Marilee G. Harris

Vice-president of marketing,Coles Books Stores, TorontoHarris' first hands-on experience in marketing came in 1984 when she was named marketing operations manager at Toronto-based Hallmark Cards.Before the appointment, Harris spent six years gaining experience in different areas of Hallmark's operations division.Harris joined...

Vice-president of marketing,

Coles Books Stores, Toronto

Harris’ first hands-on experience in marketing came in 1984 when she was named marketing operations manager at Toronto-based Hallmark Cards.

Before the appointment, Harris spent six years gaining experience in different areas of Hallmark’s operations division.

Harris joined Hallmark shortly after graduating from York University in 1977 with a bachelor of arts degree.

In 1987, she continued her rise through the ranks at Hallmark, assuming the position of corporate administration director, responsible for strategic planning, corporate scheduling, cost estimating, research and communication.

The next year, she became director of product marketing, in charge of product management, merchandising and promotion.

In 1991, Coles Book Stores offered Harris the job of vice-president of marketing. She accepted and is currently responsible for strategic planning, purchasing, marketing and merchandising.

- Progressed through the ranks to the executive level at Hallmark more quickly than anyone else before her

- Reorganized Hallmark’s marketing function, effectively changing the company from being sales- and product-driven to being market-driven

We asked:

Q. Are you a believer in marketing by science or intuition?

A. ‘I believe successful marketing involves a balance of science and intuition. There are certain fundamental steps to follow in determining the critical priorities of a marketing strategy. The strategic planning could be termed, as you’ve suggested, the `scientific’ element.’

Clearly, the more successful programs also have a good balance of intuition as to the fit of an opportunity to this strategic plan. Whether this is considered intuition, common sense or good judgment, the quantitative aspect of responding to the customers’ expectations would appear to be consistently important in all successful campaigns.

In the final analysis, successful marketing can only be measured based on its profitable contributions to the business it serves.’

Q. Was there a significant turning point in your career?

A. ‘My initial reaction to the question was `No.’ I have benefited from a strong, steady progression through various job responsibilities in my career.

‘Upon reflection, however, an incident early in my career may well have been the turning point.

‘This involved a point where I had aspirations for career progression and I realized that as a female my chances for promotion were quite slim within the particular operating division to which I then reported.

‘Rather than accept this, I saw the opportunity to transfer into a division that had demonstrated a more equal opportunity-oriented practice of career development.

‘I also took stock of my skills and matched that to a business opportunity that would benefit both the company and myself.

‘The move did, in fact, accomplish both these goals and, I believe, reinforced my belief that opportunities are created as opposed to just happen. ‘

Q. Who or what influenced you the most in your marketing career?

A. ‘Experience as to the types of actions and programs that can be successful probably have had the greatest influence on me. Within marketing, the customer has to be the `who’ that has the greatest impact on success.’

Q. What is the most recent book you’ve read?

A. ‘Megatrends for Women, by Patricia Aburdene and John Naisbitt.’

Q. What book influenced you the most?

‘My cheque book. On a more serious note, Alexandra Ripley’s Scarlett, the sequel to Gone With the Wind, has been an important book for me. The reason relates to the opportunity that the launch of this book, in both hard cover and paperback, provided to me to better understand the exciting dynamics of the book publishing industry.’

What do you love most about the marketing business?

‘Clearly, what is unique about the marketing business is that everyone can have an opinion and input into this discipline. Unlike finance or information services, marketing is a very public/visible part of the business.

‘Marketing is real life. It is critical to maximizing the success of a soundly run operation. One’s feedback is in the satisfaction of the consumer, which means you are frequently rewarded and seldom finished.

‘There is a momentum to this profession which seems to breed increased creativity and resourcefulness, which can be quite satisfying.’

Creative/Strategic Sense

‘Marilee was one of the first people at Hallmark to recognize the company’s need to become more market-driven, as opposed to product- and sales-driven. She was very creative at encouraging her staff to integrate merchandising, promotions and product to gain the most from Hallmark’s retail presentation.’

‘Marilee brought Hallmark closer to our customers. She helped us focus more on our customers’ needs.’

‘Marilee is very aware of the changing demographics of the Canadian population and of how that might impact on sales.’

Management Skills

‘Marilee is very focussed on developing staff below her, and many of the people who worked under her have moved on to more significant positions in the company [Hallmark.]

‘Marilee is good at sharing information about the company, so you don’t have to feel you’re working in a void. You always had a sense of what your piece could contribute to the whole.’

‘Marilee expected people would rise to their best and as a result you often did. But I think there were times when she could have been more demanding.’

Business Sense

‘Whatever business she is involved in, she develops an interest in the association side of the industry.’

‘Marilee ultimately sat at the executive table at Hallmark. You don’t get there if you don’t have a strong sense of the larger business climate.’

Competitive Sense

‘Marilee was at times beset with a lot of self-doubt, as I guess a lot of intelligent people are. She wasn’t originally convinced she had the `right stuff,’ but once she realized she did, she became very aggressive about working her way up the corporate structure.’

‘Marilee progressed through the ranks at Hallmark faster than anyone else in the company, ever. This is because she gained experience in different areas early on in her career and also because she is a savvy marketer.’

Next issue: Stephen Plunkett, advertising manager, Ikea Canada, Burlington, Ont.