Scott Keogh

Scott Keogh ’91

Audi of America

In the competitive market of luxury cars, Scott Keogh ’91 doubled sales in less than 10 years as president of Audi of America, a feat Fortune dubbed “a lesson in marketing-led transformation.” His strategy tested and defied the limits of what is possible, making us wonder:

Q: What is the most valuable piece of advice you’ve received and how has it helped you adapt Audi to meet the challenges of the 21st century?

A: “I think a lot about what [author and speaker] Simon Sinek calls the ‘Golden Circle.’ I heard about it for the first time at a TED Conference when he described the idea: the ‘what’ is on the outside of the circle, then the ‘how,’ and then the core of the circle is the ‘why.’

The majority of people focus on ‘what.’ What do you do? I sell cars, I sell appliances, etc. The problem is if you’re thinking only about the ‘what,’ you’re probably not getting what you want out of your job. The ‘whats’ in life don’t deeply or profoundly motivate you; it’s the ‘why.’

Over the last 10 years at Audi, we looked at the world and said there’s no way we shouldn’t be up there with our competitors, selling 200,000, 300,000 units; we have to figure out a way to bring this company to life and leave a mark — on society through our volunteering; on the competition in terms of sales; on our customers through our products; and on each other, the people we work with every day. It’s important that when you get out of bed and drive to work, it feels like you’re doing something special, working for a higher calling.

That’s our ‘why,’ and it’s kept us galvanized and united. The ‘why’ helps esprit de corps, passion, the speed of trust, and it also helps with the alignment of the company. With ‘what’ organizations, people start to isolate, but the world is complex — people need to get out of their silos to see how it all fits together and why. For us, the biggest thing that did was open a world of entrepreneurialism, with people taking risks, and to my mind took a hierarchical organization and made it more free.

Up until that point, it had taken us almost 40 years sell 100,000 cars per year. Then, five years later, we sold 200,000. That came with a real sense of pride, that we’d left a mark on the industry and competition, and revived a great company.

Now we’re looking at another big shift, with three big changes on the horizon: the move from internal combustion to electric, from manned to self-driving, and from individually owned to shared. In other words, what moves the car, who drives and who owns. These are huge changes that the ‘what’ isn’t going to solve. Looking at these challenges as a ‘why’ organization — that’s what’s going to move us forward.”

Driven By Ambition

Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man, drives an Audi thanks to Scott Keogh ’91.

Keogh joined Audi of America as chief marketing officer in 2006, after a decade as a strategist and marketing professional with Mercedes-Benz. At Audi, he sought to distinguish the company among other luxury car brands with an emphasis on its strengths: “high tech, high design and of the times,” he explains.

This is clear in the company’s marketing produced under Keogh’s leadership, including the Audi R8 Spyder product placement in Iron Man II and the 2011 Super-Bowl ad that was the first in history to feature a social media hashtag. Keogh led “an all-fronts marketing assault” in the bid to take the company to the top spot among luxury automobile makers, as AdWeek reported in 2011, when it named him a “Brand Genius” for his role in the Audi brand turnaround story.

Since he was named president of Audi of America in 2012, Keogh has led the luxury automaker to unprecedented levels of growth and success, increasing the company’s premium market share to 12 percent, double what it had been a decade before. “When you get into this world, there are lots of conversations about tech and business acumen,” says the Hobart comparative lit major, “but a liberal arts degree gives you a sense of how to think and see the horizons to open up, and that’s crucial.”

While at the helm of skyrocketing sales, Keogh has overseen Audi’s forays into new vehicle segments and crucial product launches that have significantly broadened its product line in the U.S., all while keeping his eye on the changing automotive industry. In the first quarter of 2019, Audi will launch its first electric vehicles including an SUV that will “go right to the heart of a market,” says Keogh, who is looking forward to the “jump-ball in the market place” that the trend toward electric cars is forcing.

In fact, Audi plans to make upwards of 30 percent of its vehicles electric by 2025 — “a classic ‘leave a mark’ target,” Keogh says. “Audi’s position over the past few years has been: the world is changing, and we want to lead that change. A luxury customer wants to stand out, drive a cool car, never be perceived as left behind, always be ahead. That’s exactly what we want to do.”

With emergent technologies and an industry shift from automotive companies to mobility companies, Keogh sees “great opportunities for efficiency, but more importantly dramatic opportunities to improve safety and reduce distracted driving. There are technologies that can make these things better and reduce fatalities and injuries. That’s the primary reason to focus on these techs — and another great ‘why.’”

During this “absolute rethink” for the industry, Keogh says Audi wants to do no less than “change the world with ideas that are better for safety, better for traffic and the ecosystem of the roadways, and better for the environment. It’s exciting to be a part of a company that wants to get after it and change things, and knowing that we’ve had success and are rowing in the right direction gives me energy.” –Andrew Wickenden ’09


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