Allyson Witherspoon, 43
Vice President and U.S. Chief Marketing Officer, Nissan
Location: Franklin, Tenn.
Education: B.S., marketing, University of Missouri-Columbia
What drew you to the industry? I’ve always loved cars, ever since I was a little girl. I loved the design. I love the independence of it. I’ve always been drawn into the automotive industry. As a career, it was the perfect intersection of design, technology, engineering, manufacturing.
First automotive job: I started my career in automotive right out of college. So, in 1999. I was a consultant for Mercedes-Benz, Honda and Acura. I was working on implementing their Tier 3 brand advertising standards with dealers.
Big break: My big break was when I was on the agency side. I was working for BMW and then I took a position in Amsterdam, leading Volvo’s global agency team. I was based in Amsterdam but in Sweden every week, working with the team in Gothenburg. That international experience and the opportunities that came up after that were very different than what I had had before. China was just becoming a very large automotive market at the time. Volvo had been purchased by Geely, which is Chinese. So, it gave me a completely different set of tools that I had access to to help solve some of the brand challenges and marketing challenges around the world.
What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? Right now is definitely the biggest challenge. It’s been a difficult past couple of years for Nissan. We are on a path of a major transformation from a sales and operating standpoint. And then we have a major global pandemic on top of that. Those two things happening at the same time is a lot of work. It’s a lot of scenario planning and it’s a lot of being able to adjust very quickly to adapt to the changing dynamics of what’s going on.
You’ve been in the industry 21 years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? The fast acceleration into e-commerce and into much more digital retailing. That’s taken place really since the pandemic started. Online retailing isn’t new, and you see it across almost every industry. It hasn’t been as prevalent in the automotive industry. And a lot of that is foundational.
With COVID-19, online retailing became the way that consumers felt safe to shop. It also became, depending on where you are in the country, the only way that you would be able to purchase or transact in automotive. [The pandemic] accelerated all of the plans that we had in place for online retailing and e-commerce, it brought all of that forward.
What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? Women need to see other women in positions of power and leadership. You don’t aspire to be something that you don’t see. So, I think women need to be able to see women in leadership positions to understand that it’s possible. What we’re working on is how do you start to give that visibility early [to] women. [Automotive is] kind of this perfect intersection of engineering, design, technology and manufacturing. If you have a leaning toward any of those, automotive can be an incredibly exciting career. When you look at where the future of automotive is going and all of the very future technology and the future way of mobility, I think that’s very exciting.
How do you bring your best self to work? Everyone is responsible for how they show up. That’s really what drives culture. I try to bring my positive self. Sometimes that’s difficult because not everything is perfect every day. I try to bring simple and focused direction so people are clear on what needs to be done. We can discuss it, we can challenge it even. But everyone is clear and we can move forward. And we’re not burdened by hundreds of different competing priorities. I’m a person who has a lot of energy and tries to bring that energy to whatever I’m doing.
Tell us about your family. I am the youngest. I have a twin brother. I have kind of a built-in buddy. I’m single. I live in Nashville, I also have a ton of friends. They’re all around the world, so I enjoy traveling a lot and going out and visiting them.
Are you able to maintain friendships? I would say it’s difficult. I’ve spent the majority of my career, especially over the last 10 years, out of the country. You have to commit to it. The friendships and the relationships that I have in my life are massively important for me. It’s a challenge, but kind of like your career, it’s all about committing to it and making the effort with everyone.
What’s your favorite weekend activity? I’m a runner. There are some great trails right outside of Nashville. It’s my way of just kind of detaching from the week.
— Urvaksh Karkaria