Marissa Hunter, 46
Head of Marketing – North America, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
Location: Auburn Hills, Mich.
Education: B.A., communication, Michigan State University
What drew you to the auto industry? My first job was at [ad agency] BBDO, here in the Detroit area. At that time, [Jeep was our] client, so I quickly became immersed in automotive. I’m not a natural gearhead. I’m much more of a marketing head and a people person. And so, obviously, I quickly grew a significant appreciation for cars and the role that the automotive industry has here in our state, but also in the country and in the world.
First automotive job: My job at BBDO right out of college, so that was in ’98. I was there for about half my career and then made the change over to now FCA in August 2009.
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: In 2009, when the automotive industry was facing its last great crisis, I recall one day in July, I received a call from an FCA executive, or his office, and I was asked if I would be able to meet him the following day. I was operating in the capacity of account director at BBDO, and I oversaw all of our motorsports marketing programs and all of our Dodge car brands. I was assuming that the discussion was project-based. We were taking some time off across the leadership team at the agency, and I was sort of the highest-ranking official in the office at that moment. So, of course, eagerly, excitedly, I went over to Chrysler and sat down with him. He asked me if I ever considered coming to the other side. So had I ever considered working as a client in the marketing organization, at the time, Chrysler. He was the Dodge brand CEO, and he was head of U.S. marketing. Wow, it’s not at all what I expected the conversation to be. But I really started thinking about it. Could I do it? Is it something that I would want to do? At one point, he just basically said to me very candidly: “Marissa, at some point, you’re going to have to stop staring over the edge of the cliff. Sometimes in our lives, we have to just jump.” And you know what, it really had a profound impact on me. I thought, wow, I think I can do this. The very next day, I made the decision to leave the agency and start a new career path at FCA. It was just two weeks after that that I did in fact do that. Sometimes, those biggest breaks can come at a time when you’re not expecting them. And you have to find the courage to take the chance.
What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? When I was in the process of making my move at FCA from, at the time, overseeing the Ram truck brand from an advertising perspective — I was the head of Ram truck advertising — to potentially being able to move up to become the director over all of the brand advertising teams. And I had the opportunity to do a little bit of an extended interview. I was asked to sort of act as a leader among my peers. I was stretching and reaching for that next layer, that next rung on the ladder, but in doing so I needed to demonstrate my ability to lead that whole team while I was still their peer. So the process of being a peer and a mentor at the same time; being a peer and a developer of people and work at the same time; needing to build that trust [and] mitigate some of the internal sort of competitive challenges and also prove and show that my involvement in their work was and did lead to a better work product.
You’ve been in the industry 22 years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? The relationship that marketing organizations have with agencies is much more collaborative now than it was probably when I started. The exchange of ideas, the openness to ideas, the willingness to work a project, a challenge together, in a very integrated collaborative way, I think has evolved tremendously.
What work achievement are you most proud of? I’m very proud of the team’s effort and the deliverable of our most recent Super Bowl commercial, “Groundhog Day.” I’m very proud of how we worked inside of two weeks to navigate all of the relationships, all of the dynamics with the film studio. And, of course, at the end of the day, you can’t remake Groundhog Day without Mr. Bill Murray himself. So the fact that we were able to pull that project together inside of a couple of weeks and execute what is definitely one of the best-ever Super Bowl commercials and definitely on behalf of FCA, I’m extremely proud. I’m extremely proud that that Super Bowl commercial has been put in the company of other great brands like Apple, like Amazon, like P&G, as one of the five finalists in the outstanding commercial category for the 2020 Emmy Award. So that is a significant achievement and definitely recognizes the impact that that creative piece had on behalf of the Jeep brand and the new Jeep Gladiator.
— Vince Bond Jr.