Team Detroit/ Blue Hive
What attracted you to the auto industry? One of my professors was doing consulting work for Chevy. What attracted me was more the research side of it than the car itself or the truck itself. But once you get in the industry, you almost get addicted to it.
First automotive job: Market research analyst at Chevrolet in 1989
Big break: I had really two big breaks. One was the opportunity to work as the ad manager on Chevy trucks, on the “Like a Rock” campaign. That got me into the advertising arena. But probably the biggest break was when I was given the opportunity — I was probably only 32 — to run all of the advertising and sales promotion for Cadillac in 1999. I went from a manager level to an executive level.
What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? Persevering through the General Motors bankruptcy. That was a very, very dark time for a lot of us. I think what was most difficult was coming out of it. You had this idea that we’re going to come out of bankruptcy, shed our ways and things are going to be great. It really wasn’t that way. It took a long time to recover.
Who has had the biggest influence on your career? Mark LaNeve, who is now the head of U.S. sales and marketing and service for Ford. For two reasons: one, although I was already at Cadillac when he became the general manager, he taught you the value of retail and the value of the dealers, but at the same time was fearless in what he allowed us to do in marketing. I think I’ve taken those lessons forward, whether it’s what I did at NASCAR, whether it’s what I’m trying to do now at Team Detroit. The other thing you learn when you work for Mark is that relationships matter.
What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? Get girls interested in science, technology, engineering and math. That tends to be an area that girls aren’t necessarily given opportunities in; I think the assumption is that they aren’t going to naturally go there. The other big piece is that I don’t see women in the auto industry helping other women to the same extent that I have observed men helping men. Women need to make a concerted effort in order to help attract, but more importantly grow and retain. Women self-select themselves out — “Oh, I can’t handle work and my kids,” or “[I need] a balance between family life and work life.” Women who have been able to achieve that need to be mentors and foster women, and we just don’t do it enough.
Tell us about your family. I grew up in Northville and still live in Northville, so I’m a little bit of a townie. I have two children. I have a 19-year-old son who is finding his way, but he seems to be crazy about cars. And I have a 12-year-old daughter, and she’s a rock star. I’m kind of like a soccer mom with her. My life pretty much revolves, outside of work, around them.
What keeps you up at night? Where’s the auto industry heading? You see kids be less and less interested in cars, so our ability as an industry to adapt to those changes. Ford is doing a really good job of going into the world of ride sharing and smart mobility.
If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be? I wouldn’t have said this probably six months ago, but Henry Ford. I have a newfound respect for what he meant to this country and it would be interesting to hear his take on how the world is changing.
Name one talent you wish you had. I have no patience, and anybody who knows me knows that.
What advice would you give your child? All things happen for a reason. I see that a lot with young kids — they’re trying to plan everything out. But things happen for a reason and you just have to go with the flow sometimes.
By Nick Bunkley