By Deborah Wahl, Global CMO at GM
2021 CMO Hall of Fame Inductee

Ten years ago, when I was at a crossroads, I decided to dedicate my life to being the best CMO I could be. In the truest sense of the discipline, marketing is the center of every business. Great marketing can change a company, can change culture, and can impact the world. 

I believe great work comes from an ambitious vision and a relentless desire to deliver products and services that make life better now and in the future. It also comes from a commitment to an inclusive world. A place where each person feels safe to do their best work and brings their whole selves to every challenge 

Make no mistake. Great work is hard. I remember the greatest challenges of every job I had. The blood, sweat, and tears. My message to aspiring marketers is to be ready to invest your whole selves into what will create growth, transformation, and human connection.

The last few years have been the most challenging in my lifetime. I returned to Detroit in 2019 to reconnect with my hometown. I met a wonderful man named Pat in December 2019. Then the pandemic hit, and we got Covid together. Trust me, you learn a lot about people when you get Covid with them.

This was the first time, in over two decades, that I was at home for a full year. It was an incredible benefit to develop a deep relationship. And I give Pat full credit for his insistence that I’m present and focused. I took that advice and acquired a new skill: connecting deeply with people in my life.

And then the murder of George Floyd happened in 2020. I took a hard look at myself. How deeply did I know all the people on my team? When was the last time I asked them all how they were doing rather than how the project was doing?

Our business was also challenged. What were we doing to make fundamental change happen?

That is where our power as marketers comes in. I thought about all the reasons I love marketing — a relentless focus on customers and creating value in their life, an insatiable curiosity about how humans connect and drive culture, an ability to focus resources on the things that matter now and for the next generation, and a drive to grow new things – markets, products, companies, and ourselves. They were all the things I needed for this new challenge.

So I started meeting weekly for an hour with 10 of our teammates across the company. The whole purpose of these meetings was to ask, “how are you doing?” What’s really been incredible is how that approach is helping us define a whole new way of working that I believe will redefine work.

We defined a new approach for diverse-owned media companies and businesses. We held a summit and invited 300 companies, many of whom we had never done business with before. We defined a new process by establishing 30-day payment terms to help small businesses with insufficient capital to become stronger. We did multi-year deals. We created an incubator fund to strengthen creators and adjacent businesses. And we’re creating a path for smaller businesses to grow so they can help us grow as well.

So now I work every day to connect, understand and use influence and privilege in my position to build a more inclusive world.

I dedicate my work to my mom. I do this work for my son Alex. He’s the joy of my life and I’m happiest when I just get to hang with him. I always wanted him to know how much I love my work and what it means to make something happen, to create something new, and to see something grow.


Find out more about The CMO Hall of Fame and view past inductees.