To paraphrase Shakespeare: Some are born marketers, some achieve marketing greatness, and some have marketing thrust upon them. Trish Mueller, it could be argued, rings all three of those bells. Her grandfather and uncles were all retailers, toiling at Sears, Montgomery Ward, and JCPenney, and she put in 15 years at Ward’s herself. Coming up the ranks, all her mentors were men. (“It’s a good thing. That’s who was running the show!” she says.) And it was her dad who gave Mueller her work ethic when he told her she’d have to work hard at both school and a job because he wouldn’t be able to afford college tuition for her.
Today Mueller guides marketing strategy for one of the world’s largest retailers, encompassing 2,000 stores. Digitally, she’s been the standard bearer of Home Depot in Web operations, search, social media, email, and display. She’s been a huge proponent of using mobile and social technology to provide shoppers with a personalized one-on-one connection. “We call the mobile phone ‘the store in the customer’s pocket,’” Mueller says.
Marketing strategy: To keep ourselves focused on what really matters, we have life-size cut outs of two key customers in our conference rooms and boardroom. Their thought bubbles say: “What’s in it for me?”
Winning ways: Through the Georgia Diversity Council, I cofounded In Girls, which helps me give back to the community by immersing 8th grade girls in the possibilities and opportunities available to them when they enter high school. I’ve accomplished so much at work, but I’m most proud of what I’m able to do outside of my job to make a difference in the future of young girls.
Defining moment: Deciding to leave Montgomery Ward because I couldn’t advance. It was liberating to leave a 15-year career and move into “real-time” retailing in the home shopping space. It was much easier after that to get out of my comfort zone and follow my career opportunities to new heights.
Trend watching: Mobile, mobile, mobile. It’s the one thing everyone seems to always have with them; it’s a direct connection—if properly done—to the customer. It’s constantly changing and evolving, which is very exciting.
Words to live by: “The first step toward success is taken when you refuse to be a prisoner of the environment in which you first find yourself,” by Mark Caine. Charlie Hayden, then EVP of the home division at Wards, gave me a clock with that quote on it in 1996. It hangs on my wall to this day as a reminder that, to effect change, you have to continually challenge everything around you to get to the best outcome.
Good read: Games Mother Never Taught You by Betty Harragan. A woman mentor gave it to me in 2000, when I achieved my first SVP promotion and entered the C-suite. While some of the references may be dated, the basic premise still holds: If you want to succeed in business, you must understand men and how they think.
Good advice: Be prepared to amplify your learning and continually study human behavior. You cannot market to people you do not know. If you truly understand the audience, you’ll speak from a position of authority and the efforts you make in your field will be successful—and so will you.