Michele Fabrizi / Marc USA, President and CEO

What drives you up the wall? "Staying in place -- doing things the way they have always been done."

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Michele Fabrizi has been president and CEO of Marc USA, an independent advertising agency based in Station Square, for about a decade. Her agency, which employs more than 200 people in its Pittsburgh, Miami and Chicago offices, handles clients such as Rite Aid drugstores, True Value Hardware and the Pennsylvania Lottery and has $350 million in annual billings.

Ms. Fabrizi credits her time on the teen fashion board of the Joseph Horne department store, later acquired by the predecessor to Macy's, with helping her realize that she had leadership qualities. The 13-year-old was part of a group assigned to organize a promotion for Bonne Bell cosmetics, and pretty quickly she began organizing everybody.

"It kind of happened naturally," she said, in an emailed response from Marc's Chicago office.

Planning seemed to be a key in helping the group work effectively, in addition to figuring out what motived other people. "Not everyone is passionate about the same things," she said.

Her own competitive nature appears evident. In describing the fashion board experience, she added, "By the way, we had the top cosmetics promotion that year."

Ms. Fabrizi, who started at Marc as an account executive in 1982 and ran the Pittsburgh office for a few years before taking over the president and CEO roles companywide in 2003, has developed a philosophy about what leadership requires and how she looks for it in others.

"You must have vision -- and be able to see what others don't see," she said. "You need to have the skills to create a shared purpose for the organization to follow." It's also critical, she said, to think in terms of "we" and not "me."

When she's looking for leadership qualities in others, Ms. Fabrizi said, she listens carefully to what people say, as well as what they don't. Job candidates need to demonstrate that they appreciate collaboration. They also have to make a presentation to a team made up of people representing different areas of the agency's operations.

Ms. Fabrizi isn't just interested in hearing how wonderful candidates are and how well they can market a hardware chain. "I also listen for self-awareness, honesty and how they approach failure," she said.

She believes that, in her own job, she met the test of seeing where the industry was going before digital technology became widespread and working to build Marc's strategy and capabilities to be ready for the change.

Tossed the business school question of whether she has any regrets, Ms. Fabrizi didn't share the story of a lost contract or a frustrating encounter. Instead, she said she wished she'd studied abroad or at least found some way to live in another country at some point.

So, how does that relate to leadership? "You gain so much by getting outside your comfort zone and adapting to someone else's world," she explained. "That's one reason I love travel so much."


-- Teresa Lindeman: tlindeman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2018


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