Laura Schwab is in Mallorca, attending Aston Martin’s annual dealer awards. Teams from the best-performing American dealerships have just enjoyed watching Max Verstappen and Aston Martin Red Bull Racing take third place at the Barcelona Grand Prix and are now finishing off a rewarding European trip with some Mediterranean sunshine. “This trip really motivates the dealers, understandably,” says Schwab. “It’s been amazing.”
Schwab is President of Aston Martin the Americas, responsible for overseeing the company’s operations across North and South America. It’s a massive brief and one that plays a crucial role in Aston Martin’s Second Century Plan, but it is one she wholeheartedly embraces. Kentucky-born Schwab started at Aston Martin in November 2015. After studying for a degree from the University of Kentucky College of Law, she dived headfirst into the nascent tech start-up industry in California. Schwab’s ability to soak up her surroundings and excel at whatever she turned her hand to ultimately led to a job with Land Rover, shortly before it came part of the Premium Automotive Group. Working first on product configurators, she ultimately became Marketing Director, moving her life to the UK and spending 15 years at what evolved into Jaguar Land Rover.
The move to Aston Martin was both a surprise and an opportunity not to be missed. Invited on a factory tour by a former colleague, Aston Martin’s Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Simon Sproule, she met CEO Dr Andy Palmer — and was offered the role out of the blue. “Having lived in England for five years, you’d have thought I’d know all about Aston Martin and its customers, but I really didn’t,” she recalls. “Not only did I have to move back to the US, I had to get a team together, get to know the dealers and study the brand.”
It was an intensive time, especially since her daughter was born within a year of arriving at the company. “I remember writing a strategy document early on and when I recently revisited it, a lot still held true,” she says. “Three and a half years later, though, and things have certainly changed.” At that very first meeting with Andy Palmer, it was obvious that the company had a bold strategy in place. “Seven cars in seven years is incredibly exciting,” she says. “Of course, the dealers have to be motivated by this Second Century Plan. Luckily they are unbelievably excited to work with us.”
Schwab’s position is a vital one. As the bridge between company and dealers, then dealers and customers, she oversees one of the most important automotive markets on earth, a dynamic environment that’s receptive to new products and new technologies. She remains undaunted by the scope of the role, though, thanks largely to her admiration for the brand. “My alarm goes off every morning at 4am,” she confides. “Sometimes I wonder why I do it. But I want my team to feel we’re part of this amazing plan.”
As well as guiding all this new product to market, Schwab has focused her skills on customer experience. “I have a real passion for the customer experience and journey,” she says. “I’m convinced we can do it better than anyone else.” Aston Martin has proved the perfect environment for her innovative approach. “Anytime I went to Andy Palmer with a crazy idea, he always said ‘let’s just do it’. There’s never any push back. Not all companies act and behave that way, in my experience — I’ve never worked anywhere where everyone truly supports each other and works towards a common goal,” she enthuses. “In my whole career, I’ve never experienced anything like it.”
The DBS Volante is the latest model to join the line-up, following the introduction of DB11, Vantage and the DBS Superleggera coupe. “These cars woke up the marketplace,” Schwab explains, “but introducing the DBX will be the gamechanger in the US and Canada — customers there are obviously drawn to sports utility vehicles because of the space and the practicality. I know many customers who use our sports cars as daily drivers, but the DBX will be the most practical vehicle Aston Martin has ever made.” As the final production prototypes undergo extensive testing in the UK, prior to the manufacturing starting in Aston Martin’s new factory in St Athan, Wales next year, Schwab’s focus is on the launch. “We’re a global company but clearly a lot of the DBX’s focus will be on the Americas. It’s fun for me and the team to be involved in the launch — this will be the most beautiful SUV that’s ever existed,” she says. “I believe in making things fun and I believe the customers are really going to enjoy how we present this car.”
The dealers’ role in the DBX’s success is also critical. “We’re very transparent with our dealers and really trust them,” says Schwab. “They’re our product experts and our customers in turn trust them to know about the product. The second this car is revealed they’re going to be getting enquiries.”
Seven cars in seven years is incredibly exciting
Aston Martin’s Second Century plan has a truly global approach, something that’s immediately evident when talking to Schwab. “Marek [Reichman, Chief Creative Officer] and Miles [Nurnberger, Director of Design] and the design team really are geniuses — they work so hard with the regional teams and get their feedback to ensure the car is absolutely right.” Special products are also driving customer interest. “Andy Palmer created the vision of the Valkyrie soon after joining the company in 2014 and he’s delivering it,” says Schwab. “We’ve had a huge amount of interest in Valkyrie in the US. When I personally first saw the car, I got chills — I love cars, but I’ve never had that response to a car before. It’s truly magnificent.”
It’s not just the cars — the industry itself has evolved enormously over the past 20 years, but Schwab acknowledges it wasn’t always easy as a female. “The hardest thing for me was the lack of role models and guidance when I started out,” she says. “There were very few women as mentors. But now I’m passionate about mentoring — I block out one day a month so that I can talk to all the people I’m mentoring. My executive team is also 50% women, which I’m proud of — but we simply hire the best.”
Ultimately, Schwab says that Aston Martin provides an exceptional environment for innovation. Schwab’s abilities and skills have driven her success; in Aston Martin, she has found the perfect match. “I’m not going to be stagnant in life,” she concludes. With a launch schedule as busy as Aston Martin’s, it seems very unlikely that she will.