Inside Audi of America [Q&A] – Scott Keogh, Audi of America President

[source: Audi of America, photos: Audi of America, Audi Club North America]

Life at Audi is just as much about the cars as it is about the people who see the job through. From the C-suite to product managers to the customer experience team and more, in our re-occurring series, “Inside Audi of America,” get to know the people behind the metal.

Today, meet Audi of America President, Scott Keogh.

How do you explain your job at a dinner party?

In general, I don’t think people view Audi as a company, people view Audi as a product. So the simple thing is I say is, I represent Audi in America. And then instantly the conversation turns into product, product, product.

The second thing I always say is I have the greatest job in the world. I sincerely mean it. I get to drive a great car, represent a great company and work with great people, so I love it.

What are you passionate about right now at work?

Two things: I’m most passionate about the new frontier that’s ahead of us and the ability for Audi to lead it. I think with electrification, and everything with digitization and new business models, it all excites me. I think what makes me a little apprehensive is a 50- to 60- to 70-year-old business model that’s changing minute by minute and I want to make sure we’re quick enough to respond. So it can be a little unnerving as well as exciting. It’s that balance I love – unnerving excitement.

What about outside of work?

Right now, what’s motivating me is I have a big climb to Mount Rainier in September. I got the climbing and hiking bug when I was in Nepal two years ago. I just finished a training hike in Colorado. It was my first time on spikes with the harness, the crampons, etc., so I’m motivated to climb that peak in September and do all the training and get ready for it.

What’s your favorite memory that involves an automobile?

I think my single defining memory – because when you’re a child, it comes in moments, it comes spurts, it comes in smells – we had a Volkswagen Beetle as a family car at that time. There were five of us kids so there would usually be different configurations to fit us all in, but the usual configuration was my dad driving, my mom in the front, my twin sisters and brother in the back seat and either my sister and I or just myself in the back-back. Of course, we would never do this today, but if you remember Beetles in those days, the back was basically literally on top of the engine, with the sloped-glass roof. But the sense of the chatter of that engine, with the family all in there, was powerful. My second seat, if things weren’t working out back there since I was the youngest, would be in the front with my mom. And as you probably know, if you turned the heat on in those Volkswagens, you would knock yourself out because you’d get this powerful oil/gas smell inside the car, so my mom would always keep a blanket in the car and she would keep the blanket on her lap and, truth be told, when you’re a young boy with your mom in the front seat of the car with a blanket it’s just the best place to be in the world.

To think at the time that the Beetle was a family car with today’s Suburbans as a family car – it would take about 18 of those Beetles to make one Suburban – is unfathomable. We were seven people inside the Beetle. The back-back was basically like a bucket or an igloo and you just folded up into it – which was easy to do back when I was small.

Who’s your personal hero?

I have a lot of personal family heroes. But if I had to pick one, I would probably pick my grandmother – my mother’s mother – she was a woman born on a farm in Northern Ireland in a very big family. The farm went to her brother, which meant she had to go pursue opportunities in the world and this was a difficult time.

She was a complete Renaissance woman. She went to Edinburgh and put herself through college there in Scotland and then worked her way to the United States. In the United States, she met my grandfather who was running from some of the struggles at the time in Ireland with the move into independence. And she raised a family, three children, one of them being my mother. She had absolute grace in the heart of the Great Depression and she was the absolute bedrock of the family.

The thing that I remember most about her – she was in her late 80s, she lived in Rockaway with my grandfather, on her own the entire time – she took art classes at the local high school. And as a woman of the community she would always negotiate somebody to drive her there. Then she would get to the high school and it was a long walk, down long hallways, which you don’t think much of but when you’re in your late 80s it’s tough, and it was always so touching that she had her suitcase with all of her paints and she was still trying to improve herself with arts going back to her days in Scotland where she took some art classes and I just thought, how cool is that? She wasn’t an 80-year-old lady watching TV, complaining about the weather or some other nonsense. No. Not her. She was perfecting her craft and aspiring to learn more at 88 with a room full of 20 year-olds. A number of her paintings still hang in our family homes.

My second pick would be my aunt – my mother’s sister – who was a missionary and she was a profoundly powerful person. She had a tremendous sense of justice and a sense of what’s right in the world. She spent a lot of time in Nicaragua during the revolution. She’s also my godmother. She wound up in El Salvador where she was murdered in 1980 by the political violence there and there’s a biography about her called “Radical Faith.” It’s powerful.

What’s the last show you binge-watched?

Right now I’m binge-watching the New York Yankees. Watching them tap dance in first place. To tell you the truth, with two children at home and in this position I’m not binge-watching much of anything. But “Game of Thrones” on HBO I’m now officially all caught up on.

What did you listen to on your drive to work this morning?

In general what I listen to is Spotify and what’s playing on Spotify right now is The National. I had a chance to see them in Ireland a couple weeks ago and they’re topical right now.

What was your first job?

I had a lot of first jobs. My first, first job was, just down the street from us on Long Island was an Austrian guy who had this ramshackle, crazy-old estate. He was probably in his mid-80s at the time. It was one of these estates you’d probably never get away with now where they had the main house, which was him and his wife, and then they built three to four more houses, filled with some of the most eccentric characters of the North Shore that you can imagine. One guy who lived in the tree house. Then another guy, Mr. Chapin, who was head of one of these prep schools. But anyway, I was the guy who cut the lawn, did the maintenance. That was my first job, and the toughest job I had there was he had an old cement pool that would be filled with leaves, so you’d have to come climbing down into it, lay out a giant tarp, put all the leaves on and carry them out of the pool. There’d be mice scurrying about – but what it led to though was landscaping where then I got a lot of other houses and cut lawns. I loved being outdoors and still love gardening to today. What I don’t miss is having from my knees down to my ankles being 100 percent green – just covered with grass.

Why did you decide to lead an automotive company and why do it with Audi?

I think like a lot of people in life, I didn’t self-determine to lead an automotive company. My goal was to be either involved with the State Department and go to Latin America or to be a journalist in Latin America. And through the happenstance of life and meeting characters and going in windows when they open and jumping in elevators when you get a chance, it led to this position.

I think “why Audi?” was a much more clear, defined position. I was working for Mercedes-Benz, where things are very established and when the opportunity from Audi came to be I just remember so clearly thinking to myself a couple of points: 1. My father owned one of the first Audis – a 100 LS, blue – so I always had this warm nostalgia for the brand. 2. I can remember I was at the advertising agency working for Mercedes-Benz and everyone was at the time in their late 20s or 30s and we went around the room – creative directors, copy writers, art directors, account executives – and we said, if you didn’t work for Mercedes, what car would you drive? And I remember around the room, nearly everyone said Audi. And I can remember thinking to myself, there must be something to this. I said Audi, most people said Audi too – why do so many people like this brand and yet the performance and the results just weren’t there? This thing is just gas that needs a match. I remember thinking that and when the opportunity came along I knew it was something I wanted to pursue. That’s when I jumped over and two years later I was the head of Marketing at Audi.

What’s one of the most memorable projects you’ve worked on in your role for Audi?

One of the most memorable was the launch of the R8. This was a highly watched opportunity. Audi of America had no money, very little success and we pushed for a radical idea to basically spend most of our money by returning to the Super Bowl. And the second thing, returning to the Super Bowl with a very radical spot called The Godfather. And I can remember two moments from that. Moment number one was the first time presenting it to the board. I can remember defining to them what the Super Bowl is. And the second thing, what The Godfather is. There were a lot of people on the sidelines saying if this would fail or wouldn’t work. It was by far the riskiest and the boldest project, which worked out. But didn’t seem so clear at the time.

What one word best describes you?


Where did you grow up?

Old Brookville, New York on Long Island.

Which talent would you most like to have?

Right now, considering my son and all the World Cup activity, I certainly wouldn’t mind being a World Cup soccer player representing America. If it wasn’t World Cup time, I think to play a musical instrument. I always regret not being able to play the guitar.

What’s something about you that would surprise people?

I love to garden. I keep a relatively robust herb and vegetable garden. Tomatoes are on course so far. The big thing about tomatoes is you have to be aggressive with the pruning because all of the energy will go into the leaves and not enough sun will get on to the tomatoes. So I’ve been aggressive on pruning this year and so far, so good.

My daughter is crazy about cucumbers. And last year the cucumbers were a complete failure and she would go out each and every day to check. I felt awful. This year, I trellised them so they’re actually growing up. And we’ve got like five giant ones already and maybe 40 more coming. And Ella’s very, very happy.

If you were an Audi, which one would you be and why?

RS 6 Avant, because it’s hard to get, fast, super cool and I keep waiting for the avant revolution to replace the SUV revolution.

What comes to mind when you think of innovation?


What words do you live by?

“Have a good time all the time.” – Viv Savage, “This Is Spinal Tap”

What is your biggest accomplishment?

Without a doubt, my family. My wife, my children. You know it’s a big, crazy, difficult, challenging, nuts world we all live in and to be doing it as a family and as a team and doing the best we can everyday makes me very proud.