When I was 11 years old I had a friend whose father played for the Detroit Red Wings. I used to love riding my bike over to his house, and while I was a Wings fan, I was more interested in seeing the trophies that would find themselves parked in the driveway belonging to his neighbor than the ones in his home – his neighbor was an engineer at Ford Motor Company.
My infatuation with cars started about as early as I can remember. It just so happened that my father’s favorite car was the ’69 Thunderbird. Mine? The ’61 Lincoln Continental Convertible followed by the ’68 Mustang. My dad got his T-Bird in ’84. I got my Mustang in ’11.
Over the years my obsession with the auto industry became a running joke in my house. My father’s a doctor – a great one at that. My mom was from Indiana and would prefer spending her time in a Hallmark store than a mechanic’s garage. We didn’t have a single member of our family who worked directly for Ford, General Motors or Chrysler, yet living in Detroit, our lives were touched by just about everyone who was. My dad’s patients worked in the industry, many of them retired or retiring, ranging from white collar to on the line. All of them would give him a tidbit of information that he’d bring home to share with my brother’s and I. On other occasions we’d find ourselves in much luckier situations.
Sunday papers were met with ignoring the comics and skipping straight to the auto classifieds. Car & Drive was my monthly bible. My Superbowl? The NAIAS Autoshow Detroit. Weekends were spent at the Henry Ford Museum . The history of the automobile, the Model T, the assembly line (I once did a diorama on Eli Whitney), and the Five Dollar Day became subjects of multiple school assignments.Ultimately, my entrepreneurial spirit took over and I found myself indirectly marketing technology that many industries – including automotive found useful. In 2001, I had cofounded a Detroit based SMS infrastructure and software provider called Simplewire. Our offices were a block away from General Motors headquarters, and out of pure luck by proximity, we were introduced to their communications team where we developed a mobile alerting system to allow for GM to alert the press of breaking news. The concept of flash mobs was a radical approach to organizing and congregating stakeholders based on 160 characters of information.
Later in my career I used my love of nascent technology to become the principal of Eiko Media – a two person startup that took a holistic, cultural anthropological approach to emerging media. That same year I founded Eiko, I attended an AdCraft Club meeting in Troy, Michigan, where I had watched an automotive executive named Jeff Bell speak on the virtues of in-game advertising. I’d found a niche, was inspired by Jeff and shook his hand, informing him that I would be working with him soon. Good on my promise, three months later I had returned to DaimlerChrysler as Eiko’s AoR for Ubisoft and Eidos Interactive – two of the world’s premier video game publishers. Soon I had experientially integrated Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep vehicles into a myriad of game titles including the entire roster of Tom Clancy games. None made me more proud however than the work my colleague Ashley Swartz and I had performed with Jeep and the launch of Tomb Raider, showcasing a vehicle at a non-automotive event was exhilarating and helped scratch the surface on how we pervasively connect a brand to its customer’s passion points.
My life continued down an uncharted path – I entered the world of advertising with naiveté, having sold our startup – I had an employer for the first time in almost 7 years. I struggled early on, but eventually found myself face to face with a unique proposition – moving my family to New York to work on behalf of Discovery Communications. I spent one day in Manhattan with my future client – a native of Windsor who worked for JWT before accepting a position at Discovery Channel. After meeting him and the teammates I’d be working with, I said yes immediately and accepted a position that lead me to agreeing to work on 42nd and 2nd thirty days after signing. Miraculously my wife didn’t leave me when I announced we were putting our house up for sale and moving to New Jersey. I remember mentioning to her casually “This is 2 years tops. We’ll be back in no time…”
No time turned into half a decade and a tour of duty that spanned Omnicom, Publicis Group and ultimately a premier independent social media consultancy. In my time away, the landscape of Detroit had changed. Friends lost their jobs and homes, family lost their businesses. Two-thirds of the Big 3 declared Bankruptcy. I found myself on the outside looking in and I hated the feeling of absolute helplessness.
Yet in the midsts of Cash For Clunker programs, Car Czars, and skyrocketing gas prices, I had come to openly admire Ford for the strategy it had implemented to remain not just solvent but successful. This open admiration, often lamented on Twitter, lead to the surprise and delight of receiving an envelop from the office of the CEO of Ford Motor Company, Alan Mulally. In the envelop was an 8 1/2 x 11 picture of Mr. Mulally, autographed with the words:
Surprise and delight. Identification of influentials and amplify their advocacy. Words and strategies I’ve presented many times over yet there I was sitting at my desk recognizing the sheer awesomeness of what I had just experienced.
I think I’ve accomplished a lot in New York but my heart is in the Motor City. I leave the east coast at the end of the month and will be working for Ford Motor Company in social media. I will be reporting to Scott Monty – a friend, and someone I’ve admired like many others for a long time. Much like the process of getting to New York, our coming home is equally as hectic.
It was all worth it and I’m glad and proud to be coming back to Detroit.