John Wiltshire initially agreed to be CEO of the Canadian Marketing Association on an interim basis. He stayed for almost five years, and is now leaving with a long list of accomplishments to his credit.
The CMA announced Monday that Wiltshire was retiring from the association, and has named chief diversity officer and chief of staff Sartaj Sarkaria as interim COO as it searches for a permanent replacement.
Wiltshire, who was named permanent CEO in early 2019, made an “outstanding contribution” to the CMA, and leaves the organization in a great position for future success, despite the challenges of the past couple of years, said Steve Mast, chair of the CMA Board, and president and chief innovation officer at Delvinia.
“Operating during the global pandemic tested the limits of any organization and its people,” said Mast. “The CMA came through it better and stronger—keeping staff engaged and focused, and not only maintaining, but growing, its membership. There are a lot of people to thank for this, but at the core it was John’s leadership and focus.”
Staff cited his weekly email to CMA membership and a podcast that launched during the pandemic as being key factors behind the CMA’s current strong position.
“I know staff are sad to see him step down,” said Lucy Collin, vice-president of membership experience. ”His connection with [members] has been a big part of the CMA membership being so healthy… Retention levels are at the highest level, with significant member engagement. New membership is [also] very strong, with 46 new members in 2021 and already 20 in 2022 to date.”
Wiltshire oversaw the transformation of the role of CMA councils, and was a vocal advocate for the industry around the issue of privacy law reform. The CMA introduced a number of new offerings to members, including CMA NXT (training for young professionals), CMA Café, the CMA Connect podcast and, most significantly the professional marketing designation.
“He’s been an effective voice on public policy issues, especially privacy law reform,” said Sara Clodman, vice-president of public affairs and thought leadership. “He’s been a champion of Councils and Committees, and he has a great relationship with staff throughout the organization—he kept everyone engaged and motivated through the pandemic.”
“CMA NXT and the Chartered Marketer designation are now legacy programs that Canadian marketers will benefit from for years to come,” said Mast. ”These programs are changing the way the marketing profession will be viewed in Canada and globally.”
Wiltshire said there was no major moment or milestone that led to his decision to step aside. “It’s just a really good time to leave from a position of strength and allow the CMA to continue its mission into the future,” he said. “Everything is going really, really well right now. Membership is growing, expenses are under control, our mission is being realized. People are engaged, and we’ve made progress on DEI.”
Most significantly, the Chartered Marketer Program—which he describes as the achievement he is most proud of—is well established and showing good signs of growth.
With a new cohort entering in May, the CMA will have more than 200 people either in the program or already graduated, along with the hundreds more grandfathered into the designation. “I think that will be the basis for giving confidence to others to also join the program, and grow their careers and to establish a set of credentials, which really takes marketing from a trade to a profession,” he said.
He also points to the high levels of engagement among members, and leaving the CMA in good financial health, as accomplishments he’s proud of. “We’re sitting with very strong cash position on the balance sheet right now,” he said. “To have that level of growing financial stability—even through the pandemic—is a really good sign for the future now that we’re coming out of the pandemic and some of the normal growth trajectories will resume.”
While this is a retirement from the CMA, Wiltshire is not retiring completely. “I don’t know what I’ll do next. I’m going to take a period of time to reflect and pause and figure out what’s next for me,” he said. Like a lot of people, he’s hoping to travel more now that restrictions are easing.
Wiltshire said he and his wife have a goal of visiting every national park in Canada and the U.S. “We were halfway there, but we stalled because we haven’t gotten to travel. So that is something I want to pursue.”