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Laura Soave ’00

laura soaveUDM business alumna Laura Soave adds panache to the Fiat brand

One would expect the position of head of Fiat Brand, North America, held by UDM alumna Laura Soave (MBA 2000), to encompass sales figures, profit-loss statements, focus groups and statistical analysis. It does, but with a twist. Soave’s expertise in experiential marketing also makes it a hands-on position that engages customers, dealers, the media and industry influencers. 

Prior to the Fiat 500 launch in February, Soave and her marketing team showcased the iconic two-door vehicle to the media and various niche communities to create “buzz.” Artists at the Art Basel in Miami in December 2010 painted the hoods, doors and the entire vehicle as an expression of “Life is best when driven”—Fiat’s new theme. In January, Soave invited close to 200 journalists to San Diego to test drive and review the car.

Soave’s enthusiasm for branding stems from her graduate courses at University of Detroit Mercy and the inspiring classes of Professor of Business Administration Mike Bernacchi. “He was so energetic,” she said. “His focus on marketing was current, fun and engaging. He used to wear crazy high-tops with different colored shoelaces each week. He started personalization before it was cool.”

Soave has been involved in nine product launches and noted that the Fiat 500 is the most interesting. “This is a global vehicle that is more emotional than rational.”

Fiat’s marketing challenge is to convince customers that the car fits their lifestyle. This will boost sales, create customer loyalty and empower customers to tell others.

“This car isn’t for everyone,” Soave noted. “But we know that it appeals to ‘millennials’ and baby boomers. It is expected to be a big hit in cities with long commutes—it’s fuel efficient, affordable and easy to park in tight places.” 

The Fiat position may be Soave’s ideal job, combining her passion for marketing with her love of Italian style and workmanship. Her parents are from Italy, and she was raised as an Italian American in Sterling Heights.

Soave has always seized opportunities that capture her interest and capitalize on her talents. As an undergraduate student, Soave was on track to become a CPA but had a change of heart and graduated with a degree in business administration with a marketing component.

Her first job was to market cosmetic surgery before it became mainstream. When she sought a new challenge, she reversed an earlier decision not to work in automotive and applied at Ford Motor Co. She was hired and started in the customer call center, listening to customer complaints and triaging problems.

While at Ford, she was encouraged to get an MBA, with full tuition paid to University of Detroit Mercy. She was able to job-share while in graduate school, which made the workload manageable. At Ford, she advanced into sales and met one-on-one with car dealers. That job segued into an executive position in product marketing.

VW of America recruited her in 2006. She spent several years crafting marketing programs to integrate European-made cars into American culture, including working with engineering to add features that American consumers value. Then, Fiat showed interest in her marketing prowess. Her interview with CEO Sergio Marchionne stretched into three hours, and soon after, she was offered

the position.

Soave’s education at UDM prepared her well for her career in marketing and business. “Everything that I did was as part of a team. We had to figure out how to work together with people of different ages, races and skill sets. My grade was dependent on the entire team and how I interacted with them. This was very beneficial. The days of single-point decision makers are gone.”

Another important lesson learned was how a business unit fits together. “Every action that you take in a business affects so many other parts of the organization.”

She offered business advice to students in March as the keynote speaker during

the College of Business Administration Alumni Week.