Mercury Marine has long partnered with the Marine Mechanics Institute in Orlando to produce some of the finest marine mechanics in the world. One of those mechanics, Kaitlyn Schneider, has been thriving for the past two years at Lakeside Marina in Oshkosh, ...
Leading the Mercury Marine marketing function with bold authenticity.
A lot people in the marine industry share a similar past: a childhood spent on a boat, a lifelong passion for the water and starting a career in the marine business as soon as possible.
Mercury Marine Chief Marketing Officer Michelle Dauchy isn’t one of them.
“Unless you count riding in rowboat or a canoe, or a Circle Line tour in New York City,” she said. “That was my boating experience.”
So, when Mercury – the largest recreational marine propulsion manufacturer in the world – recruited Dauchy for its CMO role in 2015, it decidedly wasn’t her knowledge of fuel injection and propeller pitch that attracted her to the marine industry giant. It was the challenge of applying her formidable marketing and management skills to a whole new industry, one that’s inherently more fun than any she’d experienced before.
Dauchy’s academic path and early career are what you’d expect from a C-suite executive at any world-class organization. She was born in Queens, New York, and grew up in central New Jersey before getting her bachelor’s degree in economics at Dartmouth College, the Ivy League school in Hanover, New Hampshire. After that, she spent five years in banking in New York City, finishing as an assistant vice president at Chemical Bank.
“When I was in undergrad, I took the opportunity in banking because it gave me a chance as just a kid out of school to manage a 15-person team and get to implement some unique tools – at least at that time in ’89 – like flexible work schedules and the like,” she said. “So, I was developing and managing a team with some new HR tools, and it gave me a great general management foundation.”
From there, she entered the highly regarded Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, where coincidentally numerous other current and past Mercury and Brunswick executives have earned their master’s degrees. After earning her MBA with a concentration in marketing, the next stop was SC Johnson, the behemoth consumer packaged goods company located in Racine, Wisconsin. The attraction of CPG was, she said, tied to her desire to work with something more concrete than was available in the financial sector.
“I got to thinking that I’d love to have a more tangible product – banking was very service oriented – and that it would be nice to be able to see the fruits of your work in three dimensions,” Dauchy said. “I had the opportunity after Kellogg to join SC Johnson and run businesses with full profit-and-loss accountability.
“It was a chance to apply my general management experience from banking to a tangible business where I could create new products.”
It was there that Dauchy settled in for an enviable two-decade tenure that included numerous roles in brand management, a stint as assistant to the president and CEO, two different category management roles, and finally a senior marketing directorship. Her SC Johnson accolades include bringing some 25 new products to market, and even launching a new brand in Brazil.
“It’s kind of weird because banking, CPG and marine are really pretty different industries,” Dauchy said. “I think that for me they were all kind of great professional and personal development fits. I’ve always kind of gravitated toward opportunities where I’m going to be challenged, and also where I can make an impact or a difference. That’s probably the one theme that connects all of them.”
In mid-2015, Dauchy accepted the offer to join Mercury, moved her family from Racine to the north Milwaukee area, and got to work developing and executing a new vision for the venerable Mercury brand. She was cognizant of the rich history and uniqueness of the marine industry but was also ready to infuse some outsider thinking and ideas from her previous experience that could help take Mercury to the next level.
“It’s a careful balance,” she said. “You always have to go into an organization – unless it’s a turnaround situation – and really understand what some of those magic ingredients are that you’ve got to preserve and nurture, and then mix them with some new stuff.
“I knew I could kind of merge those into something more powerful than they would be individually.”
As any good marketer does, Dauchy started with the customer. She spoke with boaters all over the country and around the globe, she said, trying to understand the people the brand is trying to serve and delight. One of the major outputs of that voice-of-the-customer gathering is the Go Boldly position that Mercury has not only adopted and incorporated into its marketing collateral, but also has made part of the company’s very identity and philosophy. It represents a significant change, Dauchy said, from being merely a manufacturer of marine products to something much more.
“Talking to boaters helped us see how we needed to show up for Mercury to be a differentiated offering in the marine space,” she said. “And it started to shift us toward becoming more of a lifestyle brand that’s grounded in amazing products, rather than a product brand that happens to help people have fun on the water. That was a pretty big shift, and we’ve infused that positioning over time into everything we do.”
To ensure that Mercury is agile and efficient in its marketing efforts, Dauchy has brought all marketing creative and digital marketing in house. She’s also spent considerable time developing and coaching her marketing team as well as many others in the company. To that end, she has relaunched the Mercury Women’s Leadership Council and has shaped it into a platform for building leadership skills and business insight across the organization, as well as community outreach.
Dauchy and her husband, David, have three children: daughters Erin, 21, and Megan, 18, both of whom attend the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and son, Mitchell, who is 14 and a freshman in high school. Her passions outside of work are spending time with the family, travel, and exercise. The family enjoyed international vacations after the high school graduation of both Erin and Megan, and is planning another when Mitchell graduates.
Dauchy’s tenure may still be short in marine terms, but she said she’s enjoyed it a great deal and she especially appreciates seeing her organization making a difference for Mercury as a whole.
“It’s so gratifying when something that the marketing organization does is linked to driving business results,” she said. “It’s seeing the business win and being part of it. I really value my team, so when I see members of my team operating at a level that they never operated at before and see them grow, take on greater responsibility and deliver results, it’s very satisfying. When we grow share, and we’ve collectively rallied around a growth objective and collectively exceeded the target, it’s very rewarding.”
Michelle Dauchy’s Rules for Success in Business
- Be a lifelong learner. Things are changing so quickly that you’ve got to constantly be learning new tools and new capabilities to be able to reach the upper levels of any organization.
- Nurture relationships. Relationships are incredibly important, and you almost have to make that a part of your day. Whether it’s stopping by a colleague’s office just to talk or reconnecting with past coworkers, you have to nurture those relationships and make them something that you pay attention to, because you’ll need to leverage them throughout your career.
- Be bold. It’s not just being unafraid to take a risk but leaning forward and putting yourself out there. It’s taking on a role that you might not feel completely ready to do or volunteering to take on an extra project. Take a risk to do more and be different, even if you aren’t quite ready. It’ll get you noticed, and it will get you the experience that will propel you to the next level.