40 Under 40 2016: Ray Wert

Team leader, storytelling and story bureau, General Motors, 37

Ray Wert learned early on that crafting the right headline was crucial to grabbing attention, starting a narrative, and reaching out to engage. From governor’s office to journalism to the world’s third-largest automaker, he pushes his teams outside their comfort zones to find the right story and the right strategy.

He built Gawker’s Jalopnik into the go-to auto forum over several years — it now has than 4.5 million unique visitors a month. On his watch, traffic increased from 2 million page views per month to 32 million. He then took on the role of executive director of content at Gawker Media, where he was in charge of conceptualizing and promoting scalable branded content and conversation offerings across Gawker’s eight sites. Views of sponsored content on branded Gawker sites increased by more than 300% in the first three months.

Before that he was the director of operations for Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, building a staff of 100-plus from the ground up. A few years ago he founded Tiny Toy Car, a custom-content studio to help online publishers and their automotive and agency clients. He continues to run it.

The savvy social storyteller operates at a pace with which it can be hard to keep up — but no one at General Motors is complaining. Wert’s "relentless" focus on telling a good story, backed with the right data, has led to fundamental and sustainable change at GM after just a little longer than a year.

He is responsible for teaching, driving stories and content management at the Detroit-based behemoth, and has built strong relationships across the senior management team as well as with important external contacts. His editor’s ability to see the holes in a story, a strategy, or a mind-set is unmatched. But even as Wert challenges those around him, he also "knows how to build and bring a team along with him on the journey," says a GM colleague.

- The gearhead is an avid bicyclist and collects off-road SUVs and high-powered wagons.

- He has made it his mission to photograph and build the most delicious breakfast sandwich ever, sharing his finds and creations on Instagram: #breakfastsammy.

- Wert regularly speaks on the power of stories and headlines to such media outlets and companies as Hearst, Forbes, Reuters, Hagerty, and iMedia as well as at such events as New York City’s Internet Week.

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