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Marianne McPeak-Johnson

Marianne McPeak-Johnson: Driving Growth through Innovation

From Bias for Action to Mastery in Software Development, Product Innovation, and Data Science!

An exceptional career as a top product leader requires a bias for action, making the complex actionable, and a love of people. Those who have found their purpose in technology understand that driving growth through innovation is not a passive endeavor. It demands a proactive, hands-on approach. This bias for action is reflected in their relentless pursuit of solutions, willingness to embrace challenges, and ability to convert ideas into tangible reality. But how does a passion for customer delight, a penchant for action, and a knack for simplifying complexities forge a 34-year career marked by constant evolution?

Marianne McPeak-Johnson, the Executive Vice President and Chief Product Officer at Cox Automotive Inc., is not just answering this question; she’s living it, transforming the landscape of technology and innovation with her unique approach.

Over the years, her professional trajectory has been a testament to her commitment to continuous learning. Marianne found her purpose in technology—a realm where she could seamlessly integrate her skill of taking the complex and making it actionable to drive growth through innovation. The multifaceted leader has not confined herself to a singular discipline; instead, she has embraced diverse roles in software development, product innovation, and data science.

Now, as one of the driving forces behind Cox Automotive Inc., she proudly unites all these facets under her leadership. Her role as EVP and CPO allows her to integrate software development, product innovation, and data science within a single organization, operating with an agile methodology at scale and marking a paradigm shift in how these critical elements collaborate for success.

This story unravels the layers of McPeak-Johnson’s journey, offering insights into the dynamic intersections of technology, innovation, and human-centric leadership. With a career spanning over three decades, she witnessed the evolution of the tech landscape and actively shaped its trajectory.

Join us as we explore how McPeak-Johnson’s relentless commitment to excellence has positioned Cox Automotive Inc. at the forefront of industry transformation, proving that innovation thrives when passion meets purpose.

Pioneering the Global Automotive Industry

Cox Automotive is the world’s premier automotive services and technology provider. With over 2.3 billion online interactions annually, fueled by the largest breadth of first-party data, the company tailors cutting-edge solutions for car shoppers, automakers, dealers, lenders, and fleet owners. The company has 25,000+ employees on five continents and a family of trusted brands that include Autotrader®, Dealertrack®, Kelley Blue Book®, Manheim®, NextGear Capital™ and vAuto®. Cox Automotive is a subsidiary of Cox Enterprises Inc., a privately owned, Atlanta-based company with $22 billion in annual revenue.

Cox Automotive delivers a comprehensive suite of products and services designed to streamline workflows, eliminate friction, and foster the intelligent, connected experiences expected by dealers, lenders, OEMs, mobility providers, and consumers.

Driven by Customer Delight & Continuous Improvement

In her role, Marianne finds fulfillment in cultivating customer delight, whether within the company or for external clients. Recognized for her commitment to excellence and competitive spirit, she strives to be the best in everything she does and uses this drive to inspire and unite those around her. She believes in the power of creating a purpose-driven, winning team, and her contagious enthusiasm for being part of something bigger has become a defining trait.

At Cox Automotive, she has played a pivotal role in fostering a culture that races to the top, constantly challenging individuals to elevate themselves in an environment of continuous improvement. Over the past five years, this transformative mindset has propelled the company to operate at a world-class level. With more than 605 agile teams executing five distinct patterns, Cox Automotive has achieved a 100% cloud operation, retiring 50 out of 53 data centers. Annually, the company delivers 30–40 net new solutions and products with over 10,000 feature enhancements across its offerings, showcasing a commitment to innovation and growth.

Consistently operating within targeted service availability tiers, Cox Automotive has strategically invested in and improved resiliency and security while accelerating business value. Marianne takes pride in the successful integration of data intelligence, unique insights, and AI across the majority of the company’s products and services. This collective effort has established Cox Automotive as a data-first and AI-enabled organization, driving new innovation and solving customer pain points while focusing on technological excellence.

Exploration of Innovation and Authenticity

Marianne navigated pivotal roles at First Data, Elavon/US Bank, and Equifax, each experience shaping her leadership philosophy. She is a dedicated student of leadership and meticulously documents her experiences and learnings from other leaders. She likes to observe diverse leadership styles and immerses herself in leadership literature. Through this continuous learning, she honed a deep understanding of effective leadership strategies and the dynamics of innovation.

She champions the idea of perpetual self-disruption, recognizing the transformative power that emerges when individuals unite to support each other. Marianne believes in the power of modeling authentic leadership and attributes her success to the invaluable lessons she has gained throughout her career journey and from her grandmother.

A key lesson she shares is the transformative impact of embracing opportunities. She says her grandmother always taught her the value of perpetual motion, rejecting complacency, and embracing change. This foundational principle has been instrumental in her ability to navigate complex organizational structures, streamline processes, and prioritize outcomes in her leadership roles.

Strategic Approach

In her current role, Marianne is driven to deliver excellence and motivated to bring out the best in herself and her teams. This stems from a commitment to serving a greater purpose—leaving the world a better place and enriching the lives of teammates, customers, and communities. She emphasizes the importance of pacing ongoing innovation and transformation for both internal and external stakeholders, ensuring sustainability and endurance.

She adopts a strategic approach to guarantee the solutions developed not only align with the company’s ambitions but also provide the right value for customers. A business strategy, an aligned product strategy, and an integrated delivery model form the foundation. By incorporating the voice of the market and the voice of the customer through human-centered design, she ensures that Cox Automotive’s ideation and design processes lead to differentiated outcomes.

Championing Diversity

As the co-chair for Cox Automotive’s Empow[HER] employee resource group, Marianne envisions a future where diversity and inclusion thrive within the organization. She reflects on the significant impact of her strong network, which provided the space for her to share her voice, claim a seat at the table, and defy expectations. Marianne acknowledges the challenges of finding such networks but emphasizes the built-in support and mentorship offered by Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). Her experiences within ERGs directly shaped her commitment to valuing diversity and actively championing it as a leader.

Empowering Women in Technology

Marianne was recognized as one of the top Women Worth Watching® and Woman of the Year by The Technology Association of Georgia. She perceives her role as that of a business leader who, incidentally, excels in technology and data. While not the case at Cox, she historically found herself as the lone woman at the table, and she acknowledges the changing landscape in businesses globally. Her belief in investing in others, leading by example, and advocating for those seeking opportunities aligns with her commitment to fostering diversity. Inspired by someone who once opened doors for her, Marianne champions the philosophy of always paying it forward.

Revenue Surge and Sustained Excellence

The economic downturn of 2007 and 2008 at Equifax was a pivotal chapter in her career. Marianne played a crucial role in instituting a discipline focused on New Product Innovation. This strategic initiative resulted in the timely launch of market-needed products, swiftly driving incremental new revenue that exceeded 10% annually. Her adeptness in addressing barriers to growth and execution during challenging times has become a cornerstone of her leadership approach. She consistently draws upon these experiences, fostering a bias for action, instilling discipline for rapid progress, and overcoming obstacles at scale. Guided by the lessons learned, her journey has positioned her to lead seamlessly across product, technology, engineering, and data science, creating a culture of excellence at scale with continuous improvement embedded in its DNA.

Commitment to Community Service

Marianne emphasizes that the act of giving back manifests in both small and significant ways. She believes every action reflects a conscious choice, and the extent of one’s commitment to others reflects personal values. Community service is an integral part of her identity, and she manages her time to strike a balance between professional responsibilities and contributing to the community. For her, the most rewarding aspect of life lies in the act of selfless giving and witnessing the positive impact it creates.

Product Development and Interdepartmental Collaboration

Marianne leads product, engineering, technology, and data with a focus on organizational alignment, outcomes, and measuring what matters while driving a culture of innovation and collaboration to rapidly transform and perform. Demonstrating a commitment to scaling with consistency and adaptability, her team operates with five business-aligned portfolios and four discipline-focused centers of excellence. The methodology places equal importance on “What” is built and “How” it is constructed, incorporating elements such as human-centered design, a digital-first cloud environment, an innovation framework, a cohesive engineering ecosystem, lean software development, and flexible labor scaling.

Highlighting the significance of alignment and prioritization, Marianne ensures that delivery streams partner closely with business stakeholders. The process involves an integrated playbook for commercialization, fostering coordination across business, sales, marketing, and product readiness. Her approach also emphasizes the continuous review of business imperatives, allowing these assessments to inform the ongoing maturity and strategic direction of the organization.

Success in Technology and FinTech

Marianne’s biggest piece of advice for emerging leaders is to lean into your discipline or multi-discipline. She advocates for continuous learning and urges leaders to operate with radical transparency while consistently elevating performance standards. She believes in demonstrating tangible value to both business partners and teams and understanding that you can always achieve more than you think and faster than you think. She encourages aspiring leaders to craft a transformation roadmap, navigating from current positions to desired destinations, and emphasizes the significance of gaining buy-in for collective execution.

Voices from Clients and Awards

  • Kevin Frye, eCommerce Director & Automotive Technology Innovator, Jeff Wyler Automotive Family: “Marianne is a tremendous pioneer in the automotive industry, questioning everything, being open to all ideas, and relentless in her pursuit of progressive ideas.”
  • David Brown, Vice President, Compute and Networking, AWS: “AWS is proud to partner with Marianne on her cloud journey. Cox Automotive’s multi-year business transformation has enabled them to innovate quickly, achieve sustainable revenue growth, and successfully adopt cloud technology.”

Marianne’s impact is not just measured by awards but also by the transformative experiences of those she collaborates with, shaping the narrative of success in the corporate landscape.

Data-driven Insights

Across each stage of a vehicle’s lifecycle, Cox Automotive is providing powerful data-driven insights that are key to driving profitable growth for our clients. Our DRiVEQ data intelligence engine powers the differentiated experiences we give to consumers and clients.

We gather, harness, and connect data across our solutions and leverage advanced techniques like machine learning, computer vision, Generative AI, and more to bring to life those insights and recommendations. Whether it’s unique consumer insights and recommendations on Kelley Blue Book and Autotrader, recommendations for dealers to engage with their customers, providing vehicle valuations for the entire automotive marketplace, or AI-powered damage detection, it all starts with data.

Bringing product, engineering, technology, and data together under one leader has been instrumental in our data and cloud transformation journey. I’m thrilled to lead a team of incredibly talented and smart product managers, technologists, and data scientists who are changing the way the world buys, sells, owns, and uses vehicles.