Source: Automotive News
NEW YORK -- Matt Russell has owned several BMWs and has raced them for years. He fulfilled a childhood dream by working for the stalwart German automaker for more than a decade -- until June, when he left BMW to take a marketing post at Cadillac.
He's among about 60 newcomers to join Cadillac's global headquarters here recently; it relocates this week from temporary digs to a permanent home in a lower Manhattan office building overlooking the Hudson River.
Some, like Russell, have come from marketing roles at other luxury auto brands, including Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar and Audi. Others arrived from the world of high-end consumer goods: Godiva, Ann Taylor and Belvedere vodka, to name a few.
Why would these relatively young marketers leave such established, top-shelf brands for a daunting reclamation project -- one that even Cadillac's top executives acknowledge could take a decade?
In short, they see an unprecedented chance to reboot a 113-year-old brand, a name once synonymous with greatness.
That opportunity has attracted a diverse mix of marketers, several of whom shared their reasoning during interviews in New York this month. They like what they describe as a startup atmosphere, a vibe nurtured by Cadillac's relocation to New York. They have bought into the comeback story outlined by brand president Johan de Nysschen and marketing chief Uwe Ellinghaus. Many say they favor the frenetic pace of a turnaround project over maintaining the status quo at an elite brand.
That was the motivating factor for Russell, 38, who helped launch the Mini brand while at BMW.
"I've never forgotten how exciting it was to go out and find growth like" the Mini launch, said Russell, life-cycle marketing manager for Cadillac's ATS and CTS cars. "BMW is slow and steady growth. I was at a point where I wanted to take some real risk."
Cadillac's new global nerve center is run from the top two levels of a 16-floor, century-old office building in a neighborhood that abuts three of Manhattan's trendiest areas: SoHo, Tribeca and Greenwich Village. A ground-floor space of cement floors and bare lightbulbs will house a Cadillac experience center by next year -- think lounge area with a mix of new and classic Cadillac cars and digital displays. It will share the street level with an exposed-brick coffee shop that has a latte tap and sells an 8-ounce bag of exotic Panamanian coffee beans for $58.
The headquarters houses mostly marketing and brand-strategy people. The roughly 60 newcomers are joined by about the same number of Cadillac or General Motors veterans.
Of course, thousands more support Cadillac back in Detroit, where designers and engineers are working on a slew of new vehicles that Cadillac badly needs to compete with BMW, Mercedes and others in coming years. But the people working here just might face a tougher task.
|Cadillac got the attention of invited guests from the New York fashion world at an event this month when it airlifted an illuminated 2017 XT5 crossover over the Hudson River.
'Starting from scratch'
They're assigned the heavy lifting of transforming Cadillac from a stodgy relic into a contemporary lifestyle brand, one that generates the sort of organic demand that compels people to buy a Mercedes or a Gucci handbag simply because of what the badge conveys.
Cadillac's marketers are trying to do that by discreetly putting the brand in the path of influencers from the worlds of fashion and architectural design, two lifestyle realms with which Cadillac is trying to align itself. This month it co-hosted a men's fashion show at a classic-car club near Cadillac's headquarters, where a few hundred 20- and 30-something fashionistas mingled while sipping cocktails and perusing the latest items from a collection curated by Cadillac from New York designer Nick Wooster. A couple scantly noticed that new V-series sedans sat amid the crowd.
"To an extent we're starting from scratch in the way we approach the brand," said Amanda Knauer, a brand strategy and implementation manager who joined Cadillac in May after having worked at Belgian chocolate maker Godiva and Johnny Walker scotch.
Knauer, 34, a New Jersey native and longtime New Yorker who once ran her own leather-goods company in Buenos Aires, says she was attracted by the chance to apply an entrepreneurial approach to an established, iconic brand. "It's not just inheriting last year's plan as a template. It's looking at things with a fresh set of eyes," she said.
Pierre-Alexandre Lebard, 30, agrees. He became Cadillac's global marketing planning manager in June after leaving French luxury goods maker LVMH, where he managed the Belvedere vodka brand. He says the fundamentals of selling to luxury buyers are the same, whether its autos or liquor.
"It's knowing not only how to reach that really tough-minded luxury consumer but then build and manage a relationship with them," he said.
Cadillac's brand ambassadors
Title: Global marketing planning manager at Cadillac
Formerly: Global brand manager for Belvedere vodka at LVMH
Background: While at LVMH, Lebard also served as Northeast marketing manager for the Krug and Ruinart Champagne division.
Title: Brand strategy and implementation manager at Cadillac
Formerly: Worked in brand management for luxury brands including Godiva and Johnnie Walker
Background: In 2004, Knauer launched a luxury leather goods business, Qara, in Buenos Aires, eventually partnering with a private-equity firm to expand the business in the region.
Title: Director, brand strategy and planning at Cadillac
Formerly: Executive vice president at Hill+Knowlton Strategies
Background: At H+K, Lee provided communications and public affairs counsel to corporate clients and led the office of the global chairman. Specialties included transactions, crisis and litigation, and public affairs support.
Title: Launch and life-cycle marketing manager for ATS, CTS and V series at Cadillac
Formerly: Product and technology communications manager at BMW of North America
Background: Russell spent 15 years at BMW, including stints as brand manager for the M line and in BMW's U.S. motorsports division.
De Nysschen likes the mix of old and new blood. He says part of the calculus of GM's decision one year ago to split off Cadillac as a separate business unit based in New York was to recruit talented people who might not have wanted to live in Detroit, especially those with nonautomotive backgrounds.
"We have enough car experts," de Nysschen said in a July interview. "I wanted people who bring new ideas and perspectives because we might have blind spots." Being in New York allows Cadillac "to be there where trends are created, to not only observe them firsthand but be immersed in them."
Cadillac has been reeling in defectors from luxury automakers, too, though, including a handful who left Mercedes ahead of its recent move to Atlanta from Montvale, N.J.
Eric Jillard, 45, left Mercedes last spring after six years to become Cadillac's director of brand execution and digital marketing. He had some doubts, he admits. During his job interview with Ellinghaus, Jillard expressed concern about how far Cadillac must go to gain awareness even in its new hometown.
"I told Uwe: 'I don't know one person who owns a Cadillac,'" Jillard said.
But ultimately he bought into the plan, partly because of how Cadillac's executives have articulated their vision and their commitment to see it through.
"They've made it clear that this isn't just another turnaround plan without any real plan," Jillard said. "We really feel like we're on the cusp of something great."