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What If Intuition and Data Could Hold Hands? An Interview with Will Stacy.

In this episode, Jim talks with Will Stacy, Chief Marketing & Digital Officer at GM Financial, about how to approach leadership in the face of massive disruption and how a culture of mentorship makes a world of difference in how an organization grows and evolves.

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Guest Profile

Will Stacy

Will Stacy, IV is Executive Vice President, Chief Marketing and Digital Officer at GM Financial, the captive finance company for General Motors. He is a frequent speaker on interactive marketing, servant leadership, DE&I, managing creative teams, and building and managing in-house marketing agencies.

Meet the Hosts

Jim Hertzfeld

Jim Hertzfeld is Principal and Chief Strategist for Perficient. For over two decades, he has worked with clients to convert market insights into real-world digital products and customer experiences that actually grow their business. More than just a strategist, Jim is a pragmatic rebel known for challenging the conventional and turning grand visions into actionable steps. His candid demeanor, sprinkled with a dose of cynical optimism, shapes a narrative that challenges and inspires listeners.

Kim Williams-Czopek

Kim Williams-Czopek is GM of Global Commerce at Perficient. She works with clients to devise digital experience strategies and how to translate strategies to tactics. She specializes in digital commerce, digital product development, user research and testing strategies, and digital responsibility.
Special thanks to our Perficient colleagues JD Norman and Rick Bauer for providing the music for today’s show.

Episode 32: What If Intuition and Data Could Hold Hands? - Transcript

Speaker 1 (00:13):

With us today is Will Stacy, Chief Marketing and Digital officer at GM Financial. Will, I'm so glad we could finally put this together. Welcome to the podcast.

Speaker 2 (00:28):

Thanks Jim. So glad to be here.

Speaker 1 (00:31):

So, Will, a lot of people know about GM. They may not know as much about GM Financial and in fact, I think as a brand name, it's relatively new considering the sort of long GM heritage. Before we dive in, you want to tell us a little bit more about GM Financial and what your role is?

Speaker 2 (00:49):

Yeah. GM Financial is the captive global lender for General Motors. So today in the states, we operate at about 40, 45% of all GM sales we finance. We have another 3 million customers. We have 3 million here in the states and 3 million globally in countries like China and Mexico, Brazil, throughout different countries in South America and Canada. And just glad to be a part of the GM organization. GM purchased a company in Fort Worth called Ameri credit about-I guess it’s now 11 years ago. We’ve set up and built a global captive from the Amer credit brand now to the global GM financial finance brand for consumers and dealers around the world.

Speaker 1 (01:56):

So it's the other fuel for the industry, aside from the gas, right? We drive that dealer experience, the buying experience, you know, sometimes I've thought of you guys and captive finances. So the only link between the driver, the owner, and the brand, which I thought was a really interesting part of your role.

Speaker 2 (02:19):

Yeah. It's interesting because there are 4,200 independent dealers here in the United States that have a GM dealership and they essentially operate for us as franchisees or dealers that sell the vehicles we manufacture, but they also act as the first line of finance options for our customers. So the dealer experience is just as important to us as the customer experience and we try to do as much as we can to make that customer experience inside a dealership better.

Speaker 1 (02:51):

Right. Lots of opportunities there. And it seems like it's certainly every industry is in some state of revolution. It always feels that way. Automotive, I think has been particularly wild lately, with electrification, with autonomous vehicles, certainly ride sharing over the last decade or so, and sort of this big shift towards mobility and I think automotive is one of those industries or categories that at least in the US has always sort of captivated the emotion of the consumer. So how do GMF and GM change with those shifts? Whether it's coming from new tech, becoming a better digital business or just kind of keeping up with the rest of the automotive or mobility industry's changing.

Speaker 2 (03:44):

First, COVID and the supply chain issues have really done a number to the automotive industry. As COVID started to happen, everyone stopped manufacturing with fears that we would have all this inventory built up. Many of the manufacturers, including General Motors, stop production, safety reasons, supply reasons, etc., demand reasons, but not long after the American shutdown in March. The demand really rebounded very quickly and the demand for new cars exploded and the demand for cars exploded in general and the demand, the supply wasn't there for these consumers, especially here in the US. We used to have what we call day supply the number of cars on dealership, lots waiting to be sold that day supply would average somewhere between 60, 70, even 180 days, a car would sit there before it's sold.

Speaker 2 (04:44): Now, in some cases you have negative day supply or one to two to three days supply. And so the way people buy cars now is just different, because there's not a lot of cars in the lot which created this weird economic cycle of used car values, spiking, right? Because used cars were available ASAP new cars, oftentimes you had to order. So the industry, the last 18, 24 months has been in this weird cycle of high demand, low supply, high prices, dealerships have been able to take advantage of that and meet the demand where they can with new vehicles. And we've been able to partner with them to help with that, with this weird economic cycle. I mean, we used to have 60,000 cars a month coming off, lease that we would then sell inventory, you know in auctions to our dealers.

Speaker 2 (05:40):

Now there's no cars coming off lease because all those cars are being purchased by the dealer where the lease is turned in. So that set of our business is really different. And so the market has definitely changed the last two years as it relates to the technology. At first, customers wanted to shop digitally, they wanted to experience a different way of buying a car just because they didn't want to come into a dealership. This was because of the safety factors, that somewhat died off. I mean, customers still like to be able to test drive and touch and feel a vehicle. There still are customers that want to just buy it online. And especially with inventory challenges, a lot of times you're buying a car out of state and having it shipped because the car you want isn't available at your local dealer.

Speaker 2 (06:29):

So the digital experience, shopping experience has changed. The finance experience is changing where customers want to handle that whole experience online. They don't want to go into a finance office sometimes because they're doing it remote, or they don't want to come into the dealership. We've created a lot of new tools during COVID for digital applications, for our dealers, what we call E contractor E refunding, where there's no paper involved with the contract and for customers too. We have 3 million customers here in the US. So we had a real spike in just questions about their vehicle, questions about their lease. Can they extend their lease? We really had to ramp up our technology and around service to service our customers to get their questions answered.

Speaker 1 (07:21):

Yeah. We've been sort of joking about this for a couple of years. If you did a quiz about who drove your digital transformation, was it the CMO or the CIO and the answer is COVID.

Speaker 1 (07:32):

Covid for sure. Yeah. We're still talking about it. We're seeing this across categories self-service. I think what I'm kind of picking up here and what's interesting about your perspective is- You're data driven, you're KPI driven. That's part of your makeup. Well, it's part of your job, but that data has to come from somewhere and we love to talk about being data driven and then learning from that data understanding, the consumer of demands and behaviors changes predicting those. A lot of that comes from business intelligence and measurement. Some industries are a little further ahead. Some are not. As you deploy these technologies to sort of facilitate this customer experience, you're also given a lot more input and feedback and to help you learn. Is that an accurate statement, as you've gone through this transition, are you using the data as a learning process, as a learning ground as well?

Speaker 2 (08:44):

Yeah, absolutely. We have more data now that we know what to do with when it comes to customer feedback. So we have Medallia surveys, we have iOS and Android surveys. We have reviews, we have complaints. There is a lot of data we have from consumers about what they want. Luckily, we have a great team of data scientists, analytic professionals who use tools like Medallia and Clarabridge and others, and IBM Watson to help us make some sense of this. The data tells us most times what features people are wanting. What kinds of capabilities people want when it comes to buying, leasing or releasing a car. In fact, one of the things that I wanted to share with you was since COVID has happened, GM and all manufacturers are very into and spend a lot of money on auto shows.

Speaker 2 (09:55):

So auto shows are a big way for consumers to learn more about vehicles and see the newest tech, et cetera, especially if you don't want to go to a dealership and buy something you just want to learn. And so, when COVID happened that the auto show circuit, the whole experience kind of went away. And so what general motors has done, we've helped where we can at GM Financial as well is, we've set up a massive studio in Detroit that's we actually was a former Target. And we took that Target store that we leased and built a massive auto show, a virtual auto show. And so today, you can go on to and click on the Chevy, my way experience. And you can go through any of our vehicles with a product specialist with a gile and a iPhone and walk through any features you want on that vehicle.

Speaker 2 (10:49):

They can answer any questions and we're adding questions that customers have around financing as well. That's one of those examples where customers wanted to see cars wanted to experience the car, but they didn't want to go into a dealership, they want to go to a car show. And now we've got this, massive studio that has different sections for each of our brands. A section for electric vehicles, a section for partners like GM financial and non-star, and it's coming on. The Chevy portion is board that each brand is coming online as this year progresses, but really exciting technology and tools to your point based on data and requests of like, sometimes it's one on one. Sometimes it's a 20 people want to get the same tour of a vehicle. You can schedule a tour with other people. Hmm. I

Speaker 1 (11:39):

Gotta check this out. I'm up in Detroit. So you have to gimme the address for this place.

Speaker 2 (11:44):

Well, it's a top-secret address, but, but you and me should go tour. I toured it last month.

Speaker 1 (11:51):

I'd love to see.

Speaker 2 (11:51):

It’s spectacular.

Speaker 1 (11:52):

Yeah. And I'm going to call that virtual reality. Reality. I don’t know if that's going to, you can coin that phrase.

Speaker 2 (12:01):

To your question, whether it's I want to see a vehicle or, hey, I want to buy another vehicle at lease in our vehicle, but the vehicle that I want's not in stock, I need to extend my lease six months. So much data we're getting from consumers and all the channels they can chat with us on, which has really helped us build tools, build technology, build features in all our customer facing technologies like chat, like messaging, like our mobile apps, our websites, many of which Perficient helps us power. We've seen a tremendous amount of success on the NPS side customer satisfaction side-first call resolution technology, first call resolution, handling of those of those problems. All of that based on feedback we get from customers.

Speaker 1 (12:53):

That's really cool. I just love that there's so many options out there and you guys are really being data driven and as a consumer giving us what we want. How do you see that kind of feedback affecting the way you lead teams, you lead organization? I think there's a lot of inertia in a lot of organizations, as we all know. I think a lot of organizations, especially the older organizations. I think they just recently celebrated its hundredth anniversary, but you guys have really shifted. How has all this sort of changed the way that leaders manage the teams to affect these changes?

Speaker 2 (13:39):

Part of the challenge when it comes to all this data and feedback is deciding what to do next. We have a backlog of two or three years, and the reality is that three-year backlog is almost pointless because in three years, I mean it's going to be different. It's put a lot of pressure on leaders and our team members, as well as our employees closest to the customer to figure out, okay, we have a limited amount of resources we can apply to things that customers want, features technology, new tech. And how do we apply that in the way that puts the customer at the center of everything we do. It's challenging, it's a struggle as leadership and as team members on our team of figuring out what to do next. Sometimes the squeakiest wheel gets the fixes first.

Speaker 2 (14:41):

Sometimes there's features that I want, that I've been asking for for years that I can't get in because they're nice to have, but I think they're really important. But customers don't ask for them. It's always a balance of yeah. How do we prioritize what we think our customers want and need, alongside driving revenue, increasing NPS lowering call volume lowering costs? While we have so much data and science in our hands at the end, it does come down to an art to how do you decide what to do with all this? While there's data, there is a lot of gut decisions happening, I think this is our best direction. As people say, it's an art and a science at some level to figure out what to do next.

Speaker 1 (15:36):

Will you mention the sort of the art form and the judgement. And I think a lot of that comes from experience. A lot of that comes from training education, but a lot of it, I think comes from mentorship. I think it comes from helping others close to you. Maybe who've been there or can give you a different perspective. I know you're a big believer in mentorship over the years. How has that affected this approach and how has it affected your career and the careers of those around you?

Speaker 2 (16:36):

Good question. Mentorship to me is a very important factor in my career growth personally. I have almost a panel of mentors. I have real estate mentors and finance mentors and career mentors. I have people that help me mentor me on how to, you raise my children and be a good father. You know, spiritual mentors helped me to pursue my faith. It's been a journey for me over my lifetime of a series of really powerful mentors. You mentioned the instinct and I want to dig in on that just for a second. One of my mentors, one of business mentors, we talk a lot about instinct and gut feel. As someone who's very high on the empathy scale, most marketing leaders have a good background in empathy and have a good muscle for that.

Speaker 2 (17:33):

I have a strong empathy, pretty emotionally intelligent when it comes to that. There were so many times in my career, I would feel in my gut what the right decision was to do or the right path to go with a project or a person. But there's so many times I would kind of just bury that. I'd either stay quiet, or I wouldn't mention it, or I would just ignore it. Through a lot of feedback from my mentor and a lot of just journaling, I would say, okay, here's what I want to do. I'm not going to mention it, but I'm going to come back and revisit this.

Speaker 2 (18:22):

More often than not, when I would write things down or mention things to a colleague that here's what I would do in the situation, but not mention it, it would turn out that would've been the best thing to do. . He encouraged me to toy with that, to dip my toe in that water a little bit, and to get better at listening to my gut, which at first was a little scary because you just feel like, well, I don't want to take this big of a risk, but the more you start to do it as a leader and, with some experience under your belt, you learn that it is a powerful tool for success. And, now I'm to the point where I listen to my gut a lot more than I used to. I still temper it with other people and getting feedback, et cetera.

Speaker 2 (19:11):

There are things that come up in the moment, or there are things that I look at and make decisions that are gut decisions that, I'm much more confident in my gut feel and my intuition than I was five years ago. It was a process of trusting that intuition and trusting the experience you have, and letting you know, kind of going with what you feel sometimes. It can be risky, but, once you've had some success with going with your gut, you start to really rely on it as an advantage.

Speaker 1 (19:47):

I guess I feel the same way, Will. I've fortunately been in the business long enough, and I'm glad you mentioned journaling. I started journaling about 20 years ago. I haven't applied your technique where you're sort of creating a data point and then revisiting that, but that's a great direction.

Speaker 2 (20:10):

To your question on mentorship. I mean, it’s a way of life for me in my career. I had in college, a few mentors that were very influential to me when it came to my finances and my career. Men and women who were just very knowledgeable and very generous with their time and made a huge impact on me as as a 20 year old, in college. What that allowed me to do was, some of them gave me access to things. I never would've access to, leadership, observing, shadowing people to see what they do in different situations. So much of men of leadership is taught by modeling. Being able to observe leaders in their environment as a young professional, in marketing and advertising, and digital was so beneficial for me, because I learned by observing and bio osmosis, some from some really good, and sometimes not good leaders, but that really impacted the way that I lead now.

Speaker 2 (21:20):

I've read a fair amount of books on the topic and there's lots of ways to approach mentorship. I try to really encourage my team to both be mentors and to be a good mentee, being a good mentee doesn't mean it's a lifetime commitment or a mentor. I try to make it very clear in my first meetings with mentees or mentors. Here are the things I need your help on. Here's the commitment I want to, I want to make in terms of a timeline, if I'm a mentee, here are the things I'm going to do to give some direction to our time together. If it goes awry, it isn't what one of us expected.

Speaker 2 (22:07):

We have the freedom to speak up and talk about it. That's done me well. Yes. In my time as a mentor and mentee. For me personally, we started a mentor program with our chief diversity officer Robinson about seven years ago. One of the founding partners of that to really help get it off the ground. I've mentored 14 executives at GM financial, and some are really into it. Some aren't, which is fine, but the ones that are into it, I learned so much from them and gain so much insight into things that are going on in the company, how to help students, and how to help folks in their career to the point where I built a small curriculum, because I wanted to. I wanted to have something that was repeatable and measurable for these mentees throughout our time together.

Speaker 2 (23:08):

It's really a joy. I've had the good fortune to mentor a lot of professionals of color and women. And I've kind of told our team that that's what I want to mentor exclusively, because I just feel like I want to be able to give professionals of color and women access to things that sometimes they don't have access to. I've been really blessed with unique access in my career, and I want to be able to share that and give them insight to how they can succeed. It's given me a lens on some of the challenges that professionals of color and women have in our industry and in their careers that have really opened my eyes and helped me push change in organization to make it better.

Speaker 1 (23:55):

That's great. I love that sort of level of consciousness. I feel like you're building within yourself and others. I think that there's purpose to that. I think we're all looking for purpose. It's interesting that you found a purpose and that purposeful approach. That's great to hear. And I love you've inspired me to think about mentorship a little differently. I never really thought about sort of having a structure. It always felt like mentorship was sort of like a special form of networking. I just have to get to know people, and then if I'm lucky, a mentorship will sort of organically occur, but, there's a purpose behind it. I'm hearing from you.

Speaker 2 (24:42):

I've definitely developed a for better worse a curriculum. It's a series of books I have my mentees read. It's one of the things that every mentee is asking me, and it's a very generic term in our world today. I've been told I need more executive presence. What does that mean? And executive presence is one of those things where it means everything and it means nothing. And so, you know, I've tried with my mentees and maybe we cover this on another podcast of what is executive presence in my mind? And, and how do you teach that to other people? And it's not just presentation skills because, executive presence is way more than being a good presenter. We spend a lot of time self-evaluating in seven key areas around what I think makes up executive presence.

Speaker 2 (25:33):

We measure that at the beginning of our time, at the end of our time to see if they've grown it all, because hopefully at the end, they self-assess themselves as grown in those areas. A series of books, we go through a series of tests and assessments we do around emotional intelligence around conflict styles, how to manage conflict better. Then a series of just conversations and you know they bring to me of challenges they have that are in the moment that we talk through. It's really been it's awesome. It's become one of the things I love the most about my job is being able to mentor.

Speaker 1 (26:16):

That it really is inspiring. I think by the way, I'd love to get those books. I'd love to hear some, maybe your book recommendations that we can even include them in the show notes. And I have to say, well, we had Neil Hoyne, who is Google's chief men measurement officer, almost at mentorship. We had him on the show and I think he may be more measurement oriented than Neil was. If Neil's listening, he's on notice. Thanks. So, we’ll wrap a little bit. I know I mentioned earlier, there's a lot going on in automotive. There's a lot going on in finance and in a lot of categories. We feel in this sort of digital, epoch, if you will, it feels like we're sort of in between business eras or movements. And so we're asking our guests, this summer, what is next? What is next from your perspective, from your lens on GM financial, and then for you personally, what's happening next and then we'll wrap it up.

Speaker 2 (27:22):

I think for the industry, auto finance automotive in general, still a lot of change is happening. The way customers shop is changing, the way customers drive is changing. I have two electric vehicles and one gas powered vehicle in our home with the gas prices. Now driving electric vehicles is all the rage it's very fun, honestly, not to go to the gas station is fun. To just throw it in the garage, keep going, charge it keep it, it's a blast. You know that that's going to change the business that we're in from just vehicles to a whole series of things that customers think about when it comes to their home and their lifestyle.

Speaker 2 (28:20):

So you're going to need a charger in your garage or in your apartment or where you live, which is one thing. But then the question is, okay, I've got one vehicle, I've got two vehicles that electric powered. Well now I'd like to have maybe a battery backup that powers my home in the case of a power loss. I want to add solar to my house so I can get off the grid in some ways. In Texas, we have super record high temperatures and there's an ask for reduction of citizens to reduce the amount of power they're using. In a perfect world, solar on your house, you could sell back to the state for power usage.

Speaker 2 (29:02):

All of those things have financial impacts to consumers, whether it's buying or selling power, buying or leasing or renting features on your vehicle that allow some of these things that happen. The next generation of our vehicles are going to have downloadable software and features that you can pay for. So you want to add a feature in your car. It'll come with that out of the box, but you can upgrade to the software version of it. It opens up a lot of opportunities for the finance company to be involved in a lot of these transactions. Ownership itself is changing. I just saw here, in Texas, that if you wanna buy a home, but can't afford the down payment, you can actually have someone buy it for you and do a lease to own through this third party.

Speaker 2 (29:52):

And so ownership of houses, cars, everything is on the verge of a tipping point in changing. The process that the part that we get to play at GM financial is exciting because it's kind of the intersection of the product, the payment, the affordability of that product, of how you pay for those things and kind of the central hub for billing. Just the electrification of our whole industry is going to upend a lot of what we do today.

Speaker 1 (30:26):

Yeah. Yeah. Great. Will, anything else you wanted to share with us about what's next?

Speaker 2 (30:32):

Yeah, I would share a little bit about, and this kind of goes to mentorship as well, but just career growth in general. I had a mentor in fact this morning, tell me this. I had to say it a couple times. It made me think a lot. It said, “you will not become what you are already not becoming.” I have so many folks that are asking me for advice or, hey, I want to do this, or I want to do that in my career. I had to read it again to myself. You know, you will not become what you are already not becoming. And this idea that I want to do this or that in my career, but I'm not working on it now is kind of a crazy mentality, right?

Speaker 2 (31:17):

When I was younger, I used to say at some point I'll live by a budget when I make more money and the ridiculousness of that statement of when I make more money, I'll live by a budget, but for now I don't have to is immature and silly. And so it's that same mentality career wise that I want to do something different and change, but I'm not doing the things I need to do, prepare for it. Right. A lot of what we talk about at GM financial, and Mary talks about General Motors is the career growth nowadays is no longer a ladder. It's a Lattice and it's to the side. It's scooting down its diagonal moves.

Speaker 2 (31:59):

I've encouraged my employees to really think about that growth for us looks like switching teams or across training and from different groups. I've been a big advocate for that for my team for a long time. I've seen a lot of my employees shift and grow through that, which has been very exciting. With that said, I'm preaching to the choir here. I'm following in the footsteps I'm giving, following the advice I'm giving to my employees in my own career. I realize that my growth trajectory needs some changes, needs some upgrades. Well, let me say that differently.

Speaker 1 (32:51):


Speaker 2 (32:52):

I'm looking for new experiences in my career as well, and new challenges and adventures. I was reached about two months ago. I was contacted one of my leaders, Deborah Wall, our CMO at GM. Wow. She asked, Hey, would you consider some changes in your career here at General Motors? And I said, yeah, I'm open to talking about it. And so low and behold, the change for me was the request and the acceptance of this last week of running Chevrolet- the opportunity to run Chevrolet, both for design marketing. Wow. After sales in Shanghai, China. Wow. In the next few months, I'll be transitioning from my role here as chief digital and marketing officer at GM financial, over to Shanghai, China to be a general manager of the Chevrolet business in China.

Speaker 1 (33:59):

Congratulations Will! That's a few changes. That's a few moves on the Latice. . That's like a 3d Latice. I'm gonna have to tell you Will, we're going to have to go up with that. That's fantastic.

Speaker 2 (34:12):

Yeah. Thank you.

Speaker 2 (34:14):

It's a big change and right. But one that I think will push me in ways that I haven't been pushed before, to be responsible for a brand in China, we have 405 Chevy dealers. To be responsible for sales with those dealers and really help build the brand of Chevrolet in a global format, in a culture and language that I don't understand quite yet. So it's going to be a wonderful challenge, really honored to be able to have the ability to pivot like this for my career and try something new. The trust that the leadership has put into me for this is a real honor and very excited about it.

Speaker 1 (35:00):

That’s great Will! What amazing learning opportunity. I love this concept. I really do. It's really hit me, you've had so much success personally. You've built these systems and you've built the brand at GM financial. It's a great risk to take. I love the idea. I was thinking back to some of the companies I've been with where there was a lot of mobility. I've sort of forgotten about that. I remember doing rotations where I worked for Whirlpool and I was in a plant and then you're in HQ, and you're in quality, then you're in design. It's great to see that concept's still kind of working out in an era where it feels like we focus so much on specialization. I love to hear the opportunity and see what's going to happen next for you.

Speaker 2 (36:10):

Yeah. Thanks. I think to your point on specialization, I think it's a chance for me to, in some ways to UNS specialize and to be a little more broad. At the same time, China is a country and a culture that is more digitally advanced than we are in the states. I'm excited to learn about how the Chinese population. Shanghai is one of the technology epicenters of China and of the world in some ways. And to learn how they operate, financially, how they own and drive vehicles, how they shop for vehicles. There's 40 to 50 manufacturers of vehicles in China, way more than there are in the states. So the competition is intense and electrification is much more advanced in China as well. And so some good headwinds for us, some challenges, but ones that I'm excited to face.

Speaker 1 (37:10):

Well, download the WeChat app. Now, if you haven’t done it.

Speaker 2 (37:12):

I already have, yeah. I've started the WeChat and I've started my Mandarin lessons. So, learning each day.

Speaker 1 (37:21):

That’s awesome. Well, I'm looking forward to catching up with you at least another couple times, because I'd love to hear more around the executive presence. That's probably a whole other episode and love to catch up with you as you kind of get yourself settled in Shanghai. So wonderful. Thanks for the time for this episode. It's revealing some really fresh advice that you've really accumulated over the years, it’s always great to catch up with you Will.

Speaker 2 (37:48):

Thanks so much, Jim. Thanks for having me.

Speaker 1 (37:51):

Take care.