
So we use that language all the time okay is this a two-way door, fine go do it. And getting better about that rapid experimentation that tech companies do so well. And then finding the things that work and scaling them and then trashing the rest.
Blodget: And were you always like this, when you started your career, “Hey failure’s fine, goes with the territory?”
Lemkau: No, probably not. You know I had the inner voice that would tell me that I was failing and you have to learn over time not to listen to it. I think the awareness that if I wasn’t failing through two-way doors along the way, I’d fail in a one-way door eventually down the road. That this is a period of time unlike anyone has ever seen. And you got to start trying things. I think even becoming a parent has helped that. I teach my kids all the time, “So what, forget it, just learn and move on.”
Blodget: And do you encounter people on your team who are risk-averse, and it’s hard to get them over that hurdle?
Lemkau: Keep in the mind, I almost have to have a higher tolerance of failure because of that. And we’re in an industry that’s highly regulated and you can’t fail on one of the things that’s relevant to a regulator. And I think as a result of that, we have bred a culture that is very risk-averse and very failure-averse in a good way. You don’t want to make failure decisions of character or principle, but you know, we’re selling credit cards and its okay to fail on an ad unit or a content strategy or “I wasn’t prepared for a meeting.” You almost have to raise the bar to have those people get over it. If I’m failure averse, they are going to be ten times more failure-averse than I am.
WATCH THE FULL INTERVIEW HERE: JPMorgan Chase’s CMO explains how she deals with disruption on two fronts at once, why she’s moving some ad dollars back to TV, and why it matters what your credit card feels like