During Hispanic Heritage Month, Marissa Solis will join Advance Auto Parts as a guest speaker, discussing her professional journey in building a broad range of iconic brands. She offers an inspirational perspective on conquering the unknown and claiming her place at the table in typically male-dominated industries.
Here are some of her thoughts.
Advance Auto Parts: What inspired the mindset and mantra of where you are today?
Marissa Solis: My mindset and my mantra are inspired by a poem written by William Ernest Henly, Invictus. It talks about being unafraid in the face of adversity and thanking God for an unconquerable soul. And it ends with a powerful declaration, “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” This speaks to the journey that I’ve been on for many years from a young, idealistic, and somewhat intimidated girl in an unfamiliar world to a strong, courageous, and adventurous individual in charge of my destiny.
How did your early years shape who you are?
The early years of my journey were incredibly important and set the core of who I am today. I was born in Mexico City and at the age of 10, my family circumstances forced us to seek a better life in America in the border town of Harlingen, Texas, part of what is known as the Rio Grande Valley. We took what we had and moved to the States and my parents opened up a restaurant to get us through. My childhood was spent watching them work 24-7 in a very tough business to make ends meet. They went through many closings, bankruptcies, and restarts, but the experience helped me to understand early on the meaning of sacrifice, hard work, and strong faith. I worked in just about every job at that restaurant, from mopping the floors to washing dishes, to waitressing and being the hostess. Today, everything I do is to honor my parents’ sacrifice and the values they instilled in me: Putting 110% in all you do no matter what the job is, being grateful for everything you have, being strong in defeat, and being humble in success.
What were your aspirations growing up?
It was no secret I had early dreams, but my dreams were much bigger than what my life and circumstances could afford at the time. We lived in a small community on the border, with 90% Hispanic, and over 30% living under the poverty rate. My high school class had 1,500 students but only 500 would graduate and less than 100 would go to college. As an immigrant, I had no idea that there were opportunities for higher education.
How did you come to learn about the opportunities afforded by higher education?
I was very fortunate to have had a teacher take 10 of us on a road trip up the East coast to visit universities and see what “college” was all about. I fell instantly in love when I stepped foot on the beautiful Georgetown University campus in Washington, DC. I was very fortunate to have that same teacher help me compete in a prestigious national scholars’ program and get a full ride to Georgetown University to pursue a career in Foreign Service to become an ambassador – my early childhood dream.
Was foreign service the path you pursued?
While at Georgetown, I studied for four years, passed my foreign service exam, and was ready to go into the foreign service when I got my first dose of reality. The Dean pulled me to the side and gave me some advice: If I was serious about pursuing that dream, it was best to not be a career foreign service officer. He said to me, “Instead, go out into the world, make a name for yourself in business, then contribute to someone’s campaign, and you can get appointed and one day fulfill that dream.” A true, “first dose of reality.”
Did you follow his advice?
I did, and I decided to move to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and work as an Assistant Brand Manager for Procter & Gamble Latin America. I didn’t know what marketing was, and I had never been to Puerto Rico but the VP of marketing that recruited me told me P&G was looking for leaders, people who wanted to change the world, and people who had a passion for Latin America.
Photo | Marissa Solis
That fit the bill perfectly, so I jumped into the unknown once again and found an opportunity to experience the world of marketing and advertising and learn from one of the very best companies in the business.
What were some of the notable challenges you faced in your career at P&G?
I was 21 and working in San Juan, Puerto Rico, which was far from home. There I was, a Mexican in a new Puerto Rican culture, yearning to prove myself as a young marketer. One of the earliest challenges I remember shook me to my core. I was assigned to lead an advertising campaign for Pampers with our ad agency in the Dominican Republic. I was so excited to have this opportunity. The day my boss and I went to meet with the agency head to talk about the project, I walked into a room full of men who all looked back at me. The head of the agency came up to me and called his assistant and said, “Why don’t you two ladies go have some coffee while the men talk business.” I was floored! I waited a few seconds for my boss to say something but there was just an awkward silence. After a while, all I could say was, “I hope you don’t mind, but I will stay. I am leading this campaign and so you will need to talk to me.” The words came out and my entire body was shaking. But that was the day, at an early age, that I claimed my place at the table. And I did not look back.
You also spent time in political consulting. What were some of the challenges you faced in that experience?
I took yet another step into the unknown and left my great P&G role to pursue a Master’s in Public Policy and an MBA at the University of Texas at Austin. I still had that itch to change the world and I wanted to see if I could make a difference in the political arena. While at UT, I worked for a political consulting firm that did work in the U.S. and Latin America. Through that opportunity, I witnessed the historic 2000 Mexican election when the ruling party of over 50 years was unseated by Vicente Fox. I loved the fast-paced, adrenaline-filled world of political consulting, shaping the messages, and seeing the behind-the-scenes power moves that took place.
But I also got to see another side: While working for a Texas gubernatorial election, I realized that in that high-powered world of politics, who you know, how much you have, and your pedigree matter. Nobody was going to listen to a young woman let alone a Latina woman whose family had no history or influence in that world. Another hard lesson and one that once again forced me to look forward and reach for the next opportunity.
You pivoted once again to Pepsico. Is it fair to say that at that point, you felt you had found your home?
Yes. I found my way to one of the most exciting and incredible chapters of my career. That was joining Pepsico. I spent 18 wonderful years at that company, learning many lessons, and Pepsico became my home. It was a company that I thrived in, both professionally and personally. I built an incredible network around the world of colleagues, mentors, mentees, sponsors, and friends. I had the opportunity to make an impact by building some of the most iconic brands like Lay’s, Doritos, Cheetos, and Pepsi and bringing that passion for change and that early lesson I learned in Puerto Rico to “claim my place at the table” to women in my organization, especially women of color.
At the height of my career at Pepsico, I was leading the portfolio of snack brands at Frito Lay North America including innovation and new products, I was in charge of all of our sports partnerships and media relationships–including the NFL partnership –and I was a key leader in our D&I agenda across the organization. You could say that I pretty much had it made.
And yet, you were offered a major career opportunity that even you did not see coming?
Why would anyone in their right mind ever leave that kind of position and the promise that that position meant for the future? Great question! Never in a million years did I expect that call. I was in San Diego for my daughter’s soccer tournament and an “I have a great opportunity for you, are you interested?” call came in. Like many calls before that, I politely declined, noting the incredible role and position I had at Pepsico. But this time, the person at the other end didn’t hang up. He said, “Don’t hang up. You are going to want to hear this.”
I really cannot describe the feeling when the opportunity to lead the Global Brand at the National Football League came up. I was like, “The NFL? Really? Like, THE NFL?” A million thoughts came and went. Was I ready to give up everything I had built at Pepsico? Was I ready to face the hardship of starting over, building something new in a place full of challenges and unknown barriers?
Photo | Marissa Solis, SVP Global Brand and Consumer Marketing, NFL
Was I ready to leave my husband and daughter who I had gotten so close to after spending 24/7 with them and bonding during Covid and pick up and start traveling again almost every week of the year? Could I do this and be successful?
It seems like you were conflicted. What changed your mind?
While all these things faced me, the one thought that stuck with me was going back to my poem: My Invictus, and thanking God for my unconquerable soul! How could I possibly pass this up? It was a challenge beyond challenges but an opportunity full of possibilities. All I could think about was the incredible impact to be made with a platform like the NFL, arguably the biggest brand in America. This was the opportunity to test what I’m made of. And wow, if it meant giving up something I loved, something I knew, something I was comfortable and kicking ass in for the opportunity to impact so many in new and exciting ways, so be it. I couldn’t live with the “What if?” I could not pass the opportunity up.
Your decision to join the NFL was less than a year ago. Any regrets?
I literally took the biggest risk of my life nine months ago. I think I can write a book on all the emotions, all the thinking, and all the back and forth that went into making this decision – and maybe I will but I can confirm this. I do not regret it one bit. It’s been an incredible nine months with the NFL, and I am only getting started. And in a way, the story does come full circle because while I’m not an ambassador in a far-off country I do believe I am an ambassador every single day for the sport, for my community, for unity, inclusion, and equality. And for all the things that I believe in and stand for.
But the biggest lesson in all of this is this: I could not have developed and maintained this unconquerable soul without a core foundation of gratitude, love, and support. And I could not have been the captain of my soul without that compass that is always steady: From my parent’s sacrifice to my high school sweetheart’s support and my daughter’s love.
Any final words of inspiration?
As you take all of the conversations in for the next two days, don’t be afraid to look to the unknown, look to new possibilities, and take that plunge. Be secure in the foundation of your values and loved ones and be ready to become the master of your fate and the captain of your soul.