Women at TuSimple with Lauren Harper, Corporate Strategy & Development Associate

By TuSimple's editorial team
Mar 31

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TuSimple is honored to have many accomplished women among our ranks, and we’re excited to feature them in our Women at TuSimple series. Meet Lauren Harper, one of our Corporate Strategy and Development associates who joined the TuSimple family after earning her MBA from the Yale School of Management.

You have had several career pivots, which is incredible considering they’ve all happened over just a few years. What has been the motivation behind those moves? What led you to the autonomous vehicle industry, and TuSimple in particular?

My first job out of college was in finance as a Business Valuation Associate with Deloitte. That job helped me develop “hard” skills that have been indispensable throughout my career. However, I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit and wanted to tap into that, which led me to Los Angeles.

In Los Angeles, I spent a few years working as a line producer. The core of line production is managing the finances for entertainment productions. My time with Deloitte really came in handy when managing the fast-paced production budget! Line producing also encompasses managing the daily operations of a production and working with every department. I really enjoyed that collaborative work but would periodically give thought to next moves. I decided that I wanted to move into technology and business school was the best way to make that career pivot.

In 2018, I enrolled at the Yale School of Management.  Those two years gave me an opportunity to research the various sectors within the tech industry and I immersed myself in the future of mobility as well as autonomous and electric vehicles.

Having grown up in a trucking family, I kept tabs on the latest industry developments, which is how I came to learn about TuSimple. I had the good fortune of being introduced to our former Senior Director of External Affairs, Robert Brown, who kept me in mind for when a business role opened. When the Corporate Development and Strategy team started hiring, Robert reached out to me, and the rest is history.

What about TuSimple do you think sets it apart from other autonomous vehicle companies?

Our leadership team is truly amazing. The vision they have for the company is clear and motivates our employees to achieve industry firsts. Everyone is incredibly driven by our mission, which is not something that you find in every workplace.

Coming out of an MBA program, I have been blessed to take on a role where I get to wear several different hats and work with so many established industry leaders. Watching these leaders in action has opened my eyes to what it takes to run a groundbreaking autonomous vehicle technology company like TuSimple.

Can you describe your current role at TuSimple? What does a typical day look like for you?

I joined the Corporate Strategy and Development team eighteen months ago, and have had the opportunity to be a part of so many exciting projects! Currently, I split my time between working on the Autonomous Freight Network and the Investor Relations initiatives.

Our Autonomous Freight Network (AFN) is an ecosystem comprising L4 autonomous trucks, digitally mapped truck routes, strategically located terminals, and an autonomous operations monitoring system (TuSimple Connect). The TuSimple goal is to have a fleet of driver out, retrofitted semi-trucks that support commercial freight operations on a portion of the AFN by the end of 2023. I work with the Mapping team and customers to develop routes, meet with the Algorithm team to review feature development plans to autonomously enable AFN routes, and collaborate with our Sales colleagues to identify what existing and new customers want and determine how we can incorporate those wants into our pipeline.

On the Investor Relations front, I prepare earnings materials such as the shareholder letter and investor presentation, and organize our participation in investor events and conferences. Currently, I am working on preparing for the upcoming TuSimple Investor Day. These activities are all part of our long-term investor engagement plan and involve close collaboration with our leadership team.

What do you enjoy most about your role? What motivates you to do the work that you are doing?

I truly appreciate the duality of my role.Being in touch with our products and customers on a day-to-day basis better informs the work I am doing with Investor Relations because I have real-time knowledge about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

I also get to work with all our different teams, which are led by some of the smartest people I know.Seeing all the pieces come together to form the AFN has been such a great experience.

Can you share how getting an MBA helped you get into and prepare for your current role?

I went into business school knowing that I wanted to work in tech after graduation.School gave me a chance to learn about that space, a space where I had no previous experience. More importantly, in business school, you get to work with lots of different people from very different backgrounds. Those experiences have been instrumental for my current role, where I have lots of cross-functional engagement with the corporate, business, and tech teams. As part of my role, I’ve had to learn about what other people are doing and find ways to integrate their goals and objectives with my own.

What has been your proudest achievement at TuSimple so far?

Getting to create some of the company’s initial Investor Relations content has by far been the most rewarding part of my18-month tenure at TuSimple.Putting together our shareholder letter and earnings materials has allowed me to help build the company’s story. It has been amazing to see that work come to fruition in being published, read by people, and getting those people excited about what we are doing. Being a part of our Q1 2021 earnings release was especially fulfilling. It was our first interaction with Wall Street since going public, so it was especially important that our first-ever earnings call went smoothly– getting it right was a hugely rewarding accomplishment.

How has your identity as a woman in tech played a role in your career?

Women are still a minority in the autonomous vehicle (AV) space. Interestingly, that means being a woman has proven to be an advantage when I network with fellow women in the space: because the group is so much smaller, I am able to build stronger relationships with them. I have seen this come to life through our Women’s Committee, which was borne out of the TuSimple goal to promote diversity and inclusion throughout the organization. People have been really willing to help; everyone I’ve reached out to has been nothing but responsive to the questions I have. They genuinely want to help me get to where I want to be.

Who is someone you look up to/consider to be a mentor? How have they influenced/inspired your approach to mentorship? 

I consider Lee White, my manager, to be my biggest mentor at TuSimple. He took me under his wing when I first joined the team. Since then,he has provided me the opportunity to work on many interesting and meaningful projects and encouraged me to become involved with various aspects of the company, such as investor relations, insurance, or writing a few of our company blogs. I am very fortunate to be able to work for someone I look up to and who I know is rooting for me to succeed.

My dad, a.k.a. the hardest working person I know, is my mentor outside of work. He’s in his 60s but wakes up at 4 am every morning to watch YouTube videos on whatever he’s learning at the moment. He’s really inspired me to keep learning no matter what. He has also held 20 different jobs over the course of his career, which I now realize has been the inspiration for me to make a career pivot without being scared. He taught me that you don’t already have to be an expert in what you want to do; you just need to be ready to learn.

Speaking of Women in Trucking (WIT), tell us how you got started on TuSimple’s partnership with them.

To tell the truth, I was inspired by Shelley Simpson, Chief Commercial Officer at J.B. Hunt, who I had the honor of speaking with recently as part of our Her Journey series, a quarterly fireside chat between successful female business leaders and TuSimple employees. I had followed her for a long time and saw that she was a big proponent of WIT.

When I came to TuSimple, I realized that like many players in our industry, we did not have that many women in our ranks, but I saw that as an opportunity for us to support initiatives to address that topic.
We have some truly amazing women employees and I wanted to highlight their achievements and enable them to earn the recognition of the wider trucking community. Joining the Women in Trucking association seemed like the best way to do that.

I started by speaking with the Head of Strategy at WIT about ways TuSimple could collaborate with WIT. After identifying multiple mutually beneficial opportunities I raised these with Cheng Lu (Former President & CEO of TuSimple) and Robert. Things pretty much took off from there. Last year, WIT named 3 of TuSimple’s women to its 2021 list of Top Women to Watch in Transportation:

  • Charlee Poineau, Program Manager, TuSimple
  • Joyce Tam, Director of Product Management, TuSimple
  • Vivian Sun, former Head of Business Development, TuSimple

Do you have any advice for women looking to enter the tech/AI/autonomous vehicles space? What tips do you have for women who might be looking at a similar career trajectory, i.e. moving across industries and/or functions?

Pivoting careers is tough because in whatever industry you’re looking to pivot into, there are precedents of what “good” looks like. Wherever you land, you still have to prove that you can also do what other people in the industry have already been doing.

My advice for someone looking to make a career pivot would be:

Develop “hard” skills. Prove you have the basic capabilities and competencies to do the job you want. I sat for the CFA while I was working full-time in LA to better establish my proficiency in financial analysis.

Network. I would not be where I am today if I hadn’t met Robert Brown.

Build your story. Before getting an MBA and coming to TuSimple, I had a slightly more entrepreneurial career path. As a line producer, I often found myself in situations where I did not have the resources I needed to accomplish time-sensitive tasks that impacted lots of different people. I learned to take responsibility for whatever came my way and figure things out on the fly. Having these experiences and being able to speak to them when I interviewed for my role was critical: at a fast-growing company like TuSimple, it is important to show that you can take initiative to turn decisions into action.

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