On the Rise: Heather Barnes
Strategic marketing manager for the automotive group | GreatAmerica Financial Services Corp. | Age: 27
What was your first job in the industry?
I entered the automotive world as a strategic marketing manager for GreatAmerica Financial Services. I align our strategies with our customers to provide the best programs, promotions, and support.
What attracted you to the industry?
While I was working in a different industry prior to the automotive world, one thing stayed the same: the industry is populated by and run by men. I knew from my past experiences that this type of environment would pose unique challenges that I welcomed in helping shape myself professionally. While it may be hard to stand out initially, being one of a few women in the industry gives me a great opportunity to really break out and be known for my work.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?
I originally worked in chemical manufacturing, so learning a new industry, customer set, and how to effectively market to customers was a challenge. I currently hold a position that didn't exist prior to my employment so it required me to hit the ground running and adapt quickly in order to get up to speed supporting our customers.
Who has had the biggest influence on your career?
My boss, Steve, is an information warehouse. He has an excellent track record and has moved up through the ranks at an accelerated rate. He has been a key factor in shaping my role in our company. His cooperative leadership style has helped force me out of my comfort zone. In general GreatAmerica has a philosophy that is surrounded by excellent customer service. Being there to support our customers starts with supporting each other internally. This foundation has enabled me to reach the highest levels of customer support and service, and professional development, and has integrated me into our industry.
What is your biggest accomplishment in the industry?
Less than 90 days from my start date we had a once-per-10-year trade show to support one of our largest, long-standing customers. It was my job to get fully integrated with key members within their company and work with them to provide the best support, everything from the nitty-gritty to full scale promotions and themes for the show. It ended up being our most successful show with them, and I was recognized with a High Achiever award that is presented by our founder and CEO. To this day I'm still an integral part of that relationship and it really helped catapult our relationship to the next level. I keep my award on my desk to remind me of the great work I can accomplish under such pressure and time-constraints, and I constantly strive for that same customer support level with every one of our partners.
What do you expect to be doing 20 years from now?
I’d like to be the marketing director for all our hard-asset business units (similar go-to-market strategies), but I’m sure that will change over time. The great thing about where I work is we don’t have a structured, hierarchical organizational chart, meaning you can create the job you want as you grow.
What’s the biggest issue facing the industry today?
Changing technology is always a risk. We can only provide our customers with the GreatAmerica experience by keeping up to date with technology, making sure our integrations into their systems are seamless, and that our offerings make their lives easier. One risk specific to our financing segment of the automotive industry is the way our customers price their products and services. I see a trend where our customers are lowering the options we have to finance. This can be through lowering or completely discarding the one time, upfront fees, or by switching to a monthly, in-house contract. As more of these changes are made, we need to be quick to adapt to make sure we’re still providing something that benefits our customers as well as the end-user.
What’s the one thing you wish someone would have told you before you entered the industry?
How different our brand of financing would be from a lot of the players in the industry. It was easy to assume that financing would be closer to my experience financing my car or my mortgage. GreatAmerica is so much more than a finance company, and we seek to be full-service consultants to our partners. It makes marketing less about the actual financing and more about the relationships and value-adds. It’s a unique way of marketing business-to-business services and provides its own unique challenges and opportunities along the way.
How do you encourage others to enter the industry?
None of your customers are the same so you get to meet a lot of really interesting people at all levels. Whether it’s a repair shop owner or a multi-location dealership manager, everyone wants something a little different and they interact with their customers in unique ways. It’s great practice for strategically listening to your customers and coming up with possible solutions for each situation. No matter what industry you’re coming from, the automotive industry is a great place to improve your skills, and it helps that our customers are fun.
Tell us about your family.
My younger brother and I were born and raised (for 19 years) in Hong Kong, China. My parents moved there from Connecticut roughly 30 years ago. I’m often referred to as a “Third Culture Kid” or a “TCK.” I was raised by American parents in a Chinese country that was under British rule until 1997. I gained a lot of up-close exposure to many different cultures all at once. I wouldn’t trade it for anything!
What’s your favorite weekend activity?
Anything outdoors, whether it’s hiking, paddleboarding, cycling, running, or music or food festivals. I love to be outside.
What keeps you up at night?
Thinking about the future. I have great aspirations for myself both professionally and personally and I want to achieve them all. And sometimes it’s my snoring boyfriend!
Tell us something about yourself others might not know.
Not a lot of people know I’m originally from Hong Kong. Fewer know I play the piano at a level seven (almost professionally), but still fewer know that I play the harp. I have a lot of random talents when it comes to instruments, chess, speaking languages, origami, knitting/crocheting, mountaineering, random animal facts, etc. I’m great on a trivia team! I’ve always loved experiencing and trying new things and never hesitate to learn.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Binge-watching TV shows. I’m picky about the shows I watch, but when I find a good one, I love when a whole season is available. Anyone that knows me knows I love to talk through movies and TV shows guessing where the story is going and how it’s going to end. I’ve become really good at guessing the end of movies in the first 15 minutes!
Name a talent you wish you had.
I wish I could sing well. Don’t get me wrong, I sing all the time, sometimes not to the liking of others, but I love to sing. Music can really move people and be empowering. I wish I had the kind of voice that could give people chills. But I guess I can settle for jamming out during rush hour and playing my steering wheel drum solos!
What’s your favorite food?
Dim sum! It’s a lot of small snack-sized dumplings that you can share. They’re delicious and definitely a treat since it’s hard to find good dim sum in Georgia.
If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
Condoleezza Rice. I’ve always had great respect for her professional career and how she handles herself. I’ve always thought she would make a great president of the U.S., but she’s smart enough to know most of the great work she does happens behind the scenes. I would love the chance to have dinner with her, pick her brain, and hopefully gain some great advice from a powerful woman leader.
If we took your cell phone away and said it would cost you $1,000 to get it back, how long would you survive until you paid the ransom?
I could probably last the weekend. I like to be outdoors and technology can sometimes distract from the beauty around us. I will say this though: I could get a new phone for less than $1,000, so I’d rather do that than pay the ransom!