Louisville native Laura Schwab is the president of Aston Martin the Americas, the iconic luxury performance car company. The company’s first female president in its 105-year history, she’s focused, shrewd and not afraid to step into the role of a lifetime in a male-dominated industry. With such a high-powered job, you’d expect her to be all business. But you’d be wrong. This Louisvillian — who grew up in the Glenview neighborhood, went to Sacred Heart Academy, played tennis for Notre Dame and graduated law school from the University of Kentucky — is warm, friendly and open. Today, this California resident shares the story of her rise up the corporate ladder in the world of luxury cars and how her enduring love of Louisville informed that journey. Meet today’s FACE of Louisville, Laura Schwab.
How did growing up in Louisville shape you?
I talk about being from Kentucky and growing up in the South a lot. I still have this Southern way about me that I think has absolutely served me well in my career, because people are like, “Oh wow! She’s actually really nice!” Kentucky is always my home, and no matter where I travel or where I go, I always know that I have a home to go back to, and that’s Louisville.
How did you come to this position with Aston Martin?
I fell into a startup company in the ’90s in California that sold cars online. I ultimately ended up in the U.K. at Land Rover and Jaguar, running all marketing, for 15 years. I have a friend who is the chief marketing officer at Aston Martin, and he invited me to do an Aston Martin factory tour. At the tour, my friend Simon said, “Oh I’d like to introduce you to our CEO Andy Palmer.” The two of them were like, “We’ve been following your career, and we’d really like you to join Aston Martin,” and I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is a job interview?”
When I got home, my husband looked at me and said, “That is the coolest job in the world!” And he didn’t hesitate; he said, “I think we’re moving to the United States,” and just like that we made a decision in an instant.
I was very fortunate to meet most of the members of the Royal Family and have done some amazing things at Land Rover, but when you get the opportunity of a lifetime, it’s hard to say no.
What do you like best about your job?
When there’s a new car, some of our really special customers will get to preview the car before it comes out. We just launched a new car called the Vantage, and I’ll never forget, we pulled the silk off the car and literally these two people started screaming and jumping up and down. For an automobile to make people feel such emotion, it gives you chill bumps.
What is most challenging about your job?
I’m working some pretty significant hours these days, and every once in a while, I wish I could make it home a few hours earlier.
You’re a woman at the helm of a car company, which is a male-dominated industry. Has that been difficult?
No, and I feel very fortunate for that. Obviously, this is a very pivotal year for women, and women know that they have a voice now. They’ve always had it, but now they have the freedom to really speak out and talk about it, which I think is fantastic.
What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received?
Oh gosh, I think my best compliments are, “She’s tough, she’s fair, she’s funny, and she’s really a nice person,” which I think shocks people. I guess there’s this perception that to make your way up the corporate ladder that you have to step on people to get there. That’s never been how I approached anything. I think it’s a surprise to people that you can actually run a business and truly care about people and not have to knock people over to get there.
If you weren’t in this career, what would you like to do?
I’ve always wanted to be a sports announcer on ESPN. When I was a kid, there weren’t really any females who were sports announcers. I thought I was gonna work for ESPN for sure.
Tell us something that people might be surprised to learn about you.
I have an unnatural love for Hallmark Channel movies.
How do you relax?
Time with the family. Really the best is on Sunday mornings, we take everyone — our daughter, Marie, and chocolate lab, Belle — down to the beach and hang out. I try to not take my phone. Sunday mornings are probably my most relaxing time by far.
What advice would you give to help foster a female-friendly workplace?
I’m desperate for more females to apply for roles. I try to create the type of environment where people care about the people around them as much as they care about the great work that they’re doing. I think that that sort of transcends gender.
How do you make time for yourself and your family?
I travel constantly, so I think the most important thing I can do is try to put my laptop and my phones away and really just make sure that I’m present. I’m not sure that I balance it that well.
When you’re in Louisville, what places do you make a point to visit?
My favorite restaurant, probably in the world, is Jack Fry’s. I love it. We always go to Wild Eggs with my nieces. Etcetera on Brownsboro Road is one of my favorite stores. Animal Crackers on Chenoweth Lane has the best children’s clothing on the planet, so I have to go there. The Cheddar Box Cafe on Shelbyville Road is another important stop for me — food and shopping, basically. I’m always interested to go downtown to see the transformation. And I always stop by Stoneware & Co., because all my dishes, everything I have, is Stoneware & Co. I’ve literally taken this stuff all over the world. I pick up a few extra pieces every time that I’m home. I love Louisville.
What is your best piece of advice?
It was advice that my mom gave me; it’s about never compromising who you are. Obviously, I work in a sort of male-dominated industry, but I don’t wear the corporate suit always. I probably don’t have the corporate haircut. I never compromise who I am, how I speak or my approach. I laugh a lot — I have fun with it. Stay true to yourself. I have, and I guess it’s served me alright.
What are three things you can’t live without — with the exception of faith, family and friends?
My iPad. Netflix is a very important part of my life, and I couldn’t live without bourbon, really. Who could live without it?
Thank you, Laura! To learn more about Laura’s work at Aston Martin, visit astonmartin.com.
To read about more inspiring women of Louisville, click here!