If Sherif Marakby is successful managing the transformation of a fleet of 100 Volvo XC90s into self-driving vehicles, it could put Uber in the lead in the race to commercialize autonomous driving.
The first self-driving Uber XC90s could be on the road in Pittsburgh in a matter of weeks, Uber said last week. And Marakby, 50, has been the driving force behind the effort.
The former senior Ford engineering executive, who joined Uber in April, knows his way around vehicle architectures, powertrains and electrical systems.
In Marakby's 25 years at Ford, he held a number of high-profile engineering jobs.
Most recently, he was Ford's director of global electronics and engineering, responsible for electrical components, including infotainment, driver assist and connectivity. Before that assignment, Marakby held key senior management jobs in hybrid vehicle engineering and development and powertrain
"He is a high-integrity leader with both good technical and business acumen," said MaryAnn Wright, former director of sustainable mobility technologies and hybrid vehicle programs at Ford. "He brings a good perspective to Uber on how they will play in automated driving and next-generation mobility."
The first part of Marakby's job, finding a suitable vehicle for Uber's self-driving cars, is done. He spent the past five months traveling the world, scrutinizing vehicles and speaking with automakers. Marakby picked the XC90, he said, for two major reasons: Volvo's commitment to safety and the vehicle's advanced electronics system.
Born in Cairo, Egypt, in 1966, Marakby earned a master's degree in electrical engineering from the University of Maryland and an MBA from the University of Michigan.
He worked briefly at several jobs outside the auto industry before joining Ford in 1991.
His first assignments at Ford were jobs in manufacturing engineering and in body and electrical engineering. His ascent on the management ladder took off about a decade ago when Ford was creating its second generation of hybrid vehicles.
But the Uber job may be Marakby's biggest challenge yet. First, he is managing a team of around 400 engineers, robotic experts and software writers, most of whom do not have deep auto industry product-development experience.
Uber recruited many of its tech center employees from Carnegie Mellon University and nonautomotive companies.
And although Uber is buying technology from auto industry suppliers, the company also is developing some technology in-house. Marakby says the company is creating nearly all the software for its autonomous vehicles.
Here's the tough part: Marakby has to ensure that everything works perfectly and that the integration of lidar, radar, computers and sensors into the XC90s is seamless.
Wright, now a group vice president at Johnson Controls, describes Marakby as a strong but humble leader, and she believes he's the right man for such a complicated job. "He works very well across the disciplines," she said. "Sherif always puts the team first."
The first XC90s have already been delivered to Uber's technical center on the banks of the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh. When speaking about his role in the project, Marakby stresses the word "team."
"This is not a one-man show, of course," he said. "This is a very big team here. But I have the responsibility for the full integration of all the technology into Volvo cars, all the electrical, mechanical and software integration into the cars. But I would not want to claim that I am responsible for the whole thing. There is a very strong technical team that was here long before I came."