Lizette Williams, Sr. Director, McDonald’s U.S. Marketing

Lizette Williams, Senior Director, Brand & Content Strategy, U.S. Marketing, is the third honoree to be featured in the 2020 edition of Reel Chicago Black List, an annual celebration of African-American creativity published during Black History Month. She joins an esteemed group of artists, entrepreneurs and innovators that includes ‘The Chi’ cast member LaDonna Tittle, house music pioneer Vince Lawrence, and filmmaker Rhyan LaMarr. To view the complete Reel Black List, click here.

Meet Lizette Williams

What did you originally want to be when you grow up? I always wanted to be a writer. I loved writing. As a child growing up in the inner-city I would create characters and fictional lives in long stories I would spend hours writing. I still one day hope to author a book.

How did you get into the marketing industry? I spent four years doing strategy consulting after graduating from Columbia University in New York. It was a great experience but I really felt like I wanted to be part of the end-to-end consumer process rather than just giving recommendations to a client. I also loved digging into consumer insights and behavior. I decided to go to business school and got my MBA at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. That was when I transitioned to a career in marketing.

Who were your mentors? I have been so blessed in the area of mentorship and have had great mentors throughout my education and career. Some of them included:

Star Cunningham
She was the Principal Consultant on a client project I had at IBM when I was in consulting. At the age of 24 she taught me how to articulate sound points in meetings and coached me on how to be a better professional. She was a Northwestern MBA alumnus and went on to write my recommendation for business school. Today Star is the Founder and CEO of 4D Healthware and has raised millions of dollars in funding to leverage her tech platform to give physicians the power to improve the health and save the lives of millions of patients with chronic illnesses.

Janice Tennant
She interviewed me at the National Black MBA Conference as a second-year MBA student at Northwestern and subsequently hired me for my first post-MBA job at PepsiCo. She went on to be a trusted confidante, mentor and friend. Years later I would follow Janice to Kimberly-Clark. Today Janice is the CMO of CAT Footwear at Wolverine World Wide Inc.

Gilbert Davila
Gilbert is a marketing legend and started mentoring me when I first started out in the multicultural marketing industry. His candid feedback and coaching has been invaluable. Today Gilbert is the Founder and CEO of Davila Multicultural Insights and chairs the Diversity Committee for the Association of National Advertisers.

There are so many others I could name. I am truly thankful for my mentorship experiences. I take mentorship very seriously and have my own set of mentees throughout the country. I am a firm believer in the saying, “You lift as you climb.”



What is your greatest achievement? My biggest achievement is becoming a mom and the journey of motherhood. I have two children, ages 7 and 10, and they are my inspiration and motivation. I believe in the power of legacy. I am the first person in my family to go to college and am working to instill a strong legacy of faith, resilience, and compassion in the both of them. The motherhood journey isn’t always easy when balancing a big career, but together as a family we make it work. It’s not uncommon to see my children in the front row at a speech I am giving or a work event or to see me in full mom mode at their games and recitals. I am always on my #CorporateMommyFlow. You can follow me on IG (@LizetteW1) to see the adventure unfold.

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What is your greatest disappointment? Early in my career I was passed up for a promotion. Things had been going well with relationship-building with my co-workers and I had glowing performance reviews. When I went to my boss to discuss with her, she looked surprised. I remember her telling me, “I didn’t even know you wanted to be promoted.” I thought because I had kept my head down and did good work, I would be recognized. Since that day I have lived by the Oprah Winfrey quote, “You get in life what you have the courage to ask for.” It was a critical lesson during that early career stage on learning how to own and communicate your plan for your own career trajectory.

Name your biggest pet peeves? I don’t have a ton of pet peeves but probably indecisiveness. I definitely appreciate and value when others have an opinion and are willing to state it and own it.

What are your predictions for the marketing industry over the next decade? I think the media landscape is going to continue to evolve. How we communicate and get brand messages to consumers has already drastically changed in the last five years and I believe as marketers we will have to continue to innovate in this space. The streaming services are not going away, the growth of digital and social platforms will continue and consumer appetite for traditional media consumption will decline. We have to be more innovative in creating meaningful connections and experiences for consumers and deliver content on their terms.

Name a job you had that would surprise people. I was a bartender in London for literally one night. I did a year-long program at the London School of Economics during undergrad and decided to get a night job as a way to make extra money. My dorm had a pub downstairs so I went in for my trial night. The cigarette smoke and my manager asking me to clean an ashtray during my shift resulted in me resigning that same night. Definitely not for me!

What Marvel or DC superhero do you get to play? Definitely Storm. She wears so many hats – a mutant, a queen, goddess and top fighter – and balances them all. She also rocks any X-suit they put her in and doesn’t shy away from her femininity. Strong and beautiful. Storm is also a mentor to a lot of the newer X-Men entrants, which is definitely aligned to my core values of “lifting as you climb.”

What do you wish you had more time to do? Definitely spend more time with my kids. It is something that I am being more intentional about in 2020. They are only this age once so I want to maximize the time I have with them. I definitely believe in work/ life integration so ensuring that I have that integration with them is critical for me.

What drives you to be extraordinary at what you do? I am so blessed that I get to sit at the intersection of traditional education and experience combined with passion and purpose. The education and career experience have trained me to be a strong marketer that developed an understanding of consumer behavior, business analytics and strategy. The passion and purpose allow me to take the classical training to the next level. I think when a professional can combine their education, experience, passion and purpose, that’s when magic really begins to happen.

Congratulations, you built a time machine! What do you go back and tell your 15-year-old self?

To 15-year-old Lizette,

You are fearfully and wonderfully made. Hold on tight to your authentic self despite the ebbs and flows of life. You care about people, about causes related to women and diversity, and you have the power to create meaningful change. Do not shrink yourself to fit other people’s expectations. And always, always be proud of who you are and where you came from. That, honey, is your super power.

Your girl,
Grown-up Lizette


ALSO READ: Chicago creative industry celebrates diversity

Lizette Williams career biography

Lizette Williams is a leading marketing and advertising executive with expertise at driving the convergence of brands and culture. She has worked across Fortune 50 companies driving consumer-centric growth strategies focused on cultural relevancy.

In 2019 she was named a Brandweek “Innovator” and Chicago Business Journal “Woman of Influence.”

She is one of the foremost-awarded marketing executives in the field and was also inducted into the American Advertising Federation Advertising Hall of Achievement, the premier industry recognition for leaders under 40 who are making a significant impact in the industry and their communities.

She has been listed as Crain’s Chicago Business “40 under 40,” Advertising Age “Women to Watch,” and Black Enterprise “Top Women Executives in Advertising and Marketing.”

A respected thought leader and subject matter expert, Lizette is a sought-out speaker, lecturer, and advisor on marketing and culture. She has provided expertise as a keynote and panelist at several premiere industry conferences, including SXSW, Advertising Week, Essence Fest, and multiple Association of National Advertisers conferences. She is frequently invited to keynote events at major companies to discuss cultural growth strategies including the Kraft Heinz Company, LinkedIn, and Ogilvy & Mather.

Lizette is currently a senior marketing executive on the U.S. business at McDonald’s Corporation. She recently served as the Head of Cultural Engagement & Experiences, where she was responsible for developing the vision and plan for the organization to be culturally-relevant by connecting with consumers through their passion points. She managed the team that leads music, sports and entertainment strategies, national events and promotional strategy, U.S. Social and Digital, the national Ronald McDonald program, branded content integration, and multicultural advertising. In this role she launched the largest McDonald’s African-American marketing campaign in 16 years, “Black and Positively Golden,” which resulted in reversing a multi-year guest count decline and won a Clio Award.

Prior to her role at McDonald’s, Lizette served as Multicultural Marketing Leader, North America for Kimberly-Clark Corporation where she was responsible for driving the Company’s business objectives to win diverse audiences across the brands, including Scott®, U by Kotex®, and Huggies®. She started her marketing career at PepsiCo where she worked across a variety of traditional marketing roles.

Lizette’s love of all things “culture” comes from being a born-and-raised New Yorker (and proud “Afro-Latina”) though currently based in Chicago. She has a passion for serving young people and women and as a result, has a countless number of mentees across the country. She spends her free time inspiring college students and has keynoted events at Northwestern University and Lincoln University as well as guest lectured classes at several other universities.

Lizette received her MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. She received her BA in Economics/ Political Science through a joint program with Columbia University in New York City and the London School of Economics.