Profiles of honorees

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Robin Chase


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Chairman, Veniam
Age: 56
Education: B.A., English, French and philosophy, Wellesley College; MBA, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management

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 that's 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 didn't 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, "Wow, this is the time in life and my big personal moment."

Our kindergartners were best friends at the time. She's 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 you've 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 I've continued to move on through my life, he has been an enabler and champion at every moment. I've talked to many other wives and their husbands are not. I couldn't 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 I'm struck by is that transportation is the glue of our lives. It's what makes you able to have an education, work, see your friends. I try to encourage women to recognize that it's 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 driver's license. My youngest daughter is promising herself she'll get her learner's permit in the next month. They all live in cities. If you Google my daughter Cameron Russell, you'll see she's as famous as I am. I have a dog that I consider my foster grandpuppy.

What's your favorite weekend activity? Spending time with my family either walking around or enjoying a dinner.

What keeps you up at night? Climate change. I'm deeply concerned we won't 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 that's 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 don't know. I'm an excellent knitter. I'm 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 I'd like to have a deeper understanding of what's 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. That's what makes for great employees and makes for a successful human.

By Jamie LaReau

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