Executive Vice President of Marketing, Penske Automotive Group
Location: Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
Education: B.A., advertising, Michigan State University
What drew you to the auto industry? My dad did some street racing when he was younger and he actually has his first car still, a ’64 Dodge Polara. And we would go to classic car shows when I was young. So it was only fitting that I used my ad degree to work on automotive in the Motor City.
First automotive job: In 1995 [as a customer service representative] with Electronic Data Systems, EDS. I was on a customer service account for General Motors. And I was also able to work on a project with research with OnStar when it first began. So pretty interesting when that launched, seeing where we are with telecommunications and vehicle and security today.
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Big break: Moving from the agency side to the client side of the business. It was very difficult to get into, very limited in opportunities. So when my client at the time at Federal-Mogul asked if I wanted to replace her, I jumped at the chance. And it really helped give me manufacturing experience. I had a lot of retail experience, but I really wanted to gain that business-to-business side. So I feel that I am extremely well-rounded now; I have a strategic view on both sides. And then all of that led me back to retail to Penske where I can continue to be creative and innovate. And every day is a different day. And it really is what gets me up in the morning.
What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? I have to say work-life balance. It’s something that I have to work at all the time. I think the biggest problem is I really enjoy what I do. So it’s really me trying to pull myself away and draw that line. But in the evenings when my son will lean over and ask me to take a break and do something with him, that’s when I — kind of a teaching moment for me — where I have to take a step back and realize I’m not balancing as I should. Really, the key is to be able to be there for him and go to his hockey games and all the major things in his life.
You’ve been in the industry 25 years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? I really think digitally. [My] first job in advertising out of college, I mean, we didn’t even have cellphones. Everything was traditional. There was no digital. I love the fast-paced business side. I think if nothing would have changed, it would have been difficult. The changing digital landscape, while it keeps me up at night sometimes, it’s really challenging and amazing and [I’m] really trying to stay in front of that. I feel like we always have to be 50 steps ahead.
Describe your leadership style. The most important thing to me is really lead by example. So I really have a great team here. We collaborate, we work together, although I do like the team to have autonomy to create and do things. But I think that’s the key with the leadership style that I like. We should always be able to lean on our team and they should be able to take over for us at any moment. So I really work closely with them and really want to see what they do. And I’m always so pleased to see growth and change and give them all the opportunities that they want, need and maybe some that they didn’t know about. And that’s really exciting to me.
What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? Companies need to make the atmosphere more attractive to females, especially in the automotive industry. You know there are long hours and in retail, seven days a week. So just a better job, I think, at promoting work-life balance, flexibility and most importantly, advancement opportunities. I think that is key.
How do you bring your best self to work? I meditate every morning for 10 minutes and walk three miles. I started this [seven] months ago and it clears my mind and is a great start to the day. I always keep top of my mind that every day is different, every day is a challenge. Don’t take things too personally. And just being able to change and adapt and really look at things wide-eyed, wide open. Don’t always say no. Take everybody’s ideas. And I think that’s best for everybody.
If there were 25 hours in a day, how would you spend your extra hour? I would say without a doubt cooking. I really love to cook. There was a time in my career early on where I thought I wanted to actually switch gears and become a chef. But I just really have a passion for marketing. So truly it’s the best of both worlds. So I get to be passionate about my career and I can be creative on the weekends. And really it does help me unwind. It’s definitely my stress reliever.
— Melissa Burden