Why did you want to work in the auto industry? I'm from Detroit; I thought everybody worked in the auto industry. I grew up with three brothers, so I love cars. After college, I went home to Detroit and ended up at Chrysler. There's something new all the time. There's change; there's innovation.

First automotive job: At Chrysler in 1973. I was the first woman in the management training program in sales and marketing. I did that for 18 months, then they placed me in the field. There I was the first woman district sales manager. Now that I think of it, everything I did was the first for a woman.

Proudest professional achievement: At Lexus, I was the driving force behind getting Saatchi to create a separate agency for Lexus. I thought we could have the back-end efficiencies but have unique creative. Bob McCurry screamed at me that Lexus should have a competing agency [that was not part of Saatchi]. I thought: Why not create an agency for us? Maybe I was naive. So I went to New York and talked with Stu Upson at Saatchi, and that's how Team One was born. I thought we'd save $10 million, and I found out that it was much more. And we won every award for creative.

Current challenge at work: It's spending and OEM budgets. None of them think they have enough money. And with all the media out there — we used to have five types of media; now it's 36. The question is: How much money do I really need? Old measurements like share of voice and share of market now look stupid. Now what it really is, is: How much do I need to spend, and where should I spend it? And what am I going to get for it?

Why does the auto industry seem like a difficult environment for female executives? It depends on the area. Female engineers have different situations than females in sales and marketing. It's different cultures. The challenge for some women is that they don't have field experience, and that becomes a negative later in their careers. If you don't get it early, then you are too high up, and you don't have the background to be a regional VP.

It's acceptable to have women up to a certain point of management but not in the very top role. The industry is just not ready to put a woman on top. I'm talking the COO, CEO level. Debra Kelly-Ennis ran Saab, and Anne Belec ran Volvo — but as divisional general managers.

Dream job: Running an agency. Not necessarily an ad agency, but a new kind of agency that is well-versed in all media, with a great creative side but also very grounded in analytics, data mining and insight. Creative geeks. It really doesn't exist right now. You have to collect five or six agencies to do that right now, and it drives up costs.

On getting away: What caused me to leave the industry for golf [Thompson worked for Wilson in 1994, then Callaway] was that after Ford came in at Mazda, and GM brought in all the guys from Pampers, I thought I should do something that would give me experience outside the industry. That's where I learned all the interactive stuff. And I found there were all these new applications we could do with automotive. When I got recruited to the Designory, I took them digital, and our revenues tripled in five years.

What you do to relax: I golf. I hover around a 10 handicap.

— Mark Rechtin

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