I’ve got one of the world’s best jobs. As President of Aston Martin the Americas, in essence, my job is to get people to fall in love with the brand. From customers and dealers, to prospective buyers and little kids, Aston Martins should be the cars of dreams.
Work takes me on the road — by which I mean “plane” — at least once a week. Being up in the air, often with patchy WiFi gives me an opportunity to view things, work and life, from a higher altitude. A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting on a plane, excited for an incredible week. I’d left California for Detroit, where I spoke at Automotive News’ Leading Women conference, after which I’d hop another plane, bound for my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, where Aston Martin served as a sponsor at the Breeders’ Cup.
As a rare treat, that week I’d brought special company: my two-year old daughter, Marie, to provide comic relief and snuggles at every takeoff and landing. And Marie had brought her companion, Suzanne, whose unwavering support as our “nanny” has allowed our family to “have it all,” as much as such a thing were possible. It proved equally exciting and nerve-wracking: looking at my own version of “tomorrow’s future,” I thought overtime about what I could say to an Automotive News audience of 600+ high-powered women, with hopes of truly making an impact.
Meanwhile, I walked away from the day inspired. One of my favorite speakers was Blake Irving, former CEO of Go Daddy, whose sister had died in a car crash. After that he dedicated his career to supporting women in the workplace. Under Blake’s guidance, GoDaddy — once notorious for racy, advertising that objectified women – became one of tech’s most inclusive companies. His tale was a great reminder that the caretakers of big brands could continue to be successful while significantly changing course. Another speaker’s message about sponsoring women – not just mentoring them – resonated with me, too. Had I been doing enough? The room buzzed with excitement, laughter, and possibility.
For my turn at bat, I shared my journey to today, heading Aston Martin The Americas. It was hardly a deliberate path. I’d eaten, slept and breathed sports (not cars) all the way through college, when I’d attended the University of Notre Dame on a full tennis scholarship, while studying Government and Spanish, both of which elude me today. So I thought law school might help me focus. Not so much. When I graduated from University of Kentucky College of Law, I vowed to take any job that didn’t involve practicing law. My first job came courtesy of temp agency placement, working for a startup that sold cars online. That eventually led to working at Jaguar Land Rover, when I’d spent 15 years, doing every manner of sales and marketing job, including a post most recently as head of global marketing. From there, I got the call to lead Aston Martin The Americas, and the rest is history.
My “how I got here” career talk includes plenty of embarrassing stories, and laughs – especially when Marie decided to rush the stage shouting “there’s my mommy!” – only now that I can look back on them. In the early days, I’d left work to cry in a parking lot, while binging on Taco Bell. I’ve been told I’m too nice to make tough decisions. That I smile too much. That, with my Kentucky accent, I’d never make it in business. I always seem to show up to events in the frilly pink florals, and miss the memo on all-black city chic. For a few years, while I was based in England, my loud daily, “Morning, y’all!” was often met with awkward silence. But I kept doing it; why would I change my behavior?
As my imaginary mentor, Tina Fey, wrote in her book, Bossypants, “Do your thing, and don’t care if they like it.” I couldn’t agree more. And apparently the Leading Women conference attendees agreed.
After the talk concluded, I was floored to have had a line of people waiting to meet and thank me. Again and again, I heard the same comments:
· “I feel like I can breathe.”
· “Finally someone who sounds like me.”
· “I’ve always wondered if I should have been more robotic. What a relief to hear it’s ok to show emotion.”
· “I don’t have to change who I am to make my way up the corporate ladder.”
Wow – it stuck with me and also made me wish something like this had existed 5-10 years ago so kudos to Automotive News for leading the charge.
So now, at last, here’s the best perk of my job – the relationships I’ve built, and the people I’ve been able to touch, and affect by sharing my story. These women have followed up with calls, emails, requests for me to speak elsewhere. Somehow it’s been cathartic for them to share a laugh at the struggles, and come away feeling a sense of permission, as a result. Being a woman in power shouldn’t mean you deny who you are. My simple act of being who I am, and sharing stories, both of embarrassment or defeat and of the ability to overcome, has surrounded me with a community of people who understand that we can all get things done while being ourselves.
And if I want to take the ‘high altitude’ view on it, here’s hoping my daughter’s generation will be more open to each other’s differences, and will laugh at their inevitable missteps in the working world. Take it from me: the resulting sense of community is the ultimate perk.
Laura Schwab is the President of the Americas region for Aston Martin. Her automotive career also spans field and HQ executive and management assignments with Jaguar Land Rover in North America and the United Kingdom. Laura’s education includes a Bachelor’s Degree from Notre Dame and a JD from the University of Kentucky College of Law. Follow Laura on LinkedIn.