Diana Lee, 52
CEO, Constellation Agency
As the COVID-19 pandemic loomed over New York in March 2020, auto industry veteran Diana Lee found herself facing an uncertainty: What would the health crisis mean for her company's future?
Lee is CEO of Constellation Agency, the marketing technology company she co- founded in 2016 whose client list includes BMW, Mercedes-Benz, General Motors, Jaguar, Land Rover and Porsche.
The company is an extension of ambitions Lee formed at a young age. At 5, she emigrated from South Korea with her parents, who worked hard to provide for her and her sister upon their arrival to the U.S. When Lee turned 18, she took a job at a car dealership and used her earnings to pay for her education, housing and food.
"I really didn't want to ever burden [my parents] by asking them for money," Lee told Automotive News.
At the dealership, as she worked to prove to her male colleagues that she belonged, Lee realized something: She could start a company dedicated to supporting women, minorities and immigrants. It could focus on advertising to people in their native languages, not just English.
For the last five years, Lee says, Constellation has done just that. A proponent of multicultural advertising, Constellation works with automakers to design advertisements in Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Arabic and more.
Lee said a large part of her focus is making sure the teams behind that creative development are diverse. Constellation says 49 percent of its employees are women, 60 percent of its C-suite executives are people of color, and 25 percent of the executives are women of color.
"When you don't have leadership that actually represents the consumer market, you can't represent that well," Lee said. "It troubles me sometimes that the vendor space really still lacks it."
So when COVID-19 hindered the company's ability to fully sell and brought talk of employee layoffs, Lee became concerned about keeping going what she had helped build.
She ended up redirecting part of the company's efforts into the May 2020 launch of the Do Good Auto Coalition, a nonprofit that asked rival dealerships in Constellation's Rolodex to deliver food and other supplies to their local communities.
The group ended up providing more than 601,000 meals between that time and November 2020. Many of those meals went to marginalized communities in New York and Newark, N.J., Lee said.
— C.J. Moore