Sometimes we need to make room for what’s right.
This might describe Laura Schwab’s career path, and it might also describe Aston Martin‘s newest model: the DBX SUV.
Yes, the DBX is gorgeous, bespoke and exclusive. But it’s not just the first SUV in the Aston Martin family; it’s a standout in that it was designed for women.
Aston Martin, the bespoke English car maker famous for hand-building luxury cars for Prince Charles and James Bond, has a reputation for fast and fantastic sports cars. But the brand has been on the path of recognizing the role of women in automotive, four years ago installing the company’s first female President of the Americas and just recently, rolling out the DBX, which was refined based on research with panels of women and incorporating many of the wish-list items they brought to the discussion.
From Competitive Tennis to Hitting the Ball out of the Park
From the time she was a young girl growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, Laura Schwab was a competitor. “My parents realized that maybe cotillion, piano, and ballet were not for me, so I starting playing tennis,” she said. Her game led her to get a scholarship to Notre Dame, and then on to law school.
But she soon realized that law wasn’t the right fit, either. Figuring out who you are and what you’re good at in life takes time, she said. It’s like shopping for the perfect party dress, it’s rare to fall in love with the very first one you pick up. “Sometimes we have to try on a couple of different career goals, and make a few bad decisions in order to learn more about who we really are and finally get it right,” Laura said.
But that is the big question we all want answered, isn’t it? How did Laura “get it right” and break through the glass ceiling to become the very first female president in Aston Martin’s history?
What Matters Most: Building Your Support Network
Graduating from the University of Notre Dame with a double major in Spanish and Government, Laura laughs about not knowing who she wanted to be at age nineteen. “When I got to college, all I knew was that I wanted to play tennis,” says Laura. After graduating from Notre Dame as the captain of the tennis team and heading off to law school, her dreams came crumbling down around a few bad decisions.
“I had so much confidence when I got to law school; 22 years of thinking I could do anything came crashing down around me. It ended up being three really difficult years for me.” Finding herself in a toxic relationship, her ex decided to burn all her diplomas and degrees and to try to erase her accomplishments.
But her best friend from Notre Dame stepped up. She sent Laura “a package for my birthday with every one of the diplomas I had earned. She called the college and the high school and the athletics director and got every single one. And that is when you know how important the women are in your life,” she said. “I knew that no man would become between me and my girlfriends or between me and anything that I want to accomplish.”
Soon after earning her law degree, Laura quickly realized practicing contract law wasn’t for her. When she found herself agonizing over details like punctuation and questioning whether she was qualified to decide, she knew she needed to make the bold decision to stop practicing law. At the age of 25, with resume in hand, Laura headed off to California in search of a new start.
If You Don’t Say Yes, Someone Else Will
“I got rejected from every single job that I applied for,” Laura shared. But finally she landed a job at an online car store, a job that Laura attributes to getting not because of her qualifications but because she was energetic and hardworking. Laura added a quick bit of advice: “no one is ever 100 percent qualified for anything, so go ahead and apply for the job you want”.
After leaving the start-up, Laura accepted a contract job in Washington D.C. with Land Rover as a project manager. This later turned into a more permanent position in data entry. It was during this time that she pondered where she was going and what it would take to be the person who occupied a corner office. “I started to wonder if being a project manager was for me; I looked around at all the corner offices to figure out what it takes to be in those offices, and it was all middle-aged white men in navy suits and I thought, I am never going to be a middle-aged man in a navy suit, so I basically did what I always did, I worked harder than anyone else.”
Suffering Imposter Syndrome – Even Though You’re Not an Imposter
“I realize I had probably had “imposter syndrome” for over half of my career. I was told I couldn’t be tough enough because I smile too much,” Laura said. But she decided that her only option was to work harder than anyone else and if she didn’t know how to do something, she took classes at night to learn how to do it.
It was this determination that paved the way for her career to blossom into a lead marketing role within the Land Rover team. A career choice which led her to move with the company to England and opened up the door for her to take on her current position within Aston Martin.
A Dream Job at Aston Martin Leads to the Most Difficult Conversation of All
One day four years ago Simon Sproule, Aston Martin’s chief of marketing invited Laura to tour the factory. CEO Andy Palmer joined the tour and by the end had offered her a job with the company. Laura went home to talk it over with her English husband. After telling him about it, “Nick said, that’s the coolest job in the world.” We didn’t sleep on it or discuss it over dinner. Nick just looked at me and said, “I think we’re moving.”
“I moved to California but Nick stayed behind to get his visa, visiting just 5 weeks after I arrived.” Then, just a few months into the job, Laura realized she was pregnant. “I had to tell Andy.”
“Ok, you’re pregnant. What exactly does this mean?” he asked. “As long as I could do my job we didn’t have any problem he said.”
“But I had to avoid distraction. I was brought in to launch 7 cars in 7 years and to transform our team, our relationship with dealers. Since I joined the company, we’ve made changes to ensure that we’ll have women working on our team. And now, 50% of our management team are women,” Laura says with a grin. “We are very proud of this; the US is the #1 region in sales.”
About a year after she took the job, Nick joined Laura in California just 4 days before their daughter Marie was born.
Laura Schwab is Leading Women Everywhere
Without having any female industry role models and being pregnant, Laura once again felt unsure of her future. “My initial thought was, what am I going to say?” and, “Are they going to wish they had hired a man,” says Laura of her unexpected pregnancy.
Thankfully, these thoughts were unfounded, but it was these uncharted questions that helped spark the need for change. “[Growing a team of women] has been really easy. I’ve just hired the best,” Laura adds with a laugh, “they just happen to all be women.”
Clearing those barriers and forging a path in a business she has come to love has inspired Laura to encourage more women to pursue a career in automotive. And, she hopes she’s also clearing the way for her young daughter to pursue what she wants in life and work. “I’d like there to be no barriers for her,” Laura said. But if she is like her mom, making change that benefits everyone will be in her DNA, too.