Next in our Women Who Win series is Laura Schwab, President of the Americas for Aston Martin. Emily Maddick sat down with Laura to hear how she made it to the top of the car game, and what still needs to change
Until a few years ago the notion of a female president of an iconic automotive brand such as Aston Martin – James Bond’s ride of choice – would have been almost unheard of. Not anymore. Thanks to Laura Schwab, President of the Americas for the luxury British carmaker, the once notoriously male-dominated industry is redressing its gender balance and empowering women along the way.
‘What we should be doing as women in industries like mine, is ensuring there are multiple seats at the table. Because we’re not fighting for one chair – we’re trying to ensure that there’s chairs for all of us,’ says Laura.
Our Women Who Win interview series celebrates strong and inspirational female trailblazers, shaping the future for us all. Emily Maddick sat down with Laura, to hear how she made it to the top and what more needs to change.
‘When I joined Aston Martin four years ago there were no women on the executive team – now it’s 50% female. I opened the door and made them feel they were joining a business that really embraced them,’ she says.
But with still only two women in Laura’s position globally (Mary Barra is the CEO of General Motors) more needs to be done. ‘I’ve launched our Top 100 club, celebrating our top female customers, we just did a women-only rally from Beverly Hills to Las Vegas and I’ve got exciting mentorship talks and schemes coming up this year with The Power of Women TV director Rosemary Reed.’
And with the number of females driving luxury sportscars on the sharp increase (Halle Berry, Elle MacPherson and Kim Kardashian are all Aston owners) and the arrival of Aston Martin’s first ever family friendly SUV, the DBX, later this year, there has never been a more relevant time to have a female president in the driving seat (pun intended.)
Talk us through your journey
After graduating from Notre Dame University, I decided to go to law school back home in Kentucky. I thought it would be like Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde, but from day one, I realised that everyone else knew they wanted to be an attorney, but I didn’t.
I started to lose my confidence and after six months it was completely gone, it was a dark period. I was 25 and I had no idea what I wanted to do, so I picked myself up and moved to California. I got rejected from every job I applied for, until I walked into this little start-up selling cars on the internet, which was relatively new back then in the 90s. The money wasn’t great and I worked three other jobs to pay the bills. My big break came a few years later at Land Rover when a friend of mine helped me get a contract job there. I paid to take night classes to learn all the skill sets I didn’t have and I worked my way up from data entry to ultimately moving to England and running marketing for Land Rover Jaguar. Things were going well when I got a message from Aston Martin inviting me on a factory tour. Little did I know it was a job interview and we ‘bumped into’ the Chief Executive Andy Palmer, who told me they’d been following my career and wanted me to be President of Aston Martin for the Americas and I thought ‘Holy sh*t.’ That was four years ago.
What is the boldest thing you’ve ever done in your career?
Packing up my bags aged 25 and moving to California with no plan.
What are you most proud of?
My proudest moment came recently when I brought my 3-year-old daughter to one of my events. They had me up on a huge screen and I could hear this little voice in the background going ‘Mummy, Mummy’. She started running towards the stage and I thought if all the hard work I am doing now ensures that she is not one of a ‘handful’ of any future women being successful in their chosen field, then it will have been worth it.
What do you refuse to compromise on?
A lot! I won’t compromise on my approach to the business. I have opinions, I have a pretty loud voice and I’m unbelievably honest. Also, I’ve been told that if I would just smile less people would take me more seriously. So, I will not compromise on that. I will smile more.
What do you think has ever stopped you from progressing further?
Early on it was my confidence. I would sit in those board rooms and think, I better sit in the back row. I was desperate to look and sound like everyone else – I definitely don’t fit the typical corporate mould! But once I started to be more myself, that’s what really helped my career.
What is your superpower?
I don’t take the failures of the day home with me. I tend to recover the next day and move forward because I believe in the good of every person I work with.
What’s your mantra?
Always be yourself.
When was the last time you felt discriminated against?
Not at Aston Martin. I work for an organisation that has not only given me this job, but they’ve embraced my individuality and celebrated it.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
I worked for a guy once who said: ‘If you don’t know the answer, just don’t make sh*t up.’
What has been your biggest mistake?
Along the way I have been fearful to ask for a pay increase and for what the next step was for me.
What is the one thing you would change for women if you could?
In industries that can be heavily male-dominated, I have seen that women have a tendency to beat one another up. Often, it’s like, well there’s only room for one woman and I’m good if you’re not good. Instead we should be ensuring there are multiple seats at that table for us.
What is your tip for asking for more?
Just go for it and be very well prepared.
How do you celebrate your success?
Because I work a lot, sometimes I am so in to it that I don’t even realise my successes! But I try and create more space for that. I am getting a couple of awards later this year and will have my whole family celebrate with me.