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GM’s Global CMO Deborah Wahl Driving Growth on New Roads

Deborah Wahl, Global CMO of General Motors, has always been paving new roads in every role she has ever taken on. As we explored in her first episode of CMO Moves back in January 2018, those roads took her to several continents across multiple industries, especially in Automotive with stops at Ford, Mazda, Toyota, and then as CMO of Chrysler. After an unusual, but well worthy 3-year pit-stop as CMO of McDonald’s US, Deborah came back to Automotive as CMO of Cadillac in March of 2018.

Today’s episode with Deborah explores her latest role as Global CMO of GM, the first Global CMO since 2012 and certainly the first female Global CMO of the automotive giant.  Promoted from CMO of Cadillac in Sept 2019, Deborah shares what she’s working on now and how she and CEO, Mary Barra, are pursuing a vision of “a world of zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion.”

As an expert CMO who has led so many exciting companies, Deborah and I dive deep into the role of the CMO and the confusion in the industry around the role. Unequivocally, Deborah notes, the role of the CMO is to drive growth.  Despite the rapidly changing landscape, Deborah goes on to discuss how the objectives of marketing haven’t changed, but how you get there has. And in her mind, it is time to bust some myths around the aptitude of marketers everywhere.

Tune in to hear more from Deborah on these essential topics.  In the meantime, here are a few tips from her playbook.

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Deborah’s Playbook:

CMO’s Drive Growth
I think there's been a lot of debate [around the role of the CMO] and certainly we've seen the role go through the most amount of transformation that I've seen in my 25-plus year career in marketing. We’ve focused in on the fact that the role of marketing is to create and drive growth for the company. How are we are looking at growth in a bigger sense? Are we helping to drive growth through the products and the services that we have? How are we evolving and really looking at those in different ways as we look at how to create value for our customers.

Stay Ahead of Technology
We're moving towards a fully electric world. We believe that that is the direction and we're going all out at making sure we maximize the business opportunities today, develop new customer experiences that are holistic and all-embracing, and then really move to fulfill this ambition of zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion. We still have to stay core to our principal - engaging and having a trusting relationship with our customers. And we have to have a really holistic view of how we want to work with all the different talents and all the different groups that are in the company.

Bust Myths Around Magic and Logic
I think it's incredibly important to keep the human perspective in all of this. We always have to test and balance as we use AI and ML to make sure that we're actually going in the right direction. Second piece of that is we all have to be educated on it. In the past, you were either creative or you're were analytical. I think that's a complete myth that we need to bust. I think people are absolutely capable of being creative and analytical at the same time. The next thing is helping them form their talents. That's really the future of our industry.

Continually Learn More Than You Know
There's a lot to learn still. It is a constant, not only an intellectual challenge but also making sure that your ears are to the ground and you're staying engaged with a lot of people. This is not a time where you can sit back in your office and just focus on your current job. You have to be out there, discussing, learning, really understanding the different elements in our industry because everything changes month by month, if not even faster. I try to engage as much as I can with people that are leading the charge and in different industries and areas.

Be the Sun, Not the Salt 
I have a mentor named Dr. Harry Cohen who just wrote a book called ‘Be the sun, not the salt’. The whole idea is a heliotropic perspective on life so that if you are really shining the sun on people, they blossom, of course, much more than if you're throwing salt. I spent way too much time in my life trying to prove that I was worthy of being in the room by being the smarter person in the room and it was much easier to throw salt than really being the sun and looking at how we blossom. As I look back on my career and also for myself too, [I recognize] how much more powerful that can be.

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