Suzy Deering had no idea when she became Ford’s Chief Marketing Officer in 2020 how much her experience as eBay’s Chief Marketing Officer or as Verizon’s Executive Director of Media, Engagements, Brand and Integrations would help her market automobiles.
As she explained on my Electric Ladies Podcast recently, “What I didn't realize, is that my experience at Verizon, the parallels of when I came into the wireless industry, which was at the very, very, very early stages, (with) what I see right now with electrification is unbelievable. The parallels are unbelievable.… So, when I look back, I think (that was) the biggest thing that prepared me without me realizing it.” She pointed out that, the parallels with “eBay… (are also) fascinating, because, “when Covid hit, the entire industry went ecommerce.”
Especially with the launch of Ford’s ground-breaking, 100% electric F-150 Lightning truck, she said her previous work totally prepared her, very unexpectedly, for being CMO of Ford today. “We're looking now at true technology type adoption curves, because you're looking at this first round (of Lightning customers), which are early adopters, they're traditional early adopters….They have a higher income… We get a broader base from a diversity and ethnicity standpoint, and they're younger…. So, when you look at it through that early adopter model, it changes everything.”
Here are seven nuggets of career advice from my conversation with Deering:
1. Be willing to “start from scratch” in a totally new industry: As Deering’s experience shows, that doesn’t mean starting at the bottom, but rather applying your current experience to a new industry. “Go learn something from scratch and get really, really dirty. Like, get in there and understand from a scrappy standpoint.” When you do so, she said to prepare yourself for the normal pitfalls with trying new things: “You’re going to fail and you're going to learn things and then, some things are going to work, some things aren't.”
2. Listen differently: What often comes with applying your skills in a new industry, is humility because you know you have a lot to learn. That humility can serve you well, Deering said, because it can make you listen more closely, listen differently, and listen to different people and perspectives.
3. Convene a “modernization” meeting: One of the things Deering did when she started at Ford was she convened a weekly meeting to solicit new ideas and challenge assumptions. “I started this meeting every Friday that was called Marketing Modernization, but, really, it was kind of almost like an open mic-type of meeting, because I had teams come in and they could make a choice as to what topics (we would talk about). I'd say, ‘What is it you feel that we're not doing that we should be doing? Or what's holding you back from making some of the changes we need to make?’ It's my favorite meeting of the week….It's not just my team, it's multiple different people across the organization.”
4. Get uncomfortable: Deering acknowledged that it can be uncomfortable to move away from an industry where you have a depth of knowledge, but she said that’s where the growth is. “If you're not uncomfortable, then you're not growing. And if you're not growing, you're not learning. If you're not learning, you're not progressing.” She also acknowledged that “you're going to have to be a little bit vulnerable.”
5. Throw out the playbook: When launching a new product, don’t just use the existing playbook. Start fresh. “With F-150, we threw everything out. We threw out the entire playbook, which you can imagine the entire playbook for F-150 is unbelievable, because it's America's number one truck, right? So, it's a pretty bold statement to say, we're going to throw that out and we're going to start over and we're going to look at these different audiences and we're going to try different things than what we have in the past. And it worked.” In fact, 76% of F-150 Lightning customers are different than the traditional F-150 buyers, Deering said.
Linda Zhang, Ford’s Chief Engineer of the F-150 Lightning reiterated how different Lightning buyers are, and how unexpected that was, when I interviewed her in the opening keynote to the 2022 MOVE – Mobility Re-Imagined conference last week.
6. “Don’t chase the title”: As career advice, Deering insisted, “Don't chase the title. I think that part of the challenge is that very often we think the title is what we're supposed to be going after. And the reality is it's got to be the work that you want to do.”
7. Identify the real leaders (who probably don’t have the titles): She added that we can learn from all kinds of people at all levels of the organization. “Learn from leaders around you, and the leaders are not people necessarily that have titles…They are leaders at all levels.”
As we closed our conversation, she added a gem: “What are truly our secret powers as females that have been suppressed a lot of times, are the empathy, the vulnerability, the sharing, all of those things you could have thought as, ‘you can't do that.’“
Instead, she said, embracing who you are authentically will take “you further, because you're going to be hungry. You're not going to let somebody steal your mindset…(and) you're going to look for all of those signals that encourage and fuel you.”