This Top JPMorgan Chase Executive Says: “Don’t Do Anything That Doesn’t Give You Joy”
Donna Vieira is Chief Marketing Officer at Chase Consumer Banking, and her portfolio is vast. She oversees marketing and advertising for the nation’s largest bank, in addition to more granular but important details, such as the look and feel of more than 5,000 branches that serve nearly half of all U.S. households. She’s tasked with building Chase’s cohesive story in a rapidly changing digital environment, in which brands must be personally connected to customers—while adapting to an increasingly complex environment. She can safely be described as one of the most influential executives in American marketing.
In the following Q&A, Vieira talks about her path from the Caribbean to Canada for university, career mobility, and the value of remaining authentic.
Tell us why you traveled from the Caribbean to Canada for university.
I grew up in Trinidad, and one of our neighbors had two children who were both at a university in New Brunswick, Canada. My parents spoke with her, and that was it. There was no visiting the university ahead of time, as is common place today. I was given a plane ticket, and my luggage, and told to buy some winter clothes.
You studied business, and eventually built a career in marketing. Why?
I learned so much about business from my father, who was very entrepreneurial. Anything you can think of—buttons, clothing—he sold. He got into the insurance sales business, and eventually built his own company. It was like a mini-conglomerate—a combination of real estate property development, an automobile rental company, and then—the core business—insurance sales. I was always fascinated by how businesses were built, and how to drive results.
What were your first steps after university?
I graduated from university and came to the US a couple months later. I’d just married, and we arrived at JFK airport with two suitcases. I remember my husband and I looking at each other and saying, “If we lose one suitcase, that’s 50% of our property!” Soon, I landed my first job at USA Today, in the credit department.
What was it like?
The truth is, I had zero interest in the credit department, but it was a means to an end. I gave myself 6 months to get into a more interesting department.
How did you make the transition to marketing?
I’d pass by someone’s office and see that the person was the vice president of sales and marketing. So, I figured, she must be a good person to talk to. I literally knocked on doors, sat down and started having conversations. I was so persistent that, after a while, people said, “Please give this young woman a job in this group so she could stop walking into my office.”
I knew I needed to be self-reliant, and to make myself visible, because I had no contacts here in the US. All of my contacts were in Canada, or the Caribbean. So I had to figure it out myself.
What did you learn from talking to people?
It quickly became clear that I was interested in the advertising business. So I joined the Advertising Club of New York, and when the organization’s young professional’s group held panel discussions, I’d show up and listen to the industry experts. That’s key—just showing up. One of the people I met was the head of the Association of Magazine Media (then known as Magazine Publishers Association). I approached him and said, “I’m interested in advertising, and maybe magazines.” Eventually, he hired me as a marketing research analyst. This is the job that taught me the importance of data and understanding customer insights.
How and why’d you make the transition from publishing to advertising—and, eventually, financial services?
I was fortunate to move into the advertising agency business. I was an account executive, and one of the industries I focused on was financial services. And the truth is, I didn’t enjoy it.
I realized I preferred to be in the driver’s seat. So, I went to the client side. My first client-side job was at Dow Jones. I was head of circulation marketing for The Wall Street Journal and Barron’s.
For years, a recruiter had been asking me to talk with some of his clients. Eventually, I agreed to meet with American Express. I liked the environment, in part because it reminded me of some of the things I liked about the advertising agency life: it was high-energy—I’m a high-energy person—and it was marketing driven.
I joined American Express, running acquisitions in the small business services group. Over the years I held several roles in the credit card and lending businesses from customer acquisition and loyalty to new product development and ultimately became a general manager. I learned so many new skills. Success required an understanding of customer research, pricing, profit-and-loss, and you have to deeply understand how you market.
How did you come to Chase?
It’s all about relationships. And it started with Eileen Serra who is one of my dearest mentors. We worked together at American Express. She left American Express, and eventually moved to Chase, where she became CEO of credit card business. When Chase was looking for a new head of marketing and product for Business Banking, she had them call me.
What’s the most misunderstood thing about career mobility?
There will be people who will support you, and who will sponsor you. And the environment has to be receptive to career mobility. But ultimately, you’re responsible for making sure that people understand what you want to do—and where you want to go. You have to make sure you’re building relationships constantly.
How did you learn about the importance of relationships?
I’ve always been a driver of excellent results. Early in my career, I thought that was enough. I thought, “I don’t have time for cocktails, I’ve got work to do.” Thankfully, one senior executive said to me, “To be successful, you can’t just keep your head down and just do well. As you get more senior in your career, you’ve got to keep building relationships. Networking is part of your job—it’s not an afterthought.”
I’ve learned that being open to building relationships helps you do your job more effectively. There’s stuff to be learned by engaging colleagues.
The digital marketing landscape is changing constantly. How do you stay ahead of the curve?
You’ve got to be constantly curious. The truth is, you can learn from anyone. I have an 18-year-old daughter. She’ll text or email me and say, “look at this.” Of course, I learn from industry conferences. I’m responsible for the look and feel of Chase’s branches. So, when I go into stores, I pay a lot of attention to how people shop—how they touch and look at merchandise. I’ve learned that, by being present and open to new experiences, you keep things fresh.
I also learn from constant engagement with companies who are leaders in the digital space—from agencies, to media companies, to financial technology firms. I also speak at conferences focused in the digital space. There’s no one way to stay engaged.
What do you read or listen to?
I read a lot of magazines—Fortune, Travel & Leisure, Money, and the Economist. I read the Wall Street Journal everyday—it has a special place in my heart. In fact, the paper still comes to the house—I like to curl up at home, on the weekends, and just read. But I also read all kinds of books, especially mysteries.
We live in a time of information overload. How do you keep focused, and perspective?
I’m extremely disciplined. But one of my goals for 2017 is to be more spontaneous. People who know me will tell you that if it’s 4:30a.m., Donna is at the gym. If I have a presentation due in two weeks—well, two weeks before, it’s going to be done.
What is the key to remaining authentic?
I’m very clear about who I am. My responsibility to myself is to be joyous, in all situations—at home, and work. If you’re really living your best life, you have to begin from a place of authenticity. Otherwise, you’ll always have a tension within yourself. Don’t do anything that doesn’t give you joy.