An employee of General Motors (GM) for 27 years, Molly Peck defies the statistics. According to Catalyst, about 26 percent of those who work in the automotive industry – and less than 17 percent of its leadership – are women. Recently appointed to serve as GM’s chief marketing officer (CMO) for its Middle East operations, Molly relocated to Dubai from Detroit where she is building on the capabilities developed from numerous roles at GM over the years.
The path from sales to marketing specialist to CMO generalist
Molly started her career at GM, the only company she has ever worked for, perhaps not surprising as a Michigan native. But what keeps her working for GM is the variety of interesting opportunities, evidenced by Molly’s diverse roles in sales and marketing for Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and now Middle East operations. “There are a lot of opportunities within GM, and with every move there is a different culture. I have never for a single day felt like I wasn’t challenged,” she says.
Molly started in a sales role, which she describes as “a really good foundation for understanding how people buy cars and how dealerships work,” essential to Molly’s role as a CMO. Noting the passion that often accompanies a car selection, Molly says that “automobiles are an important purchase to most people, and delivering the most appealing products to them is challenging and rewarding.”
Molly’s most recent role before becoming CMO for Middle East operations was marketing director of Buick, where she oversaw advertising campaigns like this iconic Super Bowl commercial:
One of the biggest changes resulting from Molly’s new role is her shift from specialist to generalist. She says, “As I’ve become more general, my areas of responsibility have grown. There is more accountability, but there are also more resources to tap into” to be successful. For example, if GM wants to face the competition by launching a new product, there are several business levers to employ. Advertising could be the right response, but it could be another marketing tactic that allows GM to grow its brand. As a generalist, Molly says, “there is so much to orchestrate and synergize that helps us develop brand health.”
“When opportunity knocks, you have to open the door”
In looking at her career path, Molly says of her success, “I have always been very clear on where I want to go.” Although she has not always known specifically what she wanted her next position to be, she has consistently expressed interest in areas that appeal to her. She encourages mentees to “communicate their interests so that – when opportunities arise – their boss already knows what they want.” Before being able to do that, Molly says, “You need to understand yourself – what you’re good at, what you’re interested in, and what you can contribute to the company to meet their objectives.”
Molly also recommends being open to professional opportunities. As she says, “When opportunity knocks, you have to open the door.” She acknowledges that changes can come with challenges and sometimes involve personal or professional risk. In those cases, Molly asks herself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen? When you put it into context, the answer is usually very manageable.”
When offered opportunities that did not interest her initially, she has taken a similar approach. “Maybe leadership saw something in me and how I could contribute in a way I didn’t see myself. You have to be open to those opportunities as well,” she says. Looking back at the times when she has accepted a role she was initially less interested in, Molly says they were all good decisions.
She loves connecting with customers – in the US and now Middle East
When asked her motivations for continuing to advance at GM, Molly says, “I honestly truly enjoy what I do. I love connecting with the customer, and there is tremendous internal satisfaction from achieving my objectives.” A sociology minor in college, Molly has always been fascinated by what motivates people, and she applies that interest to her role in meeting consumers’ needs and expectations.
She is also driven by the challenge of her new role in the Middle East, her first international assignment. Molly is excited about the stimulation of new cultures and markets and the professional and personal rewards of the experience. She acknowledges that she has a lot to learn – “new country, languages, cultures, and customs” – but she also thrives in this kind of challenge, which she says causes her “to work harder and smarter.”
Working full-time while getting an MBA = Effort and rewards
Molly enhanced her long career at GM when she decided – while working full-time – to pursue an MBA at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. It took her close to five years to complete the MBA. She tells professionals who ask her advice about getting an MBA while working full-time, “Only do it if you really want to do it because it takes a lot of time and effort.” While Molly says that it is possible to learn on the job, her MBA has provided many practical benefits to understanding key business fundamentals.
Mary Barra’s ascension to GM’s CEO was a proud moment
Molly acknowledges that she is not surprised about gender disparity among automotive leaders, but she also says that “there is a generation of women before me who were first in various positions” so she does not believe she is blazing new trails. Her goal has always been to be a great marketer, not a great “female marketer.” She also cites the leadership of GM’s CEO Mary Barra – the first woman to head a major automotive company – as inspiration, saying of Barra’s ascension to the CEO role, “It was one of my proudest moments at GM.”
“At times, I have focused on work as a priority and other times, it has been my family”
When asked about balancing her professional and personal lives, Molly recognizes that there is no singular right answer, but she shares that striking a balance has worked for her. “At times, I have focused on work as a priority and other times, it has been my family,” she says. When her daughters were young, Molly worked part-time for six years to keep a foot in the workforce. She acknowledges that working part-time could have slowed her advancement, but it clearly has not impacted her career long-term.
She also gives credit to her husband, family and friends who she relies on to help care for her children. She says, “It has given them great role models, and it shows them that a lot of people really love them.” Molly shares some helpful advice she received about managing the responsibilities of work while raising young children: “No one will do it exactly how you will do it, but what matters is that your kids are safe and loved.”
“Don’t say ‘no’ before you have to”
Molly had an opportunity a couple of years ago to see Sheryl Sandberg speak. She encourages women to embrace the concept of “leaning in.”
“Don’t take things off your list before you need to and don’t limit yourself,” Molly says. “You can always say ‘no’ to things, but don’t say no before you have to.”
Molly also has advice for developing leadership skills: “As women, it is important for us to mentor each other and look at different leadership styles – of both men and women – as a guidepost for honing our own skills.”
One could do worse than look at Molly’s own path and leadership style in charting a course to the top.