Angela Zepeda, 54
Chief Marketing Officer, Hyundai Motor America
Location: Fountain Valley, Calif.
Education: B.A., communications/advertising, California State University, Fullerton; MBA, University of Southern California
What drew you to the auto industry? I started my career in advertising, and I’m from Orange County, Calif. I finished school and found a job at an ad agency there. At that time, there were a lot of auto manufacturers that had moved there. Maybe not necessarily corporate headquarters, but a lot of the marketing efforts. And so it was just a very [productive] way to get into advertising or into a corporate company. And I think automotive found me a little bit, but I’ve always loved cars and loved every job that I had on every account that I worked on.
First automotive job: In 1989 at the ad agency Foote, Cone & Belding. We had Mazda as the account.
Big break: Foote, Cone & Belding merged with another ad agency called Bozell, and Bozell had Chrysler [as a client]. It’s frowned upon to have two competing companies. So in this case, Chrysler was a much bigger account, and the Mazda account had to be resigned. And in all of that, I lost my job. I ended up getting an amazing job. I went to Team One up in Los Angeles, which I wanted to go to, and I ended up working on the Lexus account. And for me, that was my big break to get into much bigger agencies that had, I think, a bigger opportunity.
What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? I’ve been dubbed a dark horse before. Not 100 percent sure why. I’ve been a little bit of a late bloomer, and I don’t know why that is. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been in male-dominated industries, or that I chose a career that could be highly competitive, which ad agencies are. I think that’s the challenge: That even if you don’t get the job you think you should at that moment in time, for whatever reason, that you just need to keep going. Eventually, good hard work does pay off. And I think that’s a challenge I’ve overcome.
You’ve been in the industry 30 years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? I think the auto industry continues to surprise me with the constant innovation that still happens. And that the love of cars is something that seems to be part of an American sensibility and that it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. It might be bringing on new technology, like even autonomous driving. But even still, people still like to get behind the wheel of a car and drive.
What work achievement are you most proud of? I was president and managing director at Campbell Ewald, a Detroit-based agency, but I ran the L.A. office. It was a satellite office at the height of the financial crisis. I think we went down to maybe 35 people. And by the time I left, just about 10 years later, we were back up to around 75 people. To have that kind of growth at a small satellite regional office was pretty big.
What do you struggle with? I wouldn’t call it a struggle because I allow it. But I really do work all the time. And even if I’m not in front of a computer, I feel like I’m constantly thinking about it.
What have you learned from the COVID-19 crisis? I think the pandemic reminded all of us that we’re ultimately not in control. I mean, a pandemic is something that none of us can control. And you’re just going to have to figure out how to work through it until it’s over. I’ve been not surprised, but pleased, at the creativity and the resiliency and the tenacity of everyone I’ve been in contact with — how easily everyone adapted to working from home using technology. And I love seeing people in their own environments. I feel like I’ve gotten a new window into a lot of my colleagues.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently in your career? I cannot say I’m unhappy with where things landed. However, I wanted to be a fashion designer when I was a kid. I still love fashion. I love art. I love design. I just love it. I didn’t go into that side of advertising. I was on the account side, the more business side. I have a real appreciation for real artistic talent. And if I could do it all over again, I would love to somehow end up in fashion design or some kind of design.
— Laurence Iliff