1 Year Later: How I Earned the Privilege to Come Back to Detroit

“Craig? This is Scott Monty.”

With a simple greeting my life had changed. It was a year ago today that I was offered and accepted my job at Ford Motor Company leading our North American digital communications efforts.

The road to Ford was filled with long straight-aways and hair pin twists. The idea of coming home was conceptually amazing. The realities? It took a significant amount of patience and sacrifice and possibly a bit of my sanity.

Heeding the Call

ImageIt was 7:00 pm on a cold day in Port Monmouth, NJ. I had, like every day of my life over the last four years, commuted home trekking 50 miles in the process from Manhattan. My children were asleep. My dog, too tired to lift his head from the floor where it rested 

between his front paws. I was in my bedroom pacing. I knew the call was coming; I just wasn’t sure how to react. In a matter of moments, Scott Monty, head of Social Media for Ford Motor Company was going to commence the process of bringing me in as a candidate to work with him. I was as nervous as I’ve ever been when we finally spoke, excited, shaking and ultimately second guessing the responses I gave.

A few weeks earlier I actually had my ticket punched to come back to Detroit for good. While on vacation visiting my parents, I took a chance meeting with a future marketing colleague who after 25 minutes of my rambling on about the inherent value of the Fiesta Movement as the definitive case study on social media integration, pounded his fist on the table at Einstein’s Bagels and forcibly drove me to his agency to speak with the CEO.

I was in a t-shirt, shorts and flip flops. Ultimately it didn’t matter. I guess my brain was in a tuxedo that day.

The meeting with their leadership team was informal, which lead to a request to dress up for the occasion during the next one, which ultimately lead to an incredible opportunity and subsequently my decision to decline it.

wait wut?

Yes I said decline. I made a consciences decision that if I was to come home, it was to be at the brand level or “client side” as we refer to it in advertising. I was willing to put my career in the cryogenic tank and desperately sought ways to continue to expand my skill set and put a passion of mine to the real test: writing and the field of communications. I was working for a social media consultancy in New York at the time,  managing a myriad of employees, and hired a number of them myself to build an agency practice within the consultancy. I was succeeding. My team was young, filled with drive and intellect. We were winning business and I was on top of the world. But something was missing…

 The years between families’ visits seemed to be getting longer. The familiarity between first cousins, uncles and aunts, was dissipating amongst our families’ children. I seemed to be living for work and working to live. You could say I enjoyed my job in Manhattan but I knew that if I were to sustain the pace of managing a growing number of employees for an up and coming social media agency, I’d do so at the sacrifice of seeing my wife and daughters. I had become a stranger in my own home.

“No dice.” I thought. So I started a very informal search into what was available in Detroit.

My decision to turn down the agency offer was mind numbing to my close family members. We are instructed to climb the ladder. It’s in our code as professionals who are driven to succeed. I was no different, however the intrinsic desire to become even more valuable and build a long-term foundation for myself, charting a course for a career and not a job, was now in place. The wheels were in motion and I had my eyes set on Ford Motor Company.

Serendipitously, the day I declined, I received a private tweet from Scott. “I need help on my team. Are you interested?”

Was I interested? I would have swept the floors. That’s how interested I was! All the while, the irony of all of this taking place over twitter wasn’t lost on me.

It wasn’t as simple as signing on the dotted line and reporting to duty. I was to interview for my job in a management conference. To my surprise, when I arrived in Dearborn, there were 9 equally qualified individuals who were looking to become the next member of the Ford Corporate Communications team.

After a formal dinner with the team, I took a deep breath, retired to my room at the Dearborn Inn and began to revise the documents I was asked to prepare. I stayed up until 4 am that night making sure every point was clearly stated. I was to support a position based on a fictitious case study. It was sink or swim. “A rising tide raises all boats.” I said in regards to why I chose my side and debated on whose we should proceed with amongst my fellow candidates.

It was an exhausting experience but one I thought I won out on. But then came the interviews with my future colleagues.

ImageI was asked in the final questions of the day by Sara Tatchio, a coworker, a friend, and someone I’ve grown to strongly admire, why Ford and why Detroit? I explained my admiration for the Ford brand, the path taken in returning from near insolvency to become a driving relevant force in automotive manufacturing. I told her I felt an entrepreneurial spirit in Dearborn that was amiss in Auburn Hills and off Jefferson Avenue.  I thought I could thrive.

As for Detroit, I began to explain what endeared me to give up a life on Madison Avenue to return to an area that looked distinctly different from before I left. I got three sentences in and lost it. Tears welling up in the corners of my eyes, I explained to my interviewers (all the while thinking I blew the opportunity), that I wanted to reverse the Diaspora. I wanted to make a difference and prove that there is ample opportunity in Michigan, despite the recession.  I felt the pain of an entire region every time I read a paper and as masochistic as it sounded, I wanted to share that pain. I felt like an outsider in my own city and that was a hurtful feeling I didn’t want to experience again in my life. 

By the time I was done with the interviews, I felt good about what I shared. I was honest, I was sincere and I was passionate. I made no bones about it – I would accept any offer provided it was working in Michigan at Ford Motor Company.

Weeks went by before I heard anything. I was actually back in Michigan on a client pitch for my company, driving down Ecorse Road when the phone rang. On the other end was Scott and our HR manager.

“So where are you right now?” Scott asked.

“I’m actually in Detroit, Scott.” I replied.

“How would you like to stay a while?”

Sweeter words were never spoken. I pulled the car over, to the surprise of a coworker who immediately figured out what was going on, but not who with. At that point I didn’t care. I was overwhelmed with happiness. The parents who barely knew their grandchildren would have a chance to watch them grow. The best friend and brother who I left dumbfounded in my shotgun decision to head to New York was overcome with emotion. I had the opportunity to be the best uncle in the universe to his kids and vice versa. Best of all was my grandmother, now in her late 80’s, having never met my youngest daughter, planning pool parties in the summer for us at her house.

My first year back in Detroit wasn’t all roses. It’s taken a tremendous amount of discipline to go from the empowerment earned through years in the Omnicom network of agencies to admittedly learning something brand new and working as hard as possible to earn the respect of my coworkers. Nobody I work with cared about who I was in New York City. They cared about what I could contribute today. I relished in the opportunity to reinvent me.

I did it through hard work, passion, and a true desire to tell anyone in shouting distance how much I loved what I did for a living. Whenever I would get frustrated, all I would have to do is walk outside and stare at the blue oval on the side of the Glass House, our World Headquarters. That was my 5 hour energy drink equivalent. This sounds sappy. It’s not. It’s the truth. I’ve mentioned to friends who have never left Detroit, that you have no idea what you miss until you’re no longer here. This region pulls you back and with good reason. 

One of the last questions I was asked during my first day of interviews with my Vice President is where I see myself in 10 years. This was a round robin question – every candidate competing for my job answered thoughtfully, giving immense detail in a short time frame – some mentioned having children, others mentioned learning and growth development in a corporate environment. When it came to my turn to respond, I simply said “I’ll be celebrating my 10 year anniversary at Ford Motor Company.”

1 down, 9 to go.

Thank you Ford for bringing me home. 

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3 thoughts on “1 Year Later: How I Earned the Privilege to Come Back to Detroit”

  1. They’re lucky to have you Craig. When I heard you were joining the Ford team I thought it was a great fit and looked forward to seeing what you would do there. It’s been an impressive first year and I’m sure there will be many more accomplishments. Keep up the great work and congrats.

  2. Craig,
    Amazing. I remember feeling your excitement through your tweets last year. I love this post. And as a Michigan native, I know exactly, exactly how you felt. Congratulations!

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