Jennifer Haroon, 43
Location: Palo Alto, Calif.
Education: B.S. psychology, Duke University; M.B.A., University of California, Berkeley
What drew you to the auto industry? Admittedly, it wasn’t because I love automobiles or love of transportation. It was really this unique opportunity to work on something so different — self-driving cars and the safety promise of it.
First automotive job: I was already at Google, now known as Alphabet, and the opportunity came up to work on self-driving cars in 2014.
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Big break: I was working at Stanford doing some research and health policy. I was working for a wonderful woman named Sara Singer. I enjoyed the work but found it a little slow-paced. She basically sat me down and said, “Look, you are really great at research, you’re smart and can learn new things very quickly, but I can tell academia isn’t for you. Why don’t you consider working for an investment bank and doing equity research? It’s the same thing, but it’s much faster paced.” I took her advice. That’s a little bit of serendipity.
What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? I did work in sub-Saharan Africa while I was at Google. It was very challenging because it was very different. We were starting a B2B fiber-optic network with the goal of encouraging infrastructure sharing. We worked with a local team, I met with government officials and learned more about the telecom industry than I ever knew to make sure what we were building would be viable.
You’ve been in the industry six years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? That’s a tough, multifaceted question. In no particular order: Mary Barra at GM, both in terms of having a female CEO in the industry and her performance; mobility as a whole, from micromobility to AVs, and how they continue to innovate and transform the sector, and the recognition by traditional players that the transportation space is evolving; the recognition that AVs will take time and money to achieve safely, leading to consolidation in the space.
What work achievement are you most proud of? When I was with the self-driving team at Google, we had a friend of the team, Steve Mahan, who was legally blind, take the first fully self-driving ride in our Firefly vehicle. No steering wheel or pedals. That was a pretty special moment.
Describe your leadership style. It has evolved. I learn. I’ve learned from people I’ve worked for or people who have worked for me that sometimes have given me some pretty tough feedback. In general, I try to be a coach and help people exceed their expectations of themselves and of the company.
What have you learned from the COVID-19 crisis? I’ve learned how resilient we all are. The shift from working in an office at a company that’s very office based and has a strong office culture, to suddenly shift that has been amazing. And I’ve learned to be more empathetic. As this has gone on, every single person has their own personal challenge related to what’s happening.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently in your career? I’m not a big believer in regrets. When I was younger, I wondered if I wasn’t enough of a planner. But I’ve found that being open minded has led to unique opportunities. Working in sub-Saharan Africa and then self-driving cars? That was not planned.
What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? When I interview women or even just chat with them, they’ll call out that it makes a difference to them that I’m not the only female leader on our team. I do think this is an issue women should not be addressing alone. I’m a firm believer there need to be champions and mentors of both sexes to make a difference.
Tell us about your family. I’m single. I am one of those people living out coronavirus alone. Which, given I’m an introvert, hasn’t been terrible.
What’s the best book you’ve read in the last year, and what did you get out of it? Alpha Girls by Julian Guthrie. It’s a book about female venture capitalists. The book is not just about how they achieved their great success. It goes back a bit to something in my own career being somewhat serendipitous. It’s a great example that there’s many paths to what these women consider success, and it’s not necessarily where they thought they’d spend their careers.
— Pete Bigelow