The gig: Carisa Bianchi is president of TBWA\Chiat\Day, Los Angeles' largest advertising agency, which has about 520 employees and creates ads for Pepsi, Gatorade, Southwest Airlines, Adidas, Nissan, Jimmy Dean and Crate & Barrel.
"Black sheep": Bianchi grew up in West Covina and graduated from West Covina High School. Her parents were educators, and her sister is a teacher. The "black sheep" of the family, Bianchi wanted to become a diplomat or a spy. "I thought I would go join the State Department, FBI or the CIA. I love political science and international relations," Bianchi said. "My dream job would be in a strategic war room with a president."
Mom says no: She filled out a CIA application "and my mom ripped it in half. She said: 'I am not sure that's what you want.'" Bianchi asked why. "She said, 'Think Mata Hari, and you want to use your brain.'" So she decided to go into filmmaking. But in the late 1980s, after she had graduated from Cal Poly Pomona, Hollywood writers were on strike and jobs were scarce.
Strategic thinking: Bianchi accepted a position at the L.A. office of ad agency Benton & Bowles, which had openings in production and account management. "The guy who interviewed me said account management was more interesting because you can be the quarterback. So I went into account management, and I never looked back." The job requires some of the same skills as an FBI agent, Bianchi said. "I like putting the pieces of the puzzle together to figure things out and to see where it takes you. In working with our clients, it is very similar."
"Make them love you": Bianchi eventually joined Chiat\Day as account supervisor for Energizer. The agency had created the beloved Eveready bunny commercials. "But the pivotal moment for me was when I got put on the [Sony] PlayStation account," Bianchi said.
Her boss, Bob Kuperman, told her: "You have to make them love you because if they don't, then we are going to lose the account." Bianchi made the grade, and the agency held on to the account. "It was a roller coaster but one of the best times of my life. We took the PlayStation to market and it became No. 1."
Grab your 501s: Her next big break came after she left the agency and was wooed back. Kuperman called her with an offer to pitch Levi Strauss & Co. — but getting the job was contingent on winning the account. Bianchi agreed: "I love Levi's, it's an iconic, historic brand in America."
She and the team worked months preparing their pitch, combing the jeans company's vast archives for insights until they came up with the concept "Always Original." Bianchi and her team landed Levi Strauss, and opened the firm's San Francisco office. "We were able to take this account and use it as a foundation and build this incredible team. We got the billings up to $250 million a year in three years."
Back to L.A.: In 2002, Bianchi returned to L.A., after the agency closed its San Francisco office. She helped revamp TBWA\Chiat\Day's new business efforts, and the agency landed more accounts. In 2005, she became president — an active one. "I'm not a president who just sits in a chair and watches. In today's business climate, everyone has to roll up their sleeves and do the work."
Check gender at the door: "When people talk about women's this, or women's that, I sometimes bristle. It keeps us in that box of women, which we are, but there is no box for men. I don't believe that gender should walk into the room. We are all people, and that's what I try to teach young women. I tell them, you have talent, ideas and charisma — so let that shine."
Discipline: Bianchi, who is married and lives in the Hollywood Hills, runs at least four days and about 30 miles a week, and compares running to life. "You have to have passion for what you do and then perfect it. Constantly work at it, never be complacent. It's a marathon, it's not a sprint. There are the ups and downs, but what you learn along the way is pretty damn interesting."
Dream job: Does she still flirt with notions of government work? "If the White House ever called and said we need some help in the strategic war room, I would definitely answer that phone call. My dream would be to help elect Hillary Clinton. I think she would be a superb president, and it would be really interesting to work on that campaign and come up with new, innovative ways to get her message out. I would do that in a second."