The Player: For Davis, new Mazda role lets him market his passion

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Robert T. Davis brings his work home.

The new senior VP-marketing and product development at Mazda North American Operations has raced his Miata on weekends since 1996. A former boss recalled that Mr. Davis built a three-quarter scale Mazda racecar in his dining room, before he was married.

"People think I'm a workaholic, but I'm not," said the 39-year-old South Carolina native. "People confuse my hobby with work."

Not that he doesn't give people reason for the confusion, given the former VP-product development regularly participated in video conferences with Mazda Corp. in Japan from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.

He estimates he will spend nearly 70% of his time on the marketing side of his job since it's a new area for him. He and his team recently started planning for the early 2004 back-to-back launches of Protege's successor, the Mazda3, and the Mazda5 wagon and hatchback. Independent Doner, Southfield, Mich., handles. His new position gives him the chance to market the vehicles he helped develop. The carmaker spent $201 million in measured media last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.

He reports directly to John Mendel, exec VP-chief operating officer, Mazda. Mr. Mendel said Mr. Davis' two years leading product development strategy "has helped us deliver outstanding products that are the essence of Mazda."

Mr. Davis joined Mazda 13 years ago from the former Chrysler Corp., where he worked in the regional Atlanta office for five years.

Tom Del Franco, regional general manager in New Jersey, said Mr. Davis worked for him as an area manager in the mid-1990s, but later moved into regional marketing overseeing 15 dealer ad groups with an annual budget totaling some $65 million. He listed Mr. Davis' strengths as "a very good team builder," who does his homework.

Mr. Davis cited last year's Mazda6 sedan launch as one his proudest career moments. That's because consultantcy J.D. Powers & Associates' Appeal study revealed that Mazda6 owners rated the car higher than owners of more popular sedans in the segment. Mazda's online pre-launch for the car resulted in 15% of the 3,000 people who opted in for more data buying one within a month. He's also proud of developing the Mazda Speed car "as the quintessential Mazda."


When it comes to incentives, the executive said Mazda's strategy is to promote financing deals because "I'd rather put the money on sale than the car."

He prefers to avoid media clutter, and with the Internet becoming more mass market, he may have to take Mazda communications "more on the edge." For example, he plans event marketing for the Mazda3, similar to the brand's first Rev It Up driving contest and tour this summer. Still, he expects his ad budget to increase by 15%-to-20% next year vs. 2003. He plans to stick with the "Zoom. Zoom" ad theme.

Mr. Del Franco knows Mr. Davis lives that line. He recalled the two of them racing Mazda RX7s on the New Jersey Turnpike at 2 a.m. "We both got pulled over, but the officer was pretty cool about it."

Fast Facts

Name: Robert T. Davis

Age: 39

Now: Senior VP- marketing and product development

Challenge: Market models that are the essence of Mazda.

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