To celebrate International Women's Day and Women’s History Month, Merkle is proud to feature two inspiring women who are making their mark in the marketing industry. Nancy Fessatidis and Hiba Qamar are both trailblazers in their respective fields, and their experiences and insights are sure to motivate and empower others. In this edition of I Am Merkle, we get to know these two remarkable women and learn about their journey to success.
Tell us about yourself; where did you grow up? Where do you live now?
NF: I was born and raised in Hong Kong, a British Colony until 1997. In anticipation of Hong Kong’s return to China rule, my parents gave up a comfortable life and emigrated to the US so that we can have a better future - your typical immigrant story. I now live in NY.
HQ: I was born in Pakistan but raised in Michigan since I was 2 months old. Canton, Michigan has been my hometown for 25 years, and I love everything about this small suburbia (minus the potholes from our terrible winters). I live with family and my spoiled cat, Moby!
What drew you to your current career?
NF: As a Junior, I switched major from Biology to Math because I couldn’t hack it with Organic Chemistry. Math has always come easy to me, so it was the obvious choice when I only had two years to make up grounds. I got my Masters in Operations Research, a close cousin to Data Science, and have been part of this exciting discipline since.
HQ: Living in Michigan, you’re surrounded by opportunities within the automotive industry. In college, I majored in marketing and information system management and landed an internship my senior year of college in analytics at GM Financial. Little did I know this internship would start my journey into the analytics realm.
To date, what has been your biggest learning or teaching moment?
NF: When my boss left, she recommended me as her replacement to head up Marketing Operations globally. I didn’t think I was ready, nor did I think the job was all that glamorous. Boy was I wrong! It turned out to be the most fulfilling experience I could ever dream of. It gave me a platform to operationalize my models and embedding them into business processes and operational systems. Never sell yourself short. Don’t turn down opportunities that you don’t think you’re ready for and always be willing to take risks.
HQ: Making mistakes in your career is a part of the learning process – after all we’re only human. Being confident in your work and owning up to your mistakes will keep you moving forward.
What is a moment in your life that defined or shaped who you are today?
NF: There have been several, but the most recent was when my father passed away in 2020; the experience led to a lot of self-reflection. He was a lifelong supporter of education and dedicated his later years to community service. I wanted to commemorate the legacy he left behind, and it’s inspired me to think about what kind of mark I want to make on the world.
HQ: Being a child of immigrant parents made me work twice as hard since I wasn’t doing it just for myself. My parents invested everything in their kids, and I knew I had to do my best to make them proud. I wouldn’t have become the person I am today without their support.
What inspires you about your workplace culture?
NF: We pride ourselves in having a collaborative and inclusive culture. There’s a real sense of comradery – the feeling of being surrounded by smart people, an appreciation for our teammates, and acknowledgement that leaders had their backs and are fighting for their best interests. This positivity is contributing to an overall great work environment, and that’s what gets me up in the morning.
HQ: Calling the leadership team amazing would be an understatement. The value, respect, and time these leaders are willing to provide shows through their actions and words. They are the main reason I stay at Merkle. The culture here also helps you find your voice and grow in your career.
This year’s IWD campaign theme is ‘Embrace Equity’. What are some ways you try to ‘Embrace Equity’ in the workplace?
NF: To me, equity is about giving people what they need, rather than just giving them the same thing as everyone else (equality.) One way I try to embrace equity is calling on women employees in meetings and inviting their input, knowing that they tend to be more reserved than their men counterparts. By modeling behaviors such as this with my team, my hope is that other leaders will follow thereby creating a more equitable workplace for all.
HQ: I embrace equity in the workplace by giving credit to folks where it’s due and calling out their achievements in front of the team. Without my team, I wouldn’t be able to succeed in client deliverables. I ensure to provide recognition in front of internal and external stakeholders since I want to keep my team motivated and acknowledge their hard work. Here at Merkle, I’ve had the pleasure of working with several woman that come from various backgrounds. I have the honor to uplift these woman who have always been so dedicated to uplifting their colleagues.
What is one piece of advice you would give to young women who are interested in STEM fields?
Seek out role models and mentors. Consider women in your community who are making an impact in tech, engineering, math, or other STEM roles. Representation matters. Seeing women who have “made it,” and understanding how they overcome challenges throughout their own journeys will bolster your confidence and soon you will believe that you can too.
Another advice is to become more T-shaped - i.e., specialize in at least one area (depth) like coding or data science, but also be knowledgeable in several others (breadth) such as an adjacent technical skill or softer skill like story-telling. This will create differentiation and make you more marketable.
HQ: Find a female mentor in the field! This mentor doesn’t have to be someone within your company. Learn to network and connect with another woman in the field. This will help you find opportunities you didn’t’ know existed within the field. Finding someone to relate to and discuss ideas with will give you a step up in your field.
If you currently weren’t doing what you do today professionally, what would you be doing?
NF: Writing a book about my dad’s legacy from my summer house in Greece.
HQ: I always wanted to be a teacher! Far different from analytics, but I do hope I can do this post analytics retirement. I don’t know if I would have the patience to teach kids that have Instagram accounts at the age of 8, but I sure would love to be a professor someday.
Favorite food - Lobster
Favorite TV show/movie - Ted Lasso
Favorite hobby/activity - Summers in Greece
Favorite book - The Little Prince
Guilty pleasure - Retail Therapy
Best advice or mantra you live by - “… people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” - Maya Angelou
Favorite food - Well, this is a difficult question…I would have to say warm apple pie with vanilla ice cream.
Favorite TV show/movie - Favorite TV show is Suits
Favorite hobby/activity - I am a henna artist. I love working out at the gym and baking/eating desserts in my free time.
Favorite book - “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahnman
Guilty pleasure - Starbucks lattes, shamelessly buying only cinnamon rolls from Ikea, watching food reels on Instagram, and saving the recipe thinking “one day I’ll make this”
Best advice or mantra you live by - Be the person you needed in your life when you were younger