Trisha Habucke is the Digital Retail Experience Director at Ford Motor Company. A pioneer in the digital space, Trisha led the team that developed and launched the first comprehensive shopping site for Ford, as well as was managing and funding a Digital Innovation lab that captured two Marketing Technology patents.
Trisha attended Northwood University where she earned degrees in Marketing and Computer Science. To keep her skills fresh, she recently obtained a Certificate in Website Coding and HTML from Cornell University’s eLearning Program.
Trisha’s awards include 2019 Crain’s Automotive Women of Stem, 2015 Business Insider’s List of Women in Mobile, and 2014 Mobile Marketer Women to Watch.
DealerOn: You’re the Digital Retail Director at Ford. In practical terms, what do you do for them?
Trisha Habucke: I manage a team of 8 people who work strictly on Tier 3 company/dealer initiatives. The team works to ensure that our dealers have the proper digital tools to do everything from lot management, to marketing, selling and fixed operations. We now even assist with used vehicles. We work with our 3100 Ford and 900 Lincoln dealers. Each member of my team leads a digital discipline/specialty: Leads, Advertising, SEM/SEO, Websites, eCommerce, Fixed Operations, Asset Creation and Management, and Innovative Selling Tools. We also manage the multi million-dollar Ford Advertising Co-op Program.
DealerOn: How did you get your job at Ford?
Trisha Habucke: I hired into Ford 35 years ago. I was hired into a division of Ford called Dealer Computer Services. In 1985, business computers were new and I was sent into the field to help dealers come off paper books and move onto computers. Every night the dealer would send their accounting and fixed ops information to Ford for batch processing then the information was sent back to populate accounting and service records. This created the industry’s first DMS system. In 1990 this Division of over 200 people was sold to Bob Brockman’s company UCS which is now Reynolds and Reynolds.
DealerOn: Your biography consistently mentions your command of technology as an important part of what you do. Could you please expand on that? In what ways do you use technology, and how has that changed in your time in the industry?
Trisha Habucke: As background, I went to a small college in Midland, Michigan that specialized in Dealership operations. It is called Northwood University. Many, many dealer kids go there. In the early ’80s, the college tried to diversify itself and offer business degrees and a new curriculum in Computer Science. I learned to code on a Radio Shack TRS80, but most importantly I learned the concept of logic.
This background steered me into the Marketing technologies adopted by Ford over the years. I was never in IT. I was on the cutting edge of computers, websites, mobile, hands-free (SYNC), geo-fencing, etc. In other words, for 35 years I have used new technology to solve age old sales problems. In 2009 my team launched the first mobile site and we sold 35,000 units that year via mobile. There was no one from IT on the team, it was all marketing people like me with a bit of a tech flair in them, and a small vendor willing to cut their teeth on a Ford project. This company has since been bought by Apple.
As a matter of fact, when I finally rose to a level where I had a budget, I took chances on a lot of small digital companies. Five years ago, I attended a Mobile Marketing Association summit in Napa. There were many owners of mobile companies there who had morphed from these early digital vendors that I had invested in and gave them their first chance. A group took me to dinner to thank me for making them rich. The more I drank, the more I realized there was something wrong with that picture. 😊
DealerOn: You frequently mention that you often translate complicated tech terms for your colleagues. How have you developed that skill, and how did that responsibility fall to you?
Trisha Habucke: I developed that skill as a sales/survival tactic. Like I stated, during the years I have been active in the business, I have borne witness to the introduction of many marketing technologies. Early on, I had to sell my ideas to older dealers and managers who didn’t even use computers so I had to think of analogies. Even today, most business people aren’t technical and depend on IT to do the dirty work. I prefer to bring these technologies into my marketing world since I will have to use them to execute, measure and then calculate the ROI. Each time I had, or have, to do this I thought of simple comparisons.
- Batch processing became throwing all the ingredients for turkey dinner in a pan, locking the oven shut so no one can peek, and having it all bake while you sleep. Then when you come to work you have a fully cooked meal on a fully set table.
- The Internet became a mall in the sky. ISPs became trains that took you to the mall, each train had a different name such as Yahoo and AOL and to ride the train you had to pay $20(no Gmail yet). An @ address became your permanent seat number on the train. Email became messages the conductor left on your seat (obviously I was working with some mental giants in those days 😊)
- Beacons were like the people who counted your ticket at the door of a concert. Once you enter through the door, we may not know your name, but we know you are there.
RAD design for mobile became “auto smoosh” so that we didn’t have to make 2 sites. Embarrassingly, that worked.
- Not investing in new technology that supports the underpinnings of websites is like putting $100 per roll wallpaper on the wall of a house with a crumbling foundation.
You get the idea.
DealerOn: What are the unique challenges you’ve faced as a woman in a male-dominated space? How have you met and surpassed them?
Trisha Habucke: I would not say the challenges were, or are, unique. They have been very typical of a large, male-dominated company. Men and women think very differently. As soon as a woman realizes this, the easier it is to survive. And let me clear, one way of thinking is not better than the other. Brought together, they produce solid POVs and remarkable results. The problem is created when women are intentionally excluded as they often are. In 1985, I was part of the first group of women who went into the field to call on dealers. I call us “The Original Car Girls.” There were big unique challenges then, as most dealers were not used to seeing female faces representing “the factory.” Many could not separate the fact that we were women from the fact that we were businesspeople. I think some of their behavior was just plain awkwardness versus maliciousness. I was young and this was very hard and often demoralizing. I knew I was forging a new path for women, so I sucked it up.
“…my team launched the first mobile site and we sold 35,000 units that year via mobile. There was no one from IT on the team, it was all marketing people like me with a bit of a tech flair in them, and a small vendor willing to cut their teeth…”
I haven’t always surpassed these challenges or handled them well. When I was younger, I fought for representation and inclusion. In the middle of my career when I understood marketing tech more than some of my highly paid male managers, I became a bit angry because often they presented my work as their own or embarrassed me into retreat. For example, I was never able to sell in mobile service alerts in 2005. Our Senior Sales manager at the time “didn’t think cell phones would take off.” Um…ok. I now know a young man was given the green light a few months later by the same manager. In 2006, our team went to a large CRM conference, and a very early geo-targeting concept was discussed. I had recently read an article about mobile geo-alerts used in Vegas to entice gamblers to come into a casino. I raised my hand, took the microphone, and asked the presenter if he had heard of this concept and could we ever use it to deliver incentive alerts when a customer came into a dealership. In front of everyone, the head of our IT department apologized for my question and said, “Trisha has been reading too much Harry Potter.” Um, ok…how humiliating. Years later an article was published heralding my geo work at Bonnaroo.
Now that I am older, I survive by really understanding the current arena. It’s like the cartoon on LinkedIn going around. “A man who talks a lot and holds court is a confident leader. A woman who speaks up is aggressive.” I still speak up, but I now realize the sad fact that I must often times be self-deprecating so as not to lose my male audience. Also, a very important thing to consider is that I am the very last of the pension babies. Leaving my company and the giving up the rich retirement benefits was never an option for someone like me, so I learned to adapt and reinvent myself to survive in a male world. Sometimes when I look back, I do become sad.
My knowledge and capabilities should have led to a better compensated career. I know for a fact that the men who started in that computer division in 1985 have reached the heights at my company and they have made much more money. My parents gave me the skills to be strong, smart and an outspoken leader. When I applied these skills over the years, I was labeled as aggressive and difficult. When I was very persistent in getting my point across, I was labeled belligerent. Just the other day, a male worker talked to me about being difficult. I looked at him and said “Great, but I’m still here 35 years later and selling millions of dollars’ worth of vehicles every day. What have you done today besides ‘coach’ me?”
“You need to find a group of other women to provide insight and advice and join forces for change.”
DealerOn: Do you have any advice for other women who admire your success and would like to emulate you?
Trisha Habucke: First, these days there is so much choice. There are so many new and modern companies that welcome women and value our diverse perspective. If I were just beginning my career, I would seek these companies out and include them in my job search. Actually, during COVID, we lost many talented women to large tech companies and home improvement giants who are actively recruiting talented women. If a young woman is intent on the autos then I would say really understand that this is a rough, often dirty, global, 24/7, male-dominated industry. That will never change.
You need to find a group of other women to provide insight and advice and join forces for change. If nothing else, find a group of women who will allow you to vent and assure you that you are not crazy and there is something funky going on. Also, you must adapt a bit of a secret male mindset. As far as emulating my career…. long ago, in 1999, I decided I was going to be job focused vs career driven. I decided to take advantage of all the things a large corporation had to offer. I changed jobs every couple of years, took every class I could, joined every business trip and business dinner, took the project no one wanted (those included the very first comprehensive website, mobile strategy, and the secret SYNC launch site) and never stopped learning.
Just last year, at 57 years of age, I received a HTML front-end certificate and a JAVA back-end certificate from eCornell because no one else in Marketing wanted to take the class. Most importantly, keep at it. No one ever said it was going to be easy. Contrary to popular belief, life is long, and it takes a long time to be successful. We are not all Kardashians. 😊