Five Minutes With… sits down with the leaders of Search Optics behind the scenes. Insightful, compelling, and often personal, these face-to-face conversations dig into what drives these individuals who are passionate about shaping the future of automotive marketing technology.
In January 2016, Denis Fuster was named Client Engagement Manager for Search Optics’ Detroit, Toronto and Montreal offices. Fluent in French, German and English, Fuster handles the hiring, training, and management of an international team of account managers and leads multi-lingual support for SO’s French-speaking dealers. Born and raised in Amplepuis, France, Fuster became a world traveler beginning at the age of 12. His education and career have taken him all over the world, from France to Germany, throughout the US, and, finally, to settling down in Detroit.
“I’ve been to so many places that when people ask where I’m from, I say ‘It doesn’t matter. I’m a citizen of the world.’”
You manage an international team in three different cities and two different countries. What are the advantages of having this team so spread out? Why not do it all out of Detroit?
For success in international trade, localization must paramount; Search Optics employs this idea through our platform and services, as well as in our customer interactions and content. Although we primarily interact with clients over the phone, speaking their language and having a deep understanding of their culture makes a big difference in our ability to relate to and support our clients - if we can connect on these important levels, most other barriers fall away.
What are the biggest challenges you face managing teams in various locations?
I’m not physically in a room with my team every day, so I’m required to have an extra level of awareness. Additionally, remote management requires a stronger component of trust and respect; I trust my team to embrace their roles fully and come to me for help with any issues. I have little need to micromanage.
My biggest challenges are maintaining team cohesion and providing each member with a sense of belonging. Our Toronto, Montreal and Detroit offices are much like a micro-society and really rely on each other for success and productivity. By promoting teamwork and inclusion, we limit conflict and keep everyone marching toward the same goals.
What activities do you and your team focus on?
For the last 19 months, I’ve been in charge of implementing and running the full website and marketing services integration program for a major OEM across Canada. My team carries out all daily dealer-facing responsibilities for a portfolio of over 300 dealers.
What does the Search Optics promise of “class-leading marketing technology backed by real people” mean to you on a personal level and how do you go about ensuring your team is delivering on that promise?
It’s a perfect marriage between technology and delivering personalized service. I pride myself and my team on living up to that. My account managers take the time to get the story out of their client in order to identify goals that we infuse into each campaign and
website-related project. The more we know about them, the more we can become their marketing brain to help grow their business. We strive to instill trust within our client relationships so that they can focus on what they do best - running their business.
The Search Optics “secret sauce” is the fact that we care about our clients, and we aim to do things differently than our competition does. I’ve taught my team to care about their clients, to go the “extra mile.” That’s the only way to make a difference for our clients’ businesses. I take this personally as my team’s mentor and coach and always try my best to lead by example.
What qualities do you look for in a potential account manager and a member of your team?
This business can be very high-pressure. I look for individuals who are detail-oriented, ideally bilingual, able to multi-task, and who can relate to car dealers well. The automotive industry is where my team focuses most of their time, and car dealers are
a very unique group.
What motivated you to leave your hometown and become a world traveler? Amplepuis had a population of about 5,000 people. My parents wanted me to learn as much as I could about the world and always encouraged me to be a global thinker. When I was 12, I began taking part in a yearly partnership exchange program between Amplepuis and Herrenberg-Gültstein, Germany. I became fluent in both German and English and was even a translator for many of the program’s official functions. In college, I earned a Bachelor’s degree in foreign languages and spent the last year of my marketing and management master’s program in Bielefeld, Germany.
What brought you to the U.S?
After earning my masters, I entered a post-masters international marketing program. My law teacher was a consultant for a small software company in Lyon, France. He asked me if I needed a job and of course, my answer was “yes!” The partners of the company offered me a position translating user manuals, which I, originally, politely declined - I wasn’t interested in burying my nose in a dictionary. But then they asked, “Well, do you like to travel?” Apparently, this particular role required an up-to-date passport. I took the job.
I developed an international distribution network for all of Northern Europe - and asked them to give me first dibs if they ever expanded to the U.S. In December of 1991, they asked me to go to San Francisco to replicate what I had done in Germany. I landed in Silicon Valley developing partnerships with larger software distributors in North and South America and the Pacific Rim.
After six about six years, the dot-com era was beginning, so I began my focus on marketing in new technologies. I went to work as VP of Marketing for an Asian-based data warehousing company that launched one of the first CRM products on the market. After that, I moved on to the domain name industry, working as Senior VP of Marketing for the second-largest (at the time) domain name registrar.
What brought you to Detroit and Search Optics?
My only cousin, whom I consider like a brother, lives in Detroit and works in the automotive industry. The idea of living near family again was very appealing to me, so I figured I’d try my hand in Michigan. I arrived in Detroit in 2012 as an independent marketing and sales consultant. I specialized in website content translation (English to French), data research analysis, and helped European companies adapt marketing materials for U.S. audiences. In 2013 I was hired by Search Optics as an account manager. The rest, as they say, is history.
What have been the defining moments that have shaped your life and career?
There are several that stand out. First, when I was a teenager my parents told me that I am responsible for my own choices and, that as long as I follow my passions, I’m making the right choices.
Second, my dad once said to me, “I don’t care how high up the ladder you go, you are never allowed to disregard or disrespect people below you.”
Third, when I was 18 years old I went to Senegal with a friend. I remember seeing a young child walking down the street dragging an empty plastic bottle on a string. He looked so radiant and happy that it took my breath away. Seeing the look in his eyes taught me that happiness is a choice and something each individual must create for themselves. I asked the child what he wanted to do when he was older. He said he wanted to be a philosopher. I looked at my friend, and said, “‘and we are worried about material details. Look at this child, he has nothing and is perfectly happy”. That puts life into perspective.
And finally, my parents taught me early on that there is always something beyond my own backyard, and to push myself outside of my comfort zone. The life I’ve led demonstrates the significance of that lesson to me.