The purpose of this paper is to make a contribution to knowledge by examining what happens to marketing in a time of toxic leadership, embodied in a corporate psychopath, in response to a call for marketers to seek a broader understanding of how marketing operates within organisations.
Commentators have suggested that concepts outside the usual marketing domain may aid in the gaining of an intra-organisational understanding of how marketing operates. Here, the concept of corporate psychopathy was used to identify a psychopathic UK board director and chief executive officer (CEO) via a constructivist approach to research involving six in-depth interviews. A CEO and a main board director who were measurably psychopathic were studied via these reports.
The paper examines how corporate psychopaths, as archetypal toxic leaders, are detrimental to marketing. Overseeing the marketing function within the UK part of an established and well-branded multi-national services company, corporate psychopaths capriciously dismantled the marketing initiatives that were in place and needlessly abandoned future marketing plans. Marketing services, marketing ethics, product quality and corporate reputation declined. Good marketers left.
The research demonstrates the dangers to marketing of toxic leadership. The paper also suggests that marketing may be uniquely qualified to deal with toxic leaders because it can, through research, identify them through their effects and behaviour. The results illustrate the value of longitudinal qualitative market research in investigating complex organisational situations.
The paper makes a unique contribution to the marketing field by empirically investigating, for the first time, the influence of a corporate psychopath director and a psychopathic CEO on the marketing function and practice. The research was conducted longitudinally using qualitative market research techniques via in-depth interviews over a two-year period. Longitudinal research aids in establishing causality, and this was evident in this research, as the negative influence of psychopathic leadership was monitored over time.
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