Steve Gawronski, 32
Vice president of procurement, Rivian Automotive
Big break: Working on Tesla’s Model S program
Even for seasoned automakers, launching a vehicle can be tough. For startups, the challenge is all the more daunting.
Steve Gawronski knows what it takes for fledgling companies to get their vehicles to market. The task has defined the first decade of his automotive career.
Gawronski oversees procurement at Rivian Automotive, a suburban Detroit startup that plans to launch a lineup of full-electric utility vehicles for adventure-minded buyers. His responsibilities include buying capital equipment for the company’s assembly plant in Normal, Ill., and forming a supplier base that now includes more than 200 companies from scratch.
While others might face such a challenge once in their careers, Gawronski is well versed in the process. After his first job at Toyota, he worked seven years at Tesla, where he helped start the Model S, Model X and Model 3 programs. Later, he worked at Zoox, the San Francisco Bay Area startup committed to launching a fully autonomous electric vehicle on a bespoke ride-hailing network.
His experience at Tesla most parallels his job at Rivian, except now he has the benefit of hindsight and knows where to look for potential pitfalls on the road to production.
“At the end of the day, transitioning from contractual agreements to physical products with the right level of quality at the right time is the biggest challenge we face,” he said.
Gawronski, 32, grew up in Michigan, and expected to work at the Detroit 3 after graduating from Michigan State University. But during his first job, at Toyota, he realized he wanted to work for a smaller, more disruptive, company. Rivian gives him a chance, he said, to embrace Detroit’s history with an EV twist.
Last May, he’d been at Zoox less than a year when a friend encouraged him to apply for a job at Rivian. A conversation with Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe persuaded him to make the move.
“I asked him a litany of questions based on everything I’d gone through during my time at Tesla,” Gawronski said. “Not only did he have an answer to every single one of those questions, he had the right answer to every single one. So I hadn’t planned on changing jobs, but I came away so impressed, that I left there thinking ‘This is something I have to do.’?”
— Pete Bigelow