Women in Business

Taco Bell CMO Marisa Thalberg On Living La Vida Loca

What do you do when you feel like you have no one to talk to?  If you’re a master marketer like Taco Bell CMO Marisa Thalberg, you create your own audience.

Back in 2000, the high-powered executive found herself searching for a peer group for new mothers who were trying to balance the incredible – and often turbulent – demands of being a parent while navigating a full-time career.  Much to her surprise, finding this group proved to be difficult. So she took matters into her own hands, creating Executive Moms – an online resource for working mothers that blossomed into a community of like-minded women going through a shared experience.

“I was quite surprised initially when all of these women [at a “Mommy & Me” gathering in Manhattan] said that they weren’t going back to work [after their pregnancy].  I thought, first, financially, how is that even possible, but secondly, don’t you want to have a career??”

Thalberg says that what started as a personal need – a desire to feel a sense of comradery and community – over time grew into a singular mission.

“When I went back to work I was then head of global advertising at Calvin Klein cosmetics – which became Unilever cosmetics – so I was very plugged into the media community, and I would ask all the parenting magazine editors and publishers, what should I join?  And they all sort of looked at me and shook their heads and said ‘we don’t really know.’ I was shocked.”

“So that was the beginning. Foolishly perhaps – I decided to saddle myself with a second career – in addition to the demands of being a new mother – so you can definitely question the sanity of that decision… But I really just wanted to do it because I felt that this was something really important to me in terms of connecting and giving to other women.”

The blog quickly grew and Thalberg found herself doing huge events with corporate sponsors while writing weekly content for many years in the form of her Executive Mom Rant.

“It gave me a voice that I didn’t even realize was important to me, to have in representing – in a very realistic but very positive way – these women that I was seeing who really had it together. They just needed a sense of connection.  So in a sense it was social media born ahead of social media.

“One of my pet-peeves about the way working motherhood is portrayed in the media, it’s never presented as a choice for men. [For women] the question is always there – ‘Are you going to work?’ As if it’s self-indulgent to work. Whereas with men, the presumption is always, ‘Well of course men are going to work.’

“I think that discounts the fact that, for a majority of women, it’s not an indulgence – it’s a financial necessity.  I’ve always thought the defining characteristic that makes you an executive mom is not the nature or the level of your paycheck but rather – do you see yourself having a career [vs. just having a job]?  Hopefully your need to work and your desire to work – it’s not an either/or proposition.”

Thalberg’s Executive Moms now lives on as her official Twitter handle where she tackles all sorts of topics personal to her, now that her daughters are getting ready to leave the nest.

“There’s so many benefits to being a working parent that we need to really celebrate [like] being a role model to our children… It’s important that we model that we’re whole people… I think there’s something about working that makes the journey of adolescence a little bit more relatable because their workloads are so hard now. When I come home and say ‘Ugh, I have a lot of work,’ that’s relatable to having a lot of homework.

“The one piece of advice I routinely give is to just completely give up this idea that we’re all supposed to be living in this state of balance or equilibrium. No one I know, including stay-at-home parents, thinks that their life is in perfect harmony…There IS no perfection to this.”


img Five Questions with Marisa Thalberg

Chief Marketing Officer, Taco Bell

  1. What is an important fact about yourself that isn’t on the internet?

“I don’t know if it’s important but when I was in my 20s I sang Cabaret in New York City nightclubs because I had huge theater aspirations when I was younger. I probably could’ve done something with that but I chose sort of a corporate career instead.”

  1. What is the most valuable piece of advice your parents ever taught you?

“Whenever people ask me questions like this I think of my mom. Her life motto was sort of “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” and she really had to live it because of the health issues she battled. But I think the part that resonates, she really lived by this idea from Shakespeare that “above all, to thine own self be true.” The older I’ve gotten and the more confident I’ve become with just really being my authentic self, [I’ve realized] how much that creates trust in a work environment. I was just reading some articles about it. It just matters. It matters especially in the world we’re living in now where trust in our elected  officials is so incredibly eroded. We want to believe.  People want to feel like they’re bought into things, like they belong to something. We live in an age of transparency, it’s really important to be authentic.”

  1. What is the BEST thing about being Marisa?

“I have a beautiful family. I give a lot of love, and I think I feel a lot of love in my life.”

  1. What is the WORST thing about being Marisa?

“I worry too much.”

  1. What fictional character do you most closely align yourself with?

I always say that the problem with my generation is that we grow up wanting to be Cinderella and we grow up wanting to be Gloria Steinem, so we’re all Cinderella Steinem.”

Marisa Thalberg is a WORLDZ Master and Chief Marketing Officer for Taco Bell.