Growing Up in Detroit, Cars are Just What You Do
Cars have always been a part of Lisa Hutchinson’s life. “I grew up in Detroit, it’s just what you do,” she says. “There were always car magazines in our house and my dad and brother are both big car fans.”
With cars woven into the fabric of her life from the beginning, it’s not all that surprising that Lisa is in the automotive industry. What is surprising is that her initial plan was to pursue a degree in human psychology. So how did Lisa become the Executive Director of Chevrolet’s Global Marketing? It has EVERYTHING to do with psychology.
Marketing Cars = Psychology? You Bet it Does
When it was time to go to college, Lisa had her heart set on the University of Michigan but her dad suggested GMI which is now known as Kettering. “Attending Kettering is a great way to get work experience while you’re going to school,” says Lisa. “Of course, my dad liked that it would help me pay my way through school.” She conceded (somewhat reluctantly) and enrolled at Kettering.
As part of her co-op assignment, Lisa began working in the market research and product planning area. She soon realized she was pursuing her original interest—psychology.
“Marketing is really just an application of psychology,” she explains. “Understanding what makes people tick and what makes them buy what they buy is all part of the study of human behavior.”
Lisa’s studies and interest in psychology led her to a career in the automobile industry spanning more than 30 years. She’s worked in market research: taking future products out to consumers to get feedback on consumer preferences. That invaluable feedback helps to influence the development of products.
Meanwhile in Lisa’s Personal Life
Life hasn’t just been about career for Lisa. Like many of us, she’s a wife and a mom. Lisa has been married to her husband, Walt, for 31 years and they have two lovely daughters, Eva and Anna who are all grown up now. Eva has graduated and is engaged to be married. She works with her dad in his graphic arts business. Anna is a freshman in college studying to be a teacher.
So how has Lisa’s family handled her automotive career all these years? “They loved it! There were always products to drive home so we’ve always had all kinds of new cars in the driveway.”
The girls have watched their mom travel all over the world and they understand her passion for getting the consumer’s opinions in the development of the products she oversees.
“Once when I was talking about some of the challenges we were having with sales for one of the lines one of my daughters (who was about 10 at the time) suggested we add flames to the cars,” Lisa recalls. “Obviously, that didn’t happen, but it proved that she understood the concept of soliciting opinions from the consumers.”
What Happens When your Career Moves you to Switzerland?
You GO! And you take your supportive husband along with you. At one point in Lisa’s career, GM gave her the opportunity to move to Switzerland to work with its European brands. Her husband was on board and agreed to a new role as “Mr. Mom” while she traveled back and forth to Germany handling the demands of her career. At the time, it was a little unusual for a husband to move for his wife’s career.
“My husband’s unusual role made him a bit of a rock star at the international school our daughter attended. The other kids were asking their daddy’s why they didn’t come to school with them every day.”
The experience was invaluable for her daughter who was able to meet and get to know children from cultures all over the world. When Lisa and her family returned to Detroit four years later, she was pregnant with her youngest daughter. “I don’t think she’s ever forgiven us for not giving her the chance to live in Europe!”
One Company…Many Careers
Lisa’s career with General Motors has been unique in that although it is all under the umbrella of one company, she’s actually had many careers. She’s worked with almost all of the General Motors brands: Saturn, Chevrolet, Buick and Opal with General Motors Europe. The only exception is Cadillac.
“GM is so global that you can have a variety of careers within one career,” says Lisa. “And there are different functions for different regions.”
Lisa has worked in sales as well as the financial side of the business, but what she enjoys most is being close to the customer, hearing what they’re interested in.
“If I get too far away from the customer, I always migrate back. I want to hear what they’re interested in as well as their likes and dislikes. My goal is to listen to the voice of the customer.”
The current project: The 2018 Chevy Equinox
Right now, Lisa’s focus is the global marketing of the newly released 2018 Chevy Equinox.
“The compact SUV has been a super strong seller in North America, second only to the Silverado. And now we’re seeing that segment growing outside of the USA.”
There’s a little more status associated with the compact SUV segment outside the USA so Chevrolet has acknowledged that with a few more jeweled touches…a little extra bling. It’s all part of listening to the customers.
Lisa’s personal experiences also enter into the mix.
“My own experiences do enter into the equation when it comes to conveniences for our vehicles. I remember taking my girls to the bus stop on a cold winter morning and thinking: wouldn’t it be nice if I could have heated seats in the back?”
What Does the Global Marketing Director for Chevrolet Have in her Driveway?
“Actually, my first car was a Ford Pinto with a manual transmission, vinyl seats and no air conditioning,” Lisa recalls. “My husband and I drove it across country…NEVER AGAIN!”
Today, she typically drives whatever vehicle she’s working on—which makes for a varied and interesting driveway. Right now she has a Chevy Cruze and a Chevy Suburban in the driveway, but who knows what will be next?!
And her dream car? “Honestly, even if I didn’t work in the auto industry, my dream car would be a crossover like the Equinox—it’s attractive, sporty and fun to drive.”
Should today’s young women think about a career in the auto industry?
“Absolutely! There are so many functions within the automotive industry, there really is something for everyone. Don’t be held back because you think you’re not a ‘car girl’ – get out there and change the automotive industry!”
And if it’s psychology you’re interested in, the automotive industry will certainly keep you busy.