Managing through the Pandemic, Acquiring Companies, and Inspiring Women
Marianne Fey has held numerous roles over her career in marketing and communications, but one has always been consistent: entrepreneur. Early in her career, Marianne built a regional advertising agency into a national retail powerhouse that was eventually acquired by global agency McCann Erickson. She remained as one of the firm’s senior executives, building high-performance teams in global graphics asset management, retail marketing, and brand marketing.
But Marianne was ready to get back into a more entrepreneurial space and decided to strike out on her own. It was during her time as an independent consultant that she began working with Banker & Brisebois, a marketing firm with a focus on retail, furniture, and manufacturers with retail programs.
In 2019, she had the opportunity to acquire B&B and what seemed like a straightforward sale turned into a battle to stay afloat as the world shut down for COVID-19 in early 2020.
WithIt: What led you to acquire Banker & Brisebois?
Marianne: After leaving the corporate advertising world, I was a consultant for companies that were in trouble, and that’s where I found this company. The owner was a 97-year-old man, and as a favor to someone in my network, I met with him to give him some help to spruce up the company before he sold it. I worked with the family for a while, but they were not willing to invest to modernize, something I thought was critical for its future. Then it hit me: “How about I buy it?” I loved the company because, at the time, it was 107 years old and with a great history in furniture. In fact, it started in the back of a furniture store in Detroit, Michigan. I believe the company had a lot of potential and I was excited to use my skills to see what was possible.
Typically, it takes at least a year to get a full understanding of a company and make changes, but I didn’t have that luxury. Just as we were coming out of our transition year, COVID hit. So, it was far from a “traditional” acquisition and was more of a fire drill.
WithIt: What are some of the lessons you learned through that period?
Marianne: The greatest lesson I learned was to trust my instincts. Actually, I didn’t learn it then, I confirmed it.
I would add that building strong relationships with your employees is the most important part of being a business owner, and that certainly happened through COVID. We used the time to grow as individuals, as a team, and as a company, and develop new programs and technologies for our clients.
Finally, ownership comes with huge risks. You must be willing to commit the time and energy and be able to manage not only through the peaks but also the valleys.
WithIt: You’ve been mastering marketing for some time. Do you have any tips for younger women coming into marketing?
Marianne: No one masters marketing because it’s always changing. What I would say to anyone coming into the industry is to take time to take a step back and learn beyond what your task is. Take time for yourself to understand your role, and how you can create value for the client and the team. Also, specializing is an advantage as marketing and media are increasingly more technical, but make sure you see how your role fits into a client’s entire brand plan.
WithIt: Are there any things you do in your position to help younger women trying to get into the industry?
Marianne: I love to provide not only employment to women but also mentor women who may be interested in entrepreneurship and ownership. WithIt provides an avenue and I’ve been involved in other organizations that focus on empowering women. I acquired this agency it because I love this work. My role is to make it the best company I can, and my vision is to have a group of women behind me who can take over ownership and continue the legacy of this organization.
WithIt: When and how did you decide to join WithIt?
Marianne: It was during COVID. I was on the phone with a colleague and client about six months into ownership, and she asked me if I had heard of WithIt. I looked into it and started as an event sponsor and then became a corporate member. A network like WithIt is hugely valuable, both as a business owner and an industry professional. WithIt has a strong presence with women at all levels from just out of college to senior-level executives.
Through WithIt I have received business, service, and staff referrals. It’s the first place I go when I need help because members generously act as sounding boards when I have an idea, or I need fresh eyes on something.
Business ownership can be lonely. During COVID-19, I wasn’t able to take advantage of local networks in person, so the broad network of colleagues in WithIt helped get us all through it.
Marianne’s story inspires us to continue to take chances on ourselves and create pathways for the women coming after us. We cannot wait to see what she does in the future!