Direct connect: Attorney helps drive digital marketing for Ford dealers

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 By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News
 
As attorney Meri Glade got ready to cycle to a local Farmers’ Market, her neighbor—an engineer for GM—said, “Meri, this is car country, get off that bike and drive!”
 
He was kidding, of course.  He was also preaching to the choir. Glade is an expert on “car country,” playing a huge role in the auto world as general counsel and chief compliance officer for FordDirect, a joint venture between Ford Motor Co. and its franchise dealers.
 
Crain’s Detroit Business recently honored Glade with its prestigious General Counsel Award.
 
“It’s always nice to be surprised by a peer-nominated award,” she says. “I’m far from the best in-house counsel in the area. I take the award as an acknowledgement that I was part of a team that saw FordDirect through from a dot.com that was formed when the dot.com bubble was bursting to the incredibly successful company that it has become, driving 22 percent of Ford’s retail sales as of 2012.”
 
As in-house counsel, Glade is an “employee” for the first time in a decade.
 
“This is something very different that has forced me to come out of the comfort zone of my own practice,” she says. “Private practice allows you to take on a diverse clientele and therefore a diverse amount of intellectual challenges. I like figuring out how to make start-up or innovative companies successful. A private practice focused on that type of client base is go-go-go and requires you to manage the legal pitfalls at a fast pace. My current position challenges me to embrace more structure and process. I hope when I leave FordDirect they will say, ‘It was wonderful helping her turn from a bit feral to being valuably domesticated in her approach as a leader.’”
 
Glade—who earned her undergrad degree in political economics from the University of California, Santa Barbara—can thank her father for pointing her to a law career.
 
“My father said,  ‘You have a big mouth, why don’t you put it to good use and become a lawyer.’ He most likely thought I would become a trial lawyer, but the universe had different plans.”
 
After receiving a juris doctorate from the University of San Francisco School of Law, she spent six years at the former Brobeck, Phleger, & Harrison in San Francisco, focusing on complex litigation, corporate, and securities matters, before forming Pacific Ventures Law Group to provide legal counsel to startups in the digital, technology, and manufacturing fields.
 
“I was frustrated by the old law firm model, where the hourly rate discouraged budget-conscious clients from seeking help when they needed it most. I had no flexibility in setting prices for legal services for my start-up clients who needed to know what they were going to spend each month on legal services when the money was tight and the company was moving 100 mph.,” she says. “I was thrilled to go out on my own and bring my new billing business model to the market and see that it encouraged not only my clients to seek help early and often, but they made me part of the strategy and product teams. It was exhilarating to be there at the beginning and what, for the most part, became very successful dot.com companies.”  
 
After working with several startups, Glade took an in-house position with Autoweb.com Inc., in Santa Clara, Calif., before being snapped up by FordDirect in 2001 to help dealers use digital marketing. She created a second company, Venture Law Group PC, to provide contracted services to FordDirect and served as independent general counsel until 2011 when the company hired her directly to serve as in-house general counsel and chief compliance officer.
 
Glade led the company’s legal team in developing the Ford and Lincoln brand websites and nearly 5,000 Ford and Lincoln dealer websites, and spearheaded the launch of social media and reputation management services. The team monitors many things, including online comments and reviews by customers; federal and state laws to make sure dealers are compliant; and laws governing the Internet such as privacy issues, advertising, and taxes for online sales. 
 
“I’m proud to be part of a team accounting for 22 percent of Ford Motor Company retail sales—which is very exciting because it really highlights the impact online interactions have in generating valuable leads for dealers,” she says.
 
Glade cites a Forrester study that states online-related sales of all goods and services will represent about 10 percent of all sales in the U.S. by 2014.
 
“You will not see that number decrease,” she says. “There are generations to come where doing business online becomes the way that they are culturalized, or hard wired, to do business. The automobile industry has to be a part of that movement.” 
 
After nine years of regular commuting from the West Coast to Michigan, Glade has settled in Birmingham—across the country from her daughter Lindsay, a first year law school/MBA student at the University of Oregon School of Law, and son Justice, a junior in college who is interning at a winery in Sonoma. 
 
“I didn’t think it would be a hard transition since I traveled here so much and developed strong friendships along the way,” she says. “I underestimated the difficulty of the transition a little bit, as I miss my children who still live in the west, though they are now young adults in college and graduate school with lives of their own. I do enjoy Michigan’s lakes, and the weather in the spring and fall. Everything in life is a trade-off. The opportunity to grow as a professional and work with my visionary CEO, Stacey Coopes, is worth it.”
 
A native of Orange County, Calif., Glade moved to Bend, Ore., in 1999 to get her children out of the city and raise them on a ranch. 
 
“It was a bit of a social experiment. The best time in my childhood was when we moved to Bellingham, Wash., where my father was building the Cherry Point refinery. I learned to ride horses and lived a more rural life than the one in the O.C. I wanted my kids to have that experience. I’m not so sure kids are any better off growing up in a rural small town than a big city, but they are both wonderful adults and they do have my love of the outdoors.”
 
That love includes any form of water—ocean, rivers, and lakes—where Glade enjoys wake-boarding, stand up paddling, fishing, swimming, and surfing. Skiing is a winter passion, and she took up snowshoeing on a visit to her daughter in Oregon. 
 
A volunteer for the Michigan Pug Rescue and for Big Brothers/Big Sisters Detroit, when Glade lived on the west coast she was an active board member of the Kurera Fund, raising money to educate girls and women in Rwanda; and the Girls and Women in Science Foundation, raising scholarships funds for science-related study and public school programs.
 
Her career is a long way from youthful goals of becoming an Olympic figure skater or a racehorse jockey—now she deals with axles rather than axels, and horsepower of a different kind.
 
“Those dreams never quite came to fruition,” she says with a smile. “I could never get past one revolution in my forward axel, and growing three inches between my freshman and sophomore year made becoming a race jockey highly improbable.” 

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