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Dante Mastri, MBA ’10: Marketing for a More Inclusive Society at American Express

By Leslie Ellis
Tags: Alumni

Dante Mastri, MBA ’10, is a tastemaker who has been one step ahead of social and digital transformations throughout his career.
 
He’s a passionate advocate for a more inclusive and equitable society both professionally, in his role as head of enterprise brand strategy with American Express, and personally, as a longtime Stonewall Community Foundation leader.
 
But his story starts in the 1990s, when the internet was still relatively new.

A digital revolutionary

As an undergrad at the University of Michigan, Mastri became fascinated by the convergence of television, video, and new media. He worked with the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts to create a self-directed electronic media major and earned a dual bachelor of arts degree in music.

After graduation in 1999, he was off to New York City, where he worked in various media marketing roles. He found himself at the center of a digital revolution.

“This was when file-sharing had just started happening. There was this concern about users (who) weren’t paying for music,” Mastri says. “Then, I worked for Time Warner at the time when AOL and Time Warner merged. The internet was revolutionizing the media landscape and created these multimedia conglomerates where you can go one-stop shopping for integrated marketing programs.”

These experiences would ultimately help set the stage for his current role as head of enterprise brand strategy. “At Amex, there’s been a lot of transition in how the payments landscape works. Digital payments are much more prevalent, and the global pandemic accelerated many online shopping and payment behaviors,” Mastri says. “So, for me, unintentionally, navigating digital transformation has been a big part of how my career has shaken out.”

Shaking up the system

After nearly a decade in New York, Mastri was eager to learn more about marketing and ready to make an industry switch. Recognizing that the Ross School of Business would be a perfect place to do that, he returned to U-M to earn a Full-Time MBA. Mastri says the strong marketing program and alumni network at Ross impressed him, while Ann Arbor provided an environment where he could focus on his studies outside the hustle and bustle of New York.

Ross gave me a huge foundation for thinking critically about customer insights and understanding customer behavior.

 Dante Mastri, MBA '10

“In hindsight, though, my corporate strategy classes have actually been a lot more helpful in thinking about how to build an argument, develop frameworks to shape your thinking, and influence decision makers.”

These skills would come in handy after he joined American Express in 2010 as senior manager of Digital Products, Account Strategy & Merchant Development.

Mastri got involved in the internal Amex PRIDE Employee Network and helped to develop a marketing pilot to engage LGBT consumers. The successful program caught leadership’s attention and helped land him a new role on the Amex brand team.

Today, Mastri works as the head of Enterprise Brand  Strategy in the Global Advertising & Brand Management team. He developed and rolled out the company’s first global brand strategy, increasing brand value more than 21% to $21.6 billion and reversing a three-year decline.

Building on the LGBT pilot program, his work also helped to establish a dedicated multicultural marketing function at American Express that tailors messaging to diverse audiences so more customers feel welcomed and valued.

“My role is to understand what do (people) think about the brand and how we evolve those perceptions to ensure we stay relevant as customer demographics and needs continue to evolve over time,” Mastri says.

“How my brand work ties to our multicultural work is through the evolution we see in younger customers,” he says. “Starting with Millennials, and certainly with Gen Z, there’s a shift toward customers having a more critical understanding of the companies that they support and understanding what sort of stances they have, how they spend their money, and in what ways they make the world a better place or not.”

Mastri says this became more apparent during the past year as conversations about race, gender, violence, and public health took center stage, and more companies — including American Express — determined how they would address these topics in response.

“It’s the sense of figuring out what impact you want to make at a company and, at least in my case, how to slowly adjust the system,” he says. “I always had an intention to make LGBT engagement, and inclusion generally, a bigger part of how I did my work and I’m lucky now. The fact that we now have a multicultural function at American Express and we didn’t when I started here, I can take some credit for that.”

Making an impact beyond the office

Mastri also has been a catalyst for change through his nonprofit work with the Stonewall Community Foundation.

The NYC-based foundation, whose name is a nod to the 1969 Stonewall uprising that advanced LGBTQ liberation, works to strengthen the movement through fundraising and grant-making. It has delivered more than $21 million in grants since its founding.

Mastri got involved more than 20 years ago, helping a friend hang Stonewall event fliers around New York City. Since then, he has served on the Stonewall Community Foundation board and helped establish the Stonewall Quarter Share initiative, a young donor giving circle. The innovative initiative serves as a pipeline for new energy, donors, and board members.

“There are a million different things that the community is tackling,” Mastri says. “A big focus in nonprofit, in the LGBT space and beyond, is this idea of intersectionality. You’re not just gay, you’re not just black, you’re not just a woman. You’re all three. So, how does that create a fuller picture of who you are? How does that create unique needs or challenges that you may need to address as a service organization?”

‘You can make a difference’

Mastri says the common theme throughout his career has been the idea of navigating through moments of transformation and acknowledging changing customer behaviors and expectations, a skill set he developed at Ross.

“Having been out of undergrad now for over 20 years, you start to see that sometimes it does take some amount of commitment over time,” Mastri says. “I was building the case for multicultural marketing (at Amex) for nine years. It just took a little while for the chips to fall in place and for the organization to be ready to do it.

“When I was younger, I would always be frustrated, wondering, ‘Why is this taking so long?’” Mastri says. “With the benefit of time, if you stay the course and continue to maneuver in small ways, you can turn the ship.”
 

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