Jennifer Haroon, 41
Big break: Working at Google for nine years in a variety of roles, including as a member of its self-driving vehicle team
When Jennifer Haroon decided to leave investment banking and pursue her passion of improving public health and safety, she never imagined her career path would involve automotive technology.
After starting her career at Boston Consulting Group, she was hired at Google in 2008 to examine how the company’s technology and data could be used by the health care industry to better spot flu outbreaks and speed the use of vaccines.
Six years into her time at the company, Chris Urmson, then head of Google’s self-driving vehicle project, approached her about joining his team in a business-development role.
“When I decided to join the self-driving car project, it wasn’t because I knew a lot about self-driving cars,” she said. “It was because Chris had sold me on this idea of saving lives.”
Self-driving technology promises to reduce the nearly 1.3 million traffic deaths that occur worldwide every year. At the self-driving car project and its commercial-minded successor, Waymo, Haroon was head of business operations, and played a key role in steering the company from its science-project roots into a business with the stage set for commercial success.
She and her team negotiated deals with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to use hundreds of hybrid minivans in Waymo’s self-driving fleet, with Avis to provide fleet management and with Lyft that set up a pilot project involving Waymo’s self-driving technology and the ride-hailing service.
After nine years at Google, Haroon missed the feel of working at a startup, so in September 2017, she joined Nauto, a Palo Alto, Calif., company that uses computer vision and deep learning to make aftermarket safety systems for commercial fleets.
“When I decided to leave, I spent months talking to founders and investors, primarily in this auto-tech space, because I love this ultimate goal of improving safety with technology,” said Haroon, 41, Nauto’s COO.
Among other things, Nauto’s products provide data capture involving collisions, driver coaching safety metrics such as the number of hard-braking incidents, and real-time distraction alerts. The company is preventing crashes — Haroon says customers of the company’s driver coaching product have realized a 35.5 percent decrease in collisions, and the real-time alerts are driving more safety gains.
Starting in October 2017, she oversaw an expansion into Europe and Japan, which allowed her to scratch an itch to travel. She has visited more than 70 countries, including Cambodia. Determined to see a remote lake after a ferry ride failed to materialize, she cobbled together a plan to hitch rides from motorcyclists through a forest, borrow canoes to paddle to a motorized boat ride that took her companions and her to the lake.
“That wasn’t in the guidebook, but I kind of embraced it,” she said. “One of my old managers told me I really embrace chaos. I guess that can be good.”
— Pete Bigelow