Julie Roehm is one of the most respected and well-known marketing executives currently active in the business community. At just over 30 years old, she had already been inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame and Automotive Hall of Fame for her work with DaimlerChrysler. And that was just the beginning of a transformational career.
Roehm has always been a proponent of customer-centric operations, and her work optimizing customer experiences over the past three decades continues to inspire young marketers and senior executives alike.
How did Julie Roehm start her career? And what challenges and inspirations led her to become one of today’s top minds in business? She reflects on the history of her remarkable career below.
From Engineer to MBA
Julie Roehm attended an all-girls Catholic high school, and she did not have her sights set on becoming a business executive. “I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, and the counselor said, ‘You’re good in math and science, you should be an engineer.’
Roehm was accepted to Purdue University and completed 5-year bachelors of civil engineering program with a major in environmental engineering before realizing that engineering wasn’t her calling.
“What I did love was talking about the strategy, why we were making some of the changes, and why the engineers had to do some of the things they had to do,” she says. “And I was like, ‘Maybe I should just go to business school.’” Without missing a beat, Roehm started her MBA at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
Roehm didn’t know it at the time, but her education in both engineering and business would contribute to her unique style of leadership that has brought transformational success to many major companies.
“Everything I do is led from a customer lens and then it falls from there. That’s probably the engineer in me,” she says.
Julie Roehm is known for her focus on the customer experience above all else. Her engineering background trained her to always think of the practical applications of her decisions and how they affect the customer. This mindset would help her orchestrate some of the most successful marketing campaigns and business innovations in recent decades.
“Grab Life by the Horns”
Roehm’s engineering background also helped her secure her first job in the automotive industry. She began her career at Ford Motor Company, where she was tapped to launch the Focus brand in the US Market. “It was a huge success,” she recalls. “That sort of put me on the map for marketing.”
At just over 30 years old, she moved to DaimlerChrysler and was given the task of managing the failing Dodge brand. Roehm successfully resurrected Dodge and turned it into one of the company’s most successful brands in just a few short years. She was responsible for bringing back the Hemi engine and coining the slogan: Grab Life by the Horns.
“When I got there, we were losing $2 billion per year. When I left, Chrysler was making $2.5 billion and a tiny little plaque with my name on it now resides in the Automotive Hall of Fame,” she says. “Along the way, I was also named ‘Marketer of Year’ by BrandWeek and named among Brand Innovators’ ‘Top 50 Women in Brand Marketing.’”
More than Marketing
After her work with DaimlerChrysler, Julie Roehm sought to look beyond marketing and improve the customer experience from the operational side as well.
One of her most impressive disruptions was digitizing the auto body repair customer experience as CMO of ABRA Autobody & Glass, an auto repair brand with 600 locations. “Collision shops are one of the few industries that I can think of that the digital evolution revolution completely passed by,” she says.
She created digital touchpoints that simplified the process of exploring auto repair options and accessing products and services. “In a world where you can order a pizza online and know when the pepperoni’s being put on and how many minutes are left in the oven, it just felt like you should have that level of ease and transparency for something as important as getting your car repaired,” she explains.
Customers immediately embraced the modernized system that Roehm implemented, and the company’s earnings skyrocketed.
“We were able to change the fortunes of that company dramatically,” she says. “The increase in conversion of customer claims to repair orders drove $80 to $100 million in EBITDA.”
“Omnichannel is the Future”
In the current business environment, Julie Roehm is a major proponent of omnichannel strategies. Her recent innovations have involved implementing omnichannel to improve customer experiences.
She did this successfully while serving as Chief Experience Officer of Party CIty, a major retailer with 850+ locations.
When the pandemic hit, Roehm was forced to pivot to meet drastically altered customer needs. “The shutdown of in-person services taught us the importance [of omnichannel communication] and its staying power,” she says. Roehm set up omnichannels to improve digital experiences and launched a same day delivery and curbside delivery service to bring products to customers without the need to step into a store. Her innovations resulted in an 80% increase in digital sales.
Now, Roehm focuses most of her energy on developing omnichannel strategies and removing barriers between various consumer touchpoints.
“By connecting individual customer touchpoints across a variety of channels, brands can improve customer satisfaction, brand loyalty, and ultimately, increase revenue and sales,” she says. “The future is certainly omnichannel.”
Learning from Bumps in the Road
Julie Roehm has learned a lot about success—and the roadblocks that prevent it—over her nearly 30-year career. “I may not always be right, but I am always pushing and never complacent,” she says. One of the most unexpected obstacles she encountered was the dysfunction that occurs when an executive doesn’t mesh well with company culture.
Roehm shares a quote: “Culture eats strategy for lunch.”
Trying to implement a strategy that doesn’t integrate with a company’s culture is a recipe for failure. This is because teams and cooperation are so important. Everything needs to work like a well-oiled machine, and strategy is certainly part of that. “It doesn’t matter who you are, how good you are, or what your skills are,” she says. “It’s all about the team and the culture that you’re in, and it has to be compatible.”
Roehm advises business people to not only follow their ambition but also their gut. Finding a cultural fit is just as important as finding a company that fits one’s expertise and aspirations.
Defining a Transformational Mindset
Julie Roehm is an expert in transformational change, innovation, and business disruption. She‘s not afraid to make bold moves in order to keep up with rapidly changing customer expectations. But this mindset is not something she was born with. She developed it over time, and other business people can do the same.
Roehm is lucky to have an educational background in both engineering and business. This allows her to clearly understand the two most important aspects of business development: management and engineering. Her management expertise provides perspective on operations, and engineering keeps her mindful of the practical applications of a product or service.
Her marketing experience furthers her skillset by enabling her to communicate effectively using narrative or storytelling. This is absolutely essential when planning or promoting a customer’s journey.
Roehm understands that successful business people don’t stay in their lane. They understand how different departments work and how different team members operate, and they are not afraid to explore those areas. Roehm filled in for the role of CTO for three months. She ran a call center. She was on the floor at auto body shops to understand customer experiences. She worked in warehouses even though she was in an executive position. She ran an e-commerce platform.
“I was given the moniker of ‘best athlete’ by one of the principles of a firm,” she recalls, jokingly. “If you really want to be successful, you’ve got to be partnered with all of the people who are experts and become a bit more of an expert yourself. You need to understand the worlds of your peers. And you need to have some operational know-how and a willingness to get into the details. I am not afraid to be a generalist.”
Future business leaders are encouraged to cultivate a mindset similar to Julie Roehm’s. Today’s business environment is faster moving and more unpredictable than ever. Roehm has proven that being a “generalist,” embracing omnichannel strategies, and keeping the customer experience at the core of every decision are traits that reward career-spanning success.