What attracted you to the auto industry? Iíve always wanted to work in the auto industry. Iíve loved the car culture growing up in Detroit. I like working on big brands. The auto industry is a big brand kind of an industry. So it was a natural marriage of my love of cars and my love of working on a big, iconic, well-known brand.
First automotive job: In 1987, I worked at Campbell Ewald advertising. It was the only place I applied when I got out of college. I started in the traffic department, making $15,000 a year and having to call my dad every second week of the pay period to pay my bills.
Big break: My first big break was when Campbell Ewald pulled me up into what was considered the big leagues, which was the national advertising account group for Chevy. But my biggest break was transitioning from the agency to the client side and coming to Ally. Having the opportunity to come here and help create the Ally brand and move the company from its captive roots to becoming a true marketplace competitor; to launching and helping build out Ally Bank; launching the brand, the brand standards, the guidelines, all the ways that we were going to create this brand from the ground up.
What is the major challenge youíve faced in your career? Trying to balance a schedule at work thatís extremely rigorous with being at the things that were meaningful to my children and to me and my family. Iíve always had the kind of job where I had to travel extensively. So trying to figure out what would become ďnormalĒ in our household with me being gone at least a couple of days a week.
Who has had the biggest influence on your career? A few people, and theyíve all been Ally people. One is Tim Russi, president of auto finance for Ally Financial. He took me under his wing, taught me a lot about the auto finance part of the business, but he also taught me a lot about business ó the art of making a deal, the rigor thatís necessary to balance between spend and ROI.
The second is my boss Di Morais, who is CEO of Ally Bank. Sheís always been a sounding board for me. Sheís just been somebody that Iíve been able to watch, and I admire her ability to have such an amazing command over her business while balancing having three kids and a husband and being a very involved mom.
The third is Jeff Brown, who is CEO of Ally Financial. He has placed an amazing amount of trust in me and given me significant opportunity to create value in the short time heís been CEO at this company. Heís also been great in terms of refocusing me on the importance of working hard but playing hard.
What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? We need more awareness in general, not just among women but among millennials as well, of all the opportunities in the auto industry.
In general, the media tends to focus on the same people in the automotive industry for all their sources of information, whether itís interviews or speaker roles at conventions or just reaching out to for a point of view, and it typically tends to be men. There needs to be a broader swath of subject-matter experts who are highlighted and who weíre reaching out to as an industry that is much more inclusive of women and diversity so we can overcome the perception that the automotive industry is just an industry for men. Every convention you go to, itís the same seven speakers. Every time you pick up the newspaper, itís the same seven to 10 people that everyone is going to for a point of view. People think, ďItís an industry for those people. Itís not an industry for me.Ē
Tell us about your family. I have two boys. One is 18. Heís going to Western Michigan to get a degree in business and marketing. He played hockey his whole life. He has become a car zealot, thanks to his mom. We have a lot in common.
And then I have a 15-year-old son whoís polar opposite. He wants to be a veterinarian. Heís a sophomore in high school. He couldnít care less about cars. He couldnít care less about sports. He is exceptionally intelligent and creative.
I have my parents and one sister. I lost a brother a couple of years ago.
Iím Greek, very close with my family. I have a big extended family. Weíre very loud and like to eat a lot of good food.
Whatís your favorite weekend activity? Taking the boat out. Thereís a calming effect of being on the water. Itís always a bonus when I get off the water and get to drive my Porsche home really fast. Itís a way to completely forget about everything, put your phone away and not think about work or anything else.
Are you able to maintain friendships? I try to spend as much time as possible. You get to a certain time in your life and in your career, and you have to do serious time allocation. Your primary allocation is probably to work. My next allocation is to spend as much time as I can with my kids and being at their events. But I think itís very important to spend time with friends. I have a close group of girlfriends, many of whom are in the automotive industry. We all have high-pressure jobs, and itís just nice to get together and share war stories and laugh and feel like there are other people in it with you.
Name one thing about yourself that most people donít know. Iím a worrier. I come across confident and direct in my point of view, and I am capable of dealing with conflict. But at the core of it, I really donít like drama and conflict. I worry about the way things are affecting people or the way things will affect my family or the way decisions that Iíve made will affect our company or our business. I donít sleep through the night ever.
If I had it to do all over again, Iíd ... have moved to New York and spent a couple of years working in a big town, doing the same thing but getting a different point of view. I got married right when I got out of college to my high school sweetheart. We never got out of Michigan. We lived in the town we grew up in. Fortunately, Iíve gotten to travel, so Iíve gotten to see a lot of the world. But I wish I had taken the opportunity to go away to a big city and just been on my own for a little while and really experience a different way of living and thinking and different points of view.
By Hannah Lutz