interview five - part one / Three
Casey Hurbis, CMO – Quicken Loans
Casey hosted us at the Quicken Loans headquarters in the heart of Detroit’s financial district, where we dove into his background.
What drew you to marketing and advertising?
I grew up in a blue-collar household. I was the first kid in my extended family to go to a university. Blue-collar family but moved to a white-collar area, we were fortunate enough to move to a white-collar area. The opportunity to go to college was there. I went to Michigan State University, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was an undecided major, and like anything else in life you start to meet people and I had somebody in our neighborhood that was in advertising. He was an executive at an ad agency and he used to get tickets to a lot of sporting events. And I was like, “well that’s kinda cool.” Here I am growing up in a blue-collar neighborhood and you know, dad worked hard but couldn’t really afford to take us to things. I had a pretty cool neighbor; I cut his grass, took care of a few errands for him and stuff and he’d always give me tickets. I said “what do you do to get all these tickets?” And he said, “I’m in advertising.”
I just started gravitating towards advertising and marketing. I was at Michigan State my sophomore year and loved the program. I was an Advertising major in the Communications Arts and Sciences. It’s funny, I was just telling someone today, I graduated in ’93 — it’ll be 25 years this year that I graduated from university — and I feel like I’m the only dude still in advertising after 25 years.
What I love about advertising and marketing is it’s a perfect cross-section of entertainment and education. You want to be able to educate and engage somebody, I’ve always been a firm believer of that. I’ve been fortunate enough to work on brands that allow for a certain level of entertainment while also engaging.
I was drawn to the marketing and advertising world in college and started with an ad agency right out of college. It was like Mad Men circa 1993. All 22/23-year-old kids making probably not even minimum wage, but we got some tickets to events and corporate happy hours and all that stuff and all of a sudden I thought it was a cool industry. I’ve loved it ever since. In some ways, I still feel like I’m that 23-year-old kid, but times have moved on.
What do you think the biggest difference is between client side and agency side [of marketing]?
I did 17 years on the agency side right out of school, and that’s all I ever knew. I worked at one of the largest agencies in the world at the time (mid 2000s)— Omnicom, BBDO Worldwide and BBDO Detroit. BBDO Detroit was the sole agency for Chrysler Corporation. At the height of the business, BBDO Detroit had 2,000 team members working on the Chrysler account. It was, at the time, the largest singularly held client-agency relationship I think in the world. That was a great run. Chrysler went into bankruptcy in 2009-10, and as they emerged out of bankruptcy, they decided to move on from their agency relationship.
Chrysler was with BBDO for 65 years. The ship was taking on water, and I don’t want to use these analogies necessarily, but bankruptcy was very scary for a lot of people. They either retired and took the retirement or they left before that happened.
Bottom line was that employment levels were the lowest since the 1920s, and when they went to go turn the lights back on, there wasn’t really anyone left. The agency had been let go and the employment levels were lower. We wanted to know— how do we go back to market? Go find the agency. Well, the agency was no longer there. Where were the people? The good people really jumped onto great opportunities, as I had, so Chrysler wanted to go grab some of them. A good handful of us moved over to the corporate side. Moving over from the agency thankfully for me was very easy. I was warned it might be difficult, but I think it was easy because I always worked on the retail side of the business, I worked on the business and in the business.
What I could tell you was appreciated on both sides of the table was that I understood the agency process. I understood and respected why something took as long as it did or why something cost as much as it did. On the flip side, I also held the agencies very accountable since I knew the other side.
My biggest fear was that I was going to become “that” guy or “that” client. I thought I was going to become out of touch with reality, how an agency-client relationship should work. I didn’t want to get to a point where there was a perception or a reality that I didn’t know how to work. I’ve always been someone that’s been in the ditch. I’ll pick up a piece of paper as quickly as anyone else, and my biggest fear about going to the corporate side was that I’d start getting up into the atmosphere a little too high. I understand what it takes to be on the ground level, and at that time coming out of a bankruptcy it was still touch and go.
But biggest difference moving from one side to the other was having the responsibility of signing the check versus asking to have the check signed. Just being a steward of doing the right thing on behalf of the corporation.
I’ve always been in the mindset of act like it’s your own money. Is it a good decision for the company? If you have that mentality then you should make pretty solid business decisions along the way.
I’ve always had an agency mentality, a leadership mentality. I was the Marketing Director for Fiat doing Super Bowl campaigns and launching vehicles, but at the end of the day I felt like I had a client, the global CMO and Sergio Marchionne [Former CEO of Fiat], so I always maintained that agency leadership mentality where we all have clients. I wasn’t the stopgap.
What do you mean by an agency mindset?
Do whatever it takes to get the job done. Do whatever it takes, within all respective reasons without being reckless. We have “ISMs” here— it’s all about yes before no, believe it when you see it. That’s one of the things that really excites me about [Quicken Loans]. It’s the founding principles of guiding. The guiding vision of leadership and these “ISMs.” Quite honestly, when I came in here and interviewed for this, I didn’t know what an “ISMs” was, and I took [ISMs In Action] home and read it. It spoke to me because it was a 3rd grade level, anyone could read it and get it. I bought in from the beginning.