Andrea Brimmer, 55
Chief Marketing and Public Relations Officer, Ally Financial
Education: B.A., advertising, Michigan State University
What drew you to the auto industry? I’ve always been fascinated by automotive advertising. Historically, automotive advertising has been some of the most formative and important marketing done. Think about a brand like Chevrolet, for instance: “See the USA in Your Chevrolet” and “Like a Rock” and “Heartbeat of America,” “American Revolution.” These were campaigns that shaped what that brand was all about.
First automotive job: In 1987, I worked at Campbell Ewald advertising.
NEWSLETTER: Sign up for Lead the Way, our monthly Leading Women Network newsletter highlighting ways to educate, mentor and empower women in automotive.
Big break: My biggest break was when [Ally CEO Jeff Brown] made me CMO at Ally. My first assignment was as brand executive right when GM had spun us off as GMAC. That was an awesome opportunity. Create the name, create the logo, create the go-to-market strategy. Hire an agency. Figure out how to create a cohesive culture. I really felt like the DNA of the brand was truly in my hands.
What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? Battling the guilt that all working moms carry. The desire to have a career that is meaningful and is ignited, with the draw to want to be there and all the moments that matter for my kids.
You’ve been in the industry 33 years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? The realization and integration of strong women in key positions within the automotive industry. Having a woman as a CEO or having a woman as a CFO, those were things that were unheard of even until the late ’90s. That’s been an important change. And the next is a real focus on people of color.
What work achievement are you most proud of? The rebranding of Ally. It’s a mark I will always have left on the business world. We created a company.
Describe your leadership style. When I was on the agency side, I had an evaluation, and my boss knocked me. He said, “You’re spending too much time with the little people. You spend all this time with the younger people that are way, way below your level, and you need to elevate yourself and realize that you’re no longer one of them.” It stuck with me forever. I was so bothered by it. To this day, I make sure I go to lunch, spend time. There’s such important perspective that comes from every level. What I’m dealing with every single day is totally different than what the most junior member of the team is dealing with every single day. I can’t solve for those things if I’m not close to [them].
What have you learned from the COVID-19 crisis? Essentialism. We’re stripping away a lot of things that aren’t important by cutting a lot of the lengthy process that just can’t exist during COVID because you’re not all in the same building together. That’s helped us with speed to market and making decisions more quickly. We made a decision on the forbearance packages that we introduced at the beginning of COVID in a day. If we were all in the office, it probably would have taken us a month.
What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? We have to get to the parents. I know a lot of people, for instance, where I’ve even suggested, “Why doesn’t your son or daughter become a salesperson at a dealership?” [They say,] “I’d never let my kid go to college for four years and then sell cars.” Well, why? That car salesman perception that exists is not fully accurate. It is the most complex small business that exists. I don’t think people realize everything that goes into it or how fruitful or how meaningful of a role it can be. There are stereotypical views of the industry that we as an industry have done a bad job of reversing.
How do you bring your best self to work? I’ve gone through some really hard things in my life. When I was going through my divorce, my brother was also very ill and dying. I was financially very strapped because I was paying child support and alimony. I was 40 years old, and I was in my parents’ basement getting pots and pans and plates from them because I was starting a new household. That was heavy for me. I did find a great therapist who I talked to. My best friend, who happens to be our chief human resource officer, I can talk with her about anything. Then, of course, there’s always a boat ride and a good bottle of wine. I realized that you have to compartmentalize to the greatest extent that you possibly can. I don’t think that it’s fair that people in my work environment have to deal with the things that I’m dealing with [at home].
— Jackie Charniga