Your Title Goes Here
On this episode of the Superpowers podcast, Bill and Chris talk with Deborah Wahl, Global CMO at General Motors. Growing up, Deborah earned the nickname “Big D” from her siblings for her go-getter attitude and unrelenting pursuit of success.
Deborah was born and raised in Detroit. Her father was in the auto industry and she did her first internship at GM back in the 80s. She told Bill and Chris, “I looked around and said ‘wow, this is a tough industry for women.’”
Undeterred, she pressed on and triumphed. She received her MBA from Wharton and spent four years in the world of finance, traveling the world while working at Chase Bank.
Later, she worked in Paris on a project for an anti-allergy bed sheet company that taught her important lessons on how to grow and develop a business.
After 3 years in Paris, Deborah returned to America to seek out marketing jobs that would benefit from her global business perspective. She took an interview back in Detroit at Ford. “They picked us up from the airport and took us directly to the test track,” she told the hosts. The excitement drew Deborah back into the auto industry. She asked to be placed in Latin America and was offered a job as an Advertising Manager in Brazil.
Deborah’s passion for marketing led to jobs at Mazda, Mercury, and Toyota. In 2007 she joined Chrysler and moved back to Detroit. That fateful decision changed her career course after the financial distress Chrysler faced the following year, causing Deborah to leave the auto industry for ten years.
In 2014 she joined McDonald’s as CMO. Deborah told the hosts, “I couldn’t resist the challenge. It was an American company that needed to transform.” For three years she oversaw health changes in the menu and the implementation of “All Day Breakfast” – a move some considered key to the fast food giant’s turnaround in the 2010s.
After McDonald’s, Deborah returned to the auto industry as the CMO of Cadillac in New York. A year leader, she took on her current role as the Global CMO of GM.
Deborah has been instrumental in putting safety and electric vehicles at the forefront of GM’s branding. With her guidance, GM is making swift innovations to pursue its goals. Before leaving, Deborah shared advice for young women tackling the auto industry: “Watch who speaks to the room… often women don’t speak up.
Take a seat at the table and don’t be afraid to speak up… listen to the other women in the room and build on their statements.” The hosts decided that Deborah’s superpower is the global perspective she’s brought to her hometown, the auto industry, and Detroit, as well as her willingness to take calculated risks with a tenacity that many people are too scared to do.