Driving Waymo’s Fully Autonomous Future

Jack McDermott
3 min readJan 25, 2022

--

This is a preview of a case study that I co-authored with Michael Lenox, Professor of Business Administration and Chief Strategy Officer at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business.

“There isn’t a chance to build, develop, deploy and introduce this technology again. You have to do it right the first time. You have to build public trust, you have to gain acceptance, you have to make sure the regulatory landscape is ripe and right for it. Then you launch what we believe will be a very successful service, and then you can scale from there.”
Tekedra Mawakana, Waymo Co-CEO

On an early morning in July 2021, Tekedra Mawakana walked into Waymo’s headquarters in downtown Mountain View, California. Scanning the office floor, Mawakana noticed mostly empty desks — Waymo employees had just begun returning to in-person work from the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was her third full month on the job as co-CEO.

Since its founding in 2009, Waymo had debuted several notable autonomous vehicle (AV) innovations, including fully autonomous driving software; a commercial ride-hailing service in metro Phoenix, Arizona; partnerships with well-respected car manufacturers like Daimler AG, Nissan-Renault, Jaguar Land Rover, and Volvo; and an autonomous trucking and last-mile delivery pilot service in test markets in three US states. All together, these varied initiatives put Waymo in a market-leading position in the race to automate driving.

Driving Waymo’s Fully Autonomous Future is available through Darden Business Publishing.

Mawakana’s promotion to chief executive at Waymo was groundbreaking on several fronts; she became Waymo’s first black and first female CEO. She was both a rising star and an outlier in Silicon Valley, where technology companies had struggled to increase diversity and representation at their highest ranks.

Mawakana assumed leadership of Waymo during a critical time. A series of recent crashes and fatalities involving Tesla’s Autopilot system prompted US safety officials to conduct sweeping investigations into the AV industry. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Waymo to suspend its burgeoning ride-hailing operations in Phoenix and to shift the whole company to remote work. Waymo now faced increasing competition from upstarts and established players across its vast footprint in AV software, services, and partnerships.

The road to an autonomous driving future had taken longer — and cost far more — than most had expected. Analysts now predicted that companies pursuing AVs would be required to invest another $6 billion to $10 billion just to maintain pace over the next few years. Mawakana recognized the need to fend off competitors and select strategic priorities intentionally if Waymo was to deliver financial returns to Alphabet and benefits to safer, more efficient transportation.

It was time for Mawakana to steer Waymo on its own new way forward.

The case is intended for educational use in the strategy area of MBA programs. It has been shortened and edited as a public preview. The full version of the case is available for order online through Darden Business Publishing.

--

--

Jack McDermott

Growth @ Chegg Skills. Previously: MBA & M.Ed, UVA Darden, @PanoramaEd. jackmcdermott.com