2021 Powered by Women – Marissa Hunter

The 2021 class of powered by women, selected from reader nominations, navigated the worst pandemic in more than 100 years, economic uncertainty, and employee anxiety. Today, with Covid-19 on the wane, they’re helping to lead their respective corporations and organizations into a safer and more prosperous future. // Photographs by Emily Crombez
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MarissaHunter

Marissa Hunter scored a major win with an ad that ran during the 2013 Super Bowl and went a long way toward establishing the Ram Truck brand after it split from Dodge.

“When the two brands split, I elected to work on Ram,” Hunter says. “We needed to build it from the ground up, and give it its own personality and value proposition. One of my proudest moments was the day we delivered that ‘Farmer’ Super Bowl commercial, (featuring) Paul Harvey’s ‘So God Made a Farmer’ speech — not just because it was a Super Bowl commercial, but because the message had such great impact on
a lot of people, even beyond what
we expected.”

It wasn’t long after that when she aced what she laughingly calls the “longest job interview in my career.” After leading Ram brand advertising for nearly five years, she was offered a chance to move up to director of all brand advertising and communications. The transition took nearly three months.

“What I needed to demonstrate was my ability to be a leader among my peers. In reflection, I appreciate that the organization took that approach,” she says. “That long runway taught me a lot about leadership, and understanding how to get the best out of people and provide them the resources and support they need while appreciating that every person is different, everyone is motivated and inspired differently, and (everyone) has different needs for recognition, reward, and encouragement.”

During that time, she adds, “my co-workers saw me as someone very supportive and an active listener who wanted to find creative ways to solve business problems. I did ultimately get that position, and still have it — along with the one I was given two years ago of overseeing the marketing group at large. The camaraderie and the way that team was able to work together was something that I’m very proud of. It was challenging in the beginning, but the company was very patient and allowed me to learn and grow.”

Born in Bay City, Hunter moved with her family at age 10 from Unionville, in the Michigan “thumb,” to Westland. The daughter of collegiate teachers and coaches, she earned her bachelor’s degree in communications from Michigan State University in 1997 and joined BBDO Advertising, where she progressed over 10 years to serving as Dodge brand and motorsports account director. Following Chrysler’s bankruptcy, she moved to the new company that would evolve into Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in 2009.

“Those years at BBDO were when my love of automotive really developed,” she says. “I have a deep passion for what I do. I love my job, and I’m so privileged to be able to work with all the people at Stellantis and the marketing team that I’m privileged to lead. I consider myself fortunate to get up and go to work, whether virtually or in the office, (and) kick off the day with the team and see what we can do to innovate and think about ways to build our brands.”

Has her gender presented a challenge? “I don’t think I’ve experienced challenges that I didn’t (also) observe male counterparts experiencing,” she says. “I think I’ve been given equal levels of challenge, and have been equally recognized for the loyalty and performance I’ve given the company, and the way I’ve been able to lead my team.”

Hunter credits a “wonderful mentor” named Katie at BBDO for having had a profound impact on her life and career. “I have a tendency, sometimes, to not be very patient,” she admits. “But Katie was very wise, professional, and patient. We had some really good sessions, and she helped me understand the importance of taking your time, not wanting to get somewhere too fast. I really appreciated her wisdom, and still do now. It’s a long career — a marathon, not a sprint. You need to be ready for the next step before you take it, or even ask for it. I often think to myself, in dealing with a situation or working through something with the team, ‘What would Katie do?’ It’s good internal guidance that has never failed me.”

Hunter extends the same open policy to her colleagues. “Everyone on my team and in other departments we work with knows that I’m very approachable and open to doing one-on-ones and mixed-level meetings to try to help people with their networking within the organization, and with external advertising and marketing groups. I think the concept of ‘pay it forward’ is very important in business, particularly for women, to help them understand the possibilities in their careers.”

What advice does Hunter offer to women in business? “Be confident in your ability to have valuable contributions in your work. Remind yourself that you deserve a seat at the table. Active networking is extremely important, and don’t be afraid to fail. It happens to everyone, and you’ll learn some incredible lessons that will make you better moving forward.” 

She also sees work/life balance as work/life integration. “We deal with partners on the West Coast, in Europe, and in Asia and Australia, so there are nights and early mornings when we’re in meetings. The days may not start and stop at the same time, and your family schedule may not be consistent all the time. It’s not necessarily how you spend specific hours in a day, but balancing your priorities and making sure to take time for yourself and your family, and it’s so important to have a strong support system and a flexible family unit. I’m extremely fortunate that my husband is able to take on a little more time with our 4-year-old son, leaving us both room to shift, depending on what the other needs.”

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