CMO Anthony Volpe of Social Discovery Ventures leads his team across multiple time zones and attracts consumers on a global scale
The fall of the automotive industry in Detroit in the 1970s and 1980s had a profound impact on Anthony Volpe. He witnessed firsthand the transformation of the entire Detroit metro area in which he lived: Families were losing their homes, buildings were boarded up, many city blocks were empty, and the unemployment rate was high.
The U.S. automotive industry should have been better prepared for the threat from Japanese automakers, according to Volpe, today Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) at Social Discovery Ventures, an international umbrella brand for a group of technology and software engineering companies that provide platforms for social discovery, personal development and online entertainment.
Detroit to Tokyo (via Los Angeles)
Marked by the experience growing up in Detroit and realizing that he wanted to be the type of businessperson who understood the world around him, Volpe left for Tokyo in 1989, when Japan was still on the rise. To finance his trip, he sold his sports car, gave up a “cool job” at a Los Angeles ad agency, and left his living space near the beach for a 250-sq-ft apartment in Tokyo.
““I’m comfortable with that massive mistake I made 20 years ago.””In his role at IBM in Japan, Volpe had to learn how to penetrate the Asia-Pacific market. That involved studying which markets had the greatest potential for revenue and profits, while understanding the costs of marketing within the different countries—not to mention the level of government regulation.
After his work with IBM, Volpe returned to his automotive roots, though this time working for a Japanese company selling automotive parts to the U.S. and European markets. Volpe delivered: As a result of his efforts, those regions increased annual sales from $2 million to $6 million.
Back in the U.S., consumer marketing roles at eBay, Travelocity, GM and Intel helped Volpe develop as a people manager, a brand steward and a master of integrated campaigns. His consultative approach to solving a company’s problems—whether that was IBM’s entry into the Chinese market, or a Japanese automotive supplier’s ability to sell products to Ford—is what helped prepare him for the CMO role.
As CMO, he oversees all marketing, social media, sponsorship and public relations activities for Social Discovery Ventures. Volpe manages five agencies in New York City, plus a team of 30, most of whom are located in Russia. Volpe’s toughest challenge is to marry the expertise of his team in Russia with that of the company’s agencies in New York City. And everything has to work seamlessly across thousands of miles and in three different time zones.
As CMO, Volpe has his work cut out for him. He is responsible for building a presence and acquiring and retaining new customers across the company’s online properties in the U.S., the company’s largest market, as well as worldwide, in a cost-effective and productive manner.
Transformed by Leadership
Hired by the company’s Chief Executive Officer, Volpe learned quickly that there was a lot of in-house expertise with affiliate and online marketing. There wasn’t, however, much experience with TV, radio and print advertising. These, he acknowledged, would be essential as the company invested in attracting key customers and bringing the same level of respectability to international online dating as that experienced by Match.com, for example.
Organizationally, the company is very flat, and his role has transformed him from a “command-and-control” leader into a one who’s more consultative, inspirational and persuasive. Most of his team sits in Russia, and he can’t exercise that type of control from afar. He focuses instead on giving broad objectives and coaching staff.
Volpe and his international team are going gangbusters: Social Discovery Ventures has increased revenues by 27 percent from 2012 to 2013, and the group is on course to increase year-over-year revenues by 25 percent in 2014.
It was a 20-year struggle to bring respectability to online dating, Volpe said, noting great strides have been made. He is focused on lending the same caché to international online dating and adventures. And no one’s standing in his way.♦
From Trauma to Triumph
Volpe had been hired by a Japanese automotive parts firm that was trying to sell to Ford in Detroit. The first non-Japanese member of the team in the company’s 20-year history, Volpe already had a battle brewing with the buyer at Ford—the man he’d have to convince to buy products from his employer in Japan. The buyer at Ford treated Volpe, as the only American on the team, like “window dressing” and belittled him throughout the process.
Then came the day of a big meeting with the Ford buyer, who was snarky and disrespectful toward Volpe, and Volpe let him have an earful. It got bad enough that he was banned from entering Ford’s purchasing building.
“I’m comfortable with that massive mistake I made 20 years ago,” Volpe said. “I’m an emotionally passionate person, but today I don’t let my emotions run away from me. I control my emotions in a business setting.”
An interesting footnote: Shortly after the incident with the Ford buyer, Volpe’s company won a new contract to sell them parts. This was a completely new strategic business shift for the company into the clutch-pack assembly business, and also for Ford, which had never outsourced this large-scale kind of assembly project. The win increased annual sales in the U.S. from $4 million to nearly $60 million, helping the company justify construction of a 138,000-sq-ft factory (the first overseas factory for its Japanese parent company) in Roanoke, Virginia.
Anthony's Key Partners:Fearless Group USA Inc. (Modern Marketing Communication) | Social 2B (Social Media)
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