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Car Talk

Car Talk

By Katherine Yungmee Kim
January 2005

If you think your commute is bad, consider Jeff Schwartz’s (B.A., International Relations ’88, M.A. ’91, Ph.D. ’93, Political Science).

The President and CEO of Orange County-based Autobytel is in his car for three to four hours a day on average. So what is the solution for his highway ennui? He does what any other self-respecting automotive marketing executive would do.

He tricked out his car.
   
“I have a 7500-pound, turbo diesel, black Ford Excursion that’s outfitted like a mobile office,” says Schwartz. “I have a full-time driver, and in the back, I have a desk, internet access, a printer… full connectivity. It’s a mean-looking car!”
   
But Schwartz, a Los Angeles native, swears he’s not a car guy. “I’m a marketing guy,” he insists. And he has the success of his company to prove it.
   
Autobytel is the most visited automotive site on the Internet, with 10 million unique visitors to the site last month alone. Through Autobytel, consumers can research new and used cars, compare reviews and ultimately buy their cars online. The company also provides customer management tools for dealers and online marketing solutions for automakers.
   
More than 33,000 dealers look to Autobytel to sell their cars online. Eight percent of all new cars—$40 billion in gross market sales—will be sold through the company this year.
   
Or, as Schwartz says, to put it in perspective, “we touch on average 4,000 car sales a day.”
   
He says the road to automotive marketing was circuitous. Schwartz was a teaching and research assistant in the College working on his dissertation on campaign finance in the Los Angeles City Council, when he started working for a not-for-profit organization. A board member there was an executive president for The Walt Disney Company, and he recruited Schwartz to do public affairs for Disney.
   
Eventually, he rotated within Disney to corporate management, and due to Disney’s corporate partnership with General Motors, Schwartz said he had to learn automotive marketing. Soon, he became enamored.
   
Anticipating that the Internet was going to affect how cars were bought and sold, Schwartz joined Autoweb in 1999. He served as the company’s vice president of corporate affairs, and was instrumental in overseeing the growth of the company’s key marketing, promotional, advertising and sponsorship alliance, and eventually became the company’s president and CEO.
   
In August 2001, Autobytel merged with Autoweb and made Schwartz a vice chairman. That same month, he was elected director, and then four months later, he was appointed president and CEO of Autobytel.
   
Schwartz discusses how his education has contributed to his career. “I’ve forgotten 90 percent of what I learned in school,” he admits.

“But what I haven’t forgotten is the ability to think critically and to communicate, and the ability to immerse yourself in complex material and to form and articulate an opinion.
   
“I’m running a multimillion dollar company,” he explains. “And it’s absolutely unrelated to what I got my degree in. But that critical faculty and that intellectual rigor to form ideas have been the basis for my success. Unequivocally. Period.”
   
When asked what he personally insists upon in the running of his company, Schwartz doesn’t hesitate. “Two key things: integrity and teamwork, ” he answers. “We pride ourselves on the integrity of the company, and with over 400 employees, it takes a lot of enthusiasm, teamwork and energy to build a company in a market like this.”
   
Don’t feel too bad for Schwartz and his long Monday-through-Friday rides to and from the office. On the weekends, he takes a break from his commute, when he turns into an admitted sports car enthusiast. “Typically, there’s a Ferrari or Porsche in the driveway,” he says gleefully. “I love driving fast cars.”