What attracted you to the auto industry? It was an important part of my life that I felt could stand improvement. Transportation was a key piece of quality of life and I was dissatisfied with the status quo. I also saw thatís where the opportunity was. When my co-founder presented the idea of Zipcar to me, I saw that this is what the Internet was made for and it was what I personally wanted. I wanted to have a car once in a while, but I didnít want to own one.
First automotive job: CEO of Zipcar in 2000
Big break: My co-founder saw the idea of car sharing in Europe and talked to me about that idea and bringing it to the U.S. It was out of the blue, a lucky thing and when I heard it I thought, ďWow, this is the time in life and my big personal moment.Ē
Our kindergartners were best friends at the time. Sheís German and went home to Germany for a vacation and saw a car-sharing company car while sitting in a cafe and thought that was a cool idea. Car sharing in Europe had been around since the mid-1980s. Zipcar built the technology and used it in a novel way and rebranded it.
What is the major challenge youíve faced in your career? I would say financing three startups is a major challenge.
Who has had the biggest influence on your career? My husband. When Zipcar was a startup, he supported me and the family during that whole first year. Then he became chief technology officer of the company and built that technology.
As Iíve continued to move on through my life, he has been an enabler and champion at every moment. Iíve talked to many other wives and their husbands are not. I couldnít have raised three great children and supported us through all this without him. And he had the technology skills when I needed them.
What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? What Iím struck by is that transportation is the glue of our lives. Itís what makes you able to have an education, work, see your friends. I try to encourage women to recognize that itís front and center. You should care about education, schools, poverty and whatever else you care about but remember that transportation is an enabler.
Tell us about your family. I have three children that are now 22, 25 and 28. They are fantastic, well-adjusted delightful young adults. Only one has a driverís license. My youngest daughter is promising herself sheíll get her learnerís permit in the next month. They all live in cities. If you Google my daughter Cameron Russell, youíll see sheís as famous as I am. I have a dog that I consider my foster grandpuppy.
Whatís your favorite weekend activity? Spending time with my family either walking around or enjoying a dinner.
What keeps you up at night? Climate change. Iím deeply concerned we wonít reduce emissions in time to prevent catastrophe. Every company that I have founded has provided a pathway to reduce CO2 emissions. I just wrote a book, Peers Inc. It talks about this economic shift thatís under way that is transforming how we build businesses and how we work. Companies such as Zipcar and Uber are examples of that shift.
Name one thing about yourself that most people donít know. Iím an excellent knitter. Iím very good with colors, so I make sweaters from scratch and they are well-loved by the people I give them to.
Name one talent you wish you had. Some days I wish I had been an engineer because Iíd like to have a deeper understanding of whatís going on, specifically a network engineer who understands wireless.
What advice would you give your child? To be a person who is a continuous lifelong learner. Thatís what makes for great employees and makes for a successful human.
By Jamie LaReau