Mason alumna named Business Person of the Year by Virginia Business


Kristen Cavallo already had an undergraduate degree in business under her belt, but she knew she needed additional knowledge and skills to truly get ahead in the field. “I wanted to make sure I focused on a different concentration so my additional schooling wouldn’t feel redundant but would feel cumulative or additive,” she said. “So I focused more on the math side.”

Kristen Cavallo
Kristen Cavallo. Photo provided

As it happened, the Master of Business Administration Program at George Mason University’s Costello College of Business featured a math-intensive concentration in decisions sciences and statistics, ideal for her needs. She earned her MBA in 1992.

Flash forward to three decades later: In 2023, Cavallo was CEO of two major advertising and marketing firms and was named the Virginia Business Magazine Business Person of 2023, a distinction that recognizes her achievements in growing companies while emphasizing diversity in leadership.

For the past six years, Cavallo has been CEO of the Richmond, Virginia-based Martin Agency which represents name brands including Geico, DoorDash, CarMax, Papa Johns, and any number of instantly recognizable products and services. In November 2022, Cavallo became CEO of London-based MullenLowe Global, an international marketing and communications network that is owned by a parent holding company with Martin, Interpublic Group of Cos.

That had Cavallo leading some 5,000 employees in 13 countries, with 400 of them in Richmond.

While the award took her by surprise, it’s not the first time her work has been recognized by industry leaders. The Martin Agency—did you see their OREO cookie “twist on it” spot during the Super Bowl?—has been named Agency of the Year three times by Adweek magazine; in 2019 Cavallo was Ad Age’s Executive of the Year.

Kristen Cavallo with background
Cavallo was CEO of the Martin Agency, which represents name brands including Geico, DoorDash, CarMax, Papa Johns, and any number of instantly recognizable products and services. Photo provided

“Growth is our shield,” Cavallo said of her business strategy. “I spend a lot of time talking about growth and determining what businesses we go after and what we don’t.”

Something must be working: Martin’s topline revenue increased by 50% under Cavallo’s leadership.

As she grew the profit line, she also diversified the corporate leadership, bringing in Danny Robinson as the agency’s first Black chief creative officer to a leadership team that is “35-40% people of color,” she said, and assuring “a pretty even split of male and female leaders.” Robinson was named CEO of Martin in January 2024.

The diversity, she said, “has been part of my strategy. I believe diverse leadership teams produce higher morale, higher revenue, higher margins, higher employee participation. And it’s proven to be true.”

As it happens, Cavallo is just one in a family with deep Mason ties. “It’s the one school all three of us have in common,” she said of her siblings. “It kind of ties us all together.”

One of her brothers, Mike Pflugrath, has a MEd in education leadership from Mason and, since 2019, has been principal of Osborn High School in Manassas; the former Virginia assistant principal of the year has worked with Mason to become partners in the Direct Admissions Program.

Cavallo said the program is “really is a statement about George Mason and their collaboration to really get the best out of students today from all walks of life, and I know my brother appreciates it enormously.”

Brother Pete Pflugrath earned his MS in software systems engineering and is now executive vice president of federal contractor ARServices. His wife, Clara Hauth, is a Mason PhD grad in Educational Leadership/Special Education, His daughter, Lauren Pflugrath, earned her law degree from Mason, and Lauren's husband, Bill Boyle, has a Mason master’s degree in accounting.

“We come from a family of educators,” Cavallo said. “Education has always been a priority in our family, and George Mason is the common link with most of us.”