Focus ST marketer: Not your typical car guy
Moscow native may help Ford connect with a new generation of customers
Photo credit: BRADFORD WERNLE
Editor's note: The photo caption in an earlier version of this story misspelled Gorelik.
DETROIT -- In the not-too-distant past, a guy like Filipp Gorelik would have been a complete alien in the often-insular world of Detroit car marketers.
That's because Gorelik, 29, has Europhile tastes: He prefers Formula One to NASCAR and soccer to football. And when it comes to sporty performance cars, Gorelik chose a Ford Focus ST instead of a Mustang when he joined the company this fall as a marketing trainee.
But Gorelik's tastes make him a perfect go-to guy as Ford tries to reach a new generation of small-car customers. His empathy with those consumers is why the company put him on the fast track in its marketing leadership rotation training program. That's the program where Ford COO-to-be Mark Fields cut his teeth.
Gorelik matches the target demographic for the Focus ST perfectly, says Seema Bardwaj, Focus marketing manager. The ST is the nameplate's halo edition -- the fastest, most expensive Focus at about $30,000 fully loaded.
And the Focus ST, Ford's entry in the so-called hot-hatch segment, sizzles in markets where Ford most wants to make inroads, such as California.
"He really is a person who helps us identify not just on the hot-hatch subsegment but also the millennial demographic, which helps us keep a fresh perspective," Bardwaj says. That means Gorelik can serve as a voice of the customer helping Ford connect with a new generation of customers, many of whom tend to have Europhile tastes similar to his.
Gorelik comes by his tastes naturally: He grew up in Moscow in the early 1990s just as the former Soviet Union was collapsing.
As a youth, Gorelik got his first taste of automobiles at the communal garage where his father stored the family's Lada Niva, a small SUV with ancient Fiat mechanicals.
He had to walk more than an hour to get to the garage. But for a kid with a budding love of cars, the long trudge was worth it. It was the place where he got to see some western European cars, which were just filtering into Russia as the Iron Curtain crumbled. The garage also had a service area, where he could talk to mechanics and imbibe the car culture.
"To somebody who grew up in Moscow, even an old Opel Kadett was exciting," Gorelik says in his accent-free English.
With his background, Gorelik was a perfect fit with Ford's need to connect with a different sort of consumer. That's why he spent his summer internship on the marketing plan for the Focus ST. When he recently bought a blue Focus ST, it was his first new-car purchase.
"I'm sort of a perfect guinea pig," he says. "I was one of the first people at Ford to get an ST." Bardwaj "saw how excited I was about finally getting one."
Bardwaj says: "It so cool that there's somebody like him to talk to about a lot of this. It's very much like talking to your customer every day at work, which is unique. And that's something everybody in the auto industry would like to do -- talk to their customers all the time."
Gorelik had his eureka moment as a car enthusiast one day in 1992. He happened upon a telecast of the Grand Prix of Portugal on one of the six TV channels then available in Moscow.
"I was totally mesmerized," Gorelik recalls. He soon became a devoted Formula One fan and worshipped the greatest driver of that age -- Brazil's Ayrton Senna. After Senna was killed in a horrifying 1994 crash, Gorelik transferred his adulation to Germany's Michael Schumacher, though the Brazilian remains his all-time idol.
Gorelik's life took a dramatic turn at age 13, when his family emigrated to Los Angeles. After graduating from high school, he studied to be an accountant. But four years into a career as a forensic accountant, he realized he had made a mistake. So he switched coasts, moving from Los Angeles to Charlottesville, Va., to enroll in the University of Virginia's marketing MBA program. That's where Ford recruiters found him.
Ford employees who are put in the marketing leadership training program have an opportunity to learn about the company's marketing and sales activities in a broad array of functions, says Bardwaj, who is the daughter of Indian immigrants who came to the United States in the early 1970s.
"He can understand full circle what happens with our customers and dealers" over the next five years' training, Bardwaj says. That means Gorelik could do everything from customer research to working in a zone sales office.
Gorelik isn't just a sporty car specialist. Now that the ST is launched, he'll be involved in marketing all of Ford's small-car fleet, at least for now.
"I definitely see myself sticking with marketing," he says. It's accepted wisdom in the marketing world that a good marketer can sell anything, he says. But Gorelik doesn't want to sell just anything.
"Working with cars is something I've wanted to do all my life," he says. "It's a little too late for me to consider a career as a Formula One driver. So I am very happy to be where I'm at."
You can reach Bradford Wernle at firstname.lastname@example.org.