5 Questions With … John Garubba

Our managing director of media and digital marketing started his career in the humble world of debits and credits.

In some ways, John Garubba’s professional evolution at AAA Northeast mirrors how the club itself has grown over the last 23 years.

John joined the New Jersey Auto Club in January 1999 as its controller, a role he filled for the next seven years. From there, he moved into operations, serving as director of Travel Services for three years before bringing his skills to marketing, to run the New Jersey club’s website and email efforts.

As time went on, John took on more of the marketing and PR functions until he was named vice president of Marketing, Membership and Public Affairs in July 2011 and served right up until the merger with Southern New England in 2012. John was named director of Digital Marketing in July 2013, and this past January, he was promoted to managing director of the same division.

You may find it hard to believe, then, that this successful marketer, so well versed in the digital universe, once aspired to be a respiratory therapist.

Q: What was your favorite toy growing up?
The earliest toy I remember that I loved was the Kenner Family pop-up Treehouse. I thought the fact that it opened to reveal the space inside was very cool at the time, and it had an elevator, so how could it not be the coolest place to play? It accidentally met an untimely, melted end when I left it too close to the baseboard heating one night. The next one that was my favorite for a long time was Lite Brite. It combined my newfound love for all things electronic (I considered becoming an electrician when I grew up) and compensated for my lack of any artistic ability, by providing templates for me to make masterpieces.

Q: What career advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t define yourself by the major you chose in college or the skills you studied in trade-school. My first passion in life was electricity, but I didn’t make it a career. I do wire houses – my own and others – whenever I get a chance, though. Electrical, cable, phone (remember those?), ethernet, AV, anything that can be connected. But I never chased it as a career. My first major in college was Respiratory Therapy – until I observed my first lung suction on a patient. I became a history major the next morning. The thinking there was I’d then go on to law school. That seemed too ambitious for my personality, so I picked the easiest subject I could think of that would allow me to get a degree and provide me options in other areas once I would later find myself. That major was accounting. So, I’m a degreed accountant, and spent the first 10 years of my professional life working in accounting (the latter seven of them here at AAA). I did what I set out to do. I got my foot in the door of the business world and explored other options.

When I grew tired of reporting the results of what others had done the prior period, I moved into Travel Operations to help shape those results instead. While there I found travel marketing and partner co-op incredibly fun and exciting. The rest, as they say is history (pardon the pun). From that point until now, I have continued to grow and learn all I can about marketing, particularly on the digital side with all the cool tech toys it requires now. To sum it up, don’t define yourself or your career by the piece of paper that says you are this one thing. You will learn your entire life and be able to be anything you want to be along the way.

Q: If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I wanted to say sushi or Chinese food, but if I’m being honest, it’s cheese. I am addicted to charcuterie (aka adult Lunchables) and enjoy it at least once a week. It is the cheese that makes it though. I enjoy all the other stuff, too, but couldn’t live without cheese.

Q: If you could have any exotic animal as a pet, which would it be?
Hear me out. It might sound weird, but I want a gigantic, floor-to-ceiling, aquarium-sized jellyfish tank. You know what I’m talking about if you’ve ever walked through the darkest sections of an aquarium and saw the giant cylindrical tank with the black light at the top and/or bottom, and dozens or more of the majestic, flowing jellyfish inside. It’s creepy and absolutely beautiful.

Q: What’s on your bucket list?
I love to vacation. As a child my vacations were all relatively local and mostly camping adventures. It wasn’t until college and married life afterward that I truly began to vacation. I’ve stayed primarily in North America and the Caribbean so far, so my bucket list involves world travel. I need to get to so much in Europe, including finding where my family is from in both Ireland and Italy. And I want to hit Australia because it’s Australia. I am a cruise addict and while I can’t say I will do it, I would love to take a world cruise one day. Maybe if I ever retire.

Check out these past profiles of your colleagues: 

  1. Andrew Rosen, vice president, Brand & Content Marketing
  2. Dana Laverty, copy editor, Publications
  3. Liz Eaton, member retention counselor, Outbound Contact Center
  4. Damond James, senior manager, Membership Experience
  5. Stephanie Tomasso, business line manager, Human Resources
  6. Ashley Janke, project manager, Marketing Operations 
  7. Sarah Cholewa, marketing specialist, Financial Services
  8. Dan Pegg, email marketing specialist, Marketing
  9. Kemdy Lawson, senior data analyst, Marketing
  10. Brooke Fairbrothers, associate marketing specialist, Insurance
  11. Karina De La Cruz, social listening specialist, Social Media
  12. Christine Spinella, business development coordinator, Sales
  13. David Dhanpat, senior marketing specialist, Marketing
  14. Dan Tu, director of marketing insights and analytics, e-Biz
  15. Kim Davis, manager, Outbound Call Center
  16. Jared Ventetuolo, senior financial analyst, Marketing
  17. Liliana Alston-Swan, manager of creative, Studio


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