She loved cars, but chose finance. Then Toyota called.
“The DMV told my dad that if the bought one more car he’d have to get a dealer’s license,” Lisa Materazzo, vice president of marketing at Lexus, said. Growing up, her dad was car fanatic and so were her two brothers, so it’s no surprise she grew up loving cars. There was always an impressive selection in her family’s driveway.
“My first car was a Mustang; we also had a Celica, and I drove a little bit of everything growing up,” Lisa said. “My two older brothers and my dad are complete car fanatics. We used to go to Watkins Glen and watch the races,” she recounted, which turned her into the car enthusiast and motor sports fan she is today.
So it might come as a surprise was that when she graduated from Binghamton University in upstate New York she had no interest in working in automotive. Instead, she went to work for financial services company A. G. Edwards.
“My neighbor was branch manager for A. G. Edwards. She said ‘come to work in my office and get brokerage license. It might not be long term but you’ll learn more about your finances than any adult and it’ll serve you in the long run.’”
It turned out that Lisa liked working in finance so much that she earned a graduate degree. “I thought I’d move [from being a] broker to a mutual fund; I wanted to get into marketing, so I thought I’d do this in financial services,” she said.
But as she was thinking of post-grad school opportunities, a headhunter suggested a product planning role at Toyota. “I was also considering a move to the west coast,” she said, so even though she didn’t know much about the automotive business, she was intrigued.
Not an Engineer? No Problem!
“I almost said no, I’m not an engineer, that’s not for me,” she recalled. But the recruiter explained that in this position she’d be the voice of the customer to help Toyota plan future vehicles. “In that regard the job had more of a marketing aspect,” she said, and that appealed to her. She was excited to understand the customer, voice their opinions, assess the competitive situation and help the company to position new vehicles. So, she said yes.
At Toyota she found a whole new world. “There are few parallels between the auto and finance worlds,” Lisa said. With one exception: “A.G. Edwards is a family company out of St Louis; it had family influence and focus on loyalty to clients and employees. Those same values are shared by Toyota,” she said. She also appreciated the self-starting, entrepreneurial spirit of working in a brokerage; that gave her skills to learn her way around the auto world and map her own journey.
Settling into her new role at Toyota, Lisa quickly came to appreciate that the company encourages everyone to have a broad experience and try out different jobs. After getting started in product planning she went on to long range planning and then a role with Scion, the company’s now-defunct youth-focused car brand built in partnership with Subaru.
At Toyota, Lisa had the benefit of managers who would give a lot of time and dedicate themselves to mentoring, sponsoring and advising others. It turned out to be such “a good support network that many of them I still keep in touch with,” Lisa said. She, like many people who have helped Toyota to grow to one of the top automakers in the world, benefited from both formal and informal programs. And, she received advice from both men and women alike.
Never Stop Learning… Even if it Means Changing Industries
Wanting to find new challenges, after 10 years Lisa left Toyota for another opportunity.
“It was a desire on my part to get experience outside of Toyota,” she said. “I was fascinated with startups and wanted to get that experience.” It came from a company called Ridemakerz, a sister company to Build-A-Bear. “The idea is to customize a scale model remote control car, the same way you could customize a bear,” Lisa said.
Having learned about Ridemakerz during her time with Scion when the two companies partnered on a remote control Scion XB, the RidemakerzXB, she loved the idea of joining the company. The opportunity not only let her see into the inner workings of a company like Build-A-Bear, but also, into the world of corporate collaborations; Build-A-Bear and Ridemakerz partnered with Disney for a store-within-a-store concept.
From there, Lisa decided to dig into digital media and marketing with a role at AOL. The company was setting up expert groups to serve different industries, and Lisa led the automotive initiative. Knowing that this area was poised to grow tremendously, the role at AOL would further fortify her resume. And, it would give her a credential as a “subject matter expert in digital media. I already had good focus, so this gave me a point of differentiation.” At AOL she became certified by the Interactive Advertising Bureau in digital media, further adding to her skill set.
But…Toyota Calls, and Lexus is on the Line, Too
“I had always kept in touch with the folks at Toyota, and I had worked for Jack Hollis,” general manager of Toyota North America. “One day he asked if I’d consider coming back. There were some changes in Toyota marketing so he brought me back in 2014,” Lisa said. She returned to take the role of general manager of marketing, responsible for media strategy and digital engagement, which included the website, media, broadcast advertising, digital advertising, social media and more.
Three years later, Lisa made the move to VP of vehicle marketing and communications, then moved to Lexus in January, 2019.
Moving from such a sprawling brand— just consider Toyota’s 1,200 dealerships vs. Lexus’s 242— may seem a stretch. But the two brands, while different, have many similarities, Lisa said. “The DNA and guiding principles are enterprise wide, but with Lexus specifically, there is a unique backstory, the Lexus Covenant, founded on putting people first, centered on an established luxury industry and taking the bar to new heights. That ‘customer first, people first’ mentality, where people are treated like guests are our homes,” is what sets Lexus apart, both within the automotive world and in the luxury world. “When we speak to [customers] it is different and unique and has to be specific to our brand,” Lisa said.
And the return on this philosophy? “The loyalty is impressive. You hear people who have 12, 13, 14 Lexuses and won’t buy another [brand]. It’s not just the vehicle, but the entire purchase experience, what the personnel will do to to make this happen. It speaks to who we are as a brand, it goes to our mission statement,” she said.
Success Takes a (Home) Team
“People ask about my career path,” Lisa said when I asked about her family life. Like many who achieve their dreams, she attributes much of her success to others in her life who let her pursue her career passions and understand the choices she has to make. “I want to thank all who supported me; they are a big part of my success. My husband, parents, friends, they put up with my constant travel. I can’t attend things because I’m on the road, so I appreciate that” they are understanding, she said.
And, it’s an ever changing journey, so even more, having understanding people around you helps. “I’d love to say this is a master plan,” to make her way to being the vice president of marketing at Lexus, “but that’s not the case,” Lisa said. “Having an idea of where you want to go what you want to be is important, but as you mature don’t be afraid to move that stake in the ground. There were opportunities that came along that I could never have anticipated, that took my career in a way I’d not have guessed, that provided me a richer base of experience.
“‘Balance’ is vision of where you want to go and opportunities” that present themselves along the way, she said.
Balancing Luxury in a Changed World
The most recent challenge, or possibly an opportunity, comes with the era of Covid-19. Changes in how consumers view the world and protecting themselves and their families, and how this will impact the auto world are top of mind to everyone in this industry. “How do we operate in this environment? Everybody’s world has been turned upside down,” Lisa noted. “There’s not a playbook for this; how do we find a way through it? Not just to ensure future success, to give dealers what they need to succeed,” but to give consumers peace of mind and to serve and exceed their expectations of the brand, too.
But, taking on new challenges under trying conditions is something her dad taught her. As a teen “I learned to drive a stick shift, which I had to do in order to get my [driver’s] permit,” she said. It turned out that the only car in the driveway with a manual transmission was her father’s band new Corvette. She was surprised that he‘d let her learn on this prized car, but he did, and she learned to drive under pressure.
Lisa Materazzo will tell us in her own words what drives her as an executive, a marketer and a woman in the automotive business. She’ll join Scotty Reiss for a Reuters Automotive Events webcast on Tuesday, June 2nd at 12:15PM ET/9:15AM PT. You can register here and registration is free.