How to become an Operating Partner

4 minutes

On the 29th of February 2024, Executive Search Partner, Rowan Fisk, held a seminar even...

On the 29th of February 2024, Executive Search Partner, Rowan Fisk, held a seminar event exploring the transition from Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) to Operating Partner. 3Search Executive are dedicated to supporting CMOs with their long-term career growth. Our CMO event series has been exploring the wide range of career opportunities post C-suite, from Non-Executive Director to Operating Partner. 

This morning’s panel was comprised of three experts in the space: 

  • Charlie Cannell, formerly Digital Director at Inflexion; Chair / NED at Moteefe, TMOA, onefourzero and Kadence; formerly Digital Director at AMV BBDO 
  • David KirbyCEO of Coppett Hill Growth Advisory; formerly Partner at Livingbridge; formerly CMO of Mintus and CarTrawler 
  • Rachael SmithCCO at 777 Partners; formerly Proposition and Innovation Director at easyJet, formerly Director of Omnicom 

Together, they discussed the following topics: 

  • What is an Operating Partner 
  • Knowing if the role is right for you 
  • How to become an Operating Partner 

Keep reading for key takeaways from the morning's discussion. 


What is an Operating Partner? 


Operating Partners are proven business leaders, who blend financial backing with operational expertise. They collaborate closely with management teams to optimise processes, drive growth, and capitalise on market trends. With a hands-on approach, they play a crucial role in maximising the success of portfolio companies.  

With the job description evolving constantly, Rowan asked our speakers how they define what they do as an Operating Partner. 


The role is changing constantly 

Rachael Smith started the discussion by sharing how the role looks different in different funds. However, what is the same, is that the role is changing constantly. Operating Partners do not have day to day responsibilities, rather they are asked to support on a wide range of tasks 

One day you could be sitting on a board and advising the leadership team, and another day you could be building a new brand’s social media plan. 

You really must be comfortable with playing the C-suite role, but also going back 15-20 years in your career to being an Account Executive or a very junior marketer. You have to be able to move between those things without any ego. As a result, what success looks like might need re-defining.  


Where do you add value as an Operating Partner? 

David Kirby revealed that in the Operating Partner role, there is no there is no management, there is just influencing and there is no end point.  

As an Operating Partner, you add value by sharing and passing on your experience. For instance, the first time a business executes marketing activities, you might have to be heavily involved. However, eventually, you have to pass that knowledge and experience on. 

If they stop being able to complete marketing activities when you walk away, then you have not done your job as Operating Partner. 


How to become an Operating Partner? 


Each of our speakers had very different routes to the job title. Following their conversation, it’s clear that your unique skill set, flexibility and networking is key to becoming an Operating Partner. 


What’s unique about your career? 

Charlie Cannell realised that he had a “natural fit to the Operating Partner role” thanks to his experience in agencies and consulting.  

“Think about that sharp differentiator, that specific thing that you can bring.” 

Charlie recommended that the Chief Marketing Officers in the room take the time to reflect on their career so far. By having a clear understanding of his skill set and career path, he was able to know exactly what he wanted his future to look like as an Operating Partner. Charlie ruled out the prospects of a portfolio business, as he didn’t want to move client-side. It was crucial that he stay as an advisor across the board as this was more suited to his skill set. 

Be flexible in your role 

Rachael Smith wasn’t hired as an Operating Partner at 777 Partners but fell into the role when they found they needed someone to lead this area.  

“My role has changed every three months.” 

In the 18 months that she has been with the business, Rachael has taken on a number of roles, including sitting on the leadership teams of their brands and being an Operating Partner for their businesses around the world. 

Rachael’s role has changed consistently every three months. The things that you're asked to do are just beyond the realm of one job description, so it’s important to be flexible when searching for opportunities. 


Networking and relationship building is key 

Similarly, in David Kirby’s experience, the Operating Partner role is one that many do not reach in the traditional wayIn most cases, there’s no recruitment process. Instead, there is often a need and a pre-existing relationship that results in someone becoming an Operating Partner. This is how David found his role at Livingbridge 

Networking at marketing events, such as these, can be a great way to make those connections and find your next opportunity.  


Thank you to our speakers 


A big thank you to our speakers for their time and insights. If you’re interested in joining our CMO Community and attending future events, register your details below to hear about our latest events. 



For more career support, get in touch with 3Search 


3Search Executive is one of the best marketing executive search firms in London. Dedicated to delivering the best recruitment experience you will ever have, check out our CMO Community for more. 

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