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How Zoox is Directing the Future of Autonomous Vehicles with Bruce Baumgartner, VP of Procurement & Strategic Partnerships

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Fate is often associated with the divine. It’s this idea that things are pre-ordained by a higher power and that outcomes are out of an individual’s control. There’s no doubt that there’s a lot of life that can’t be controlled. But there’s another way to look at destiny — it can be about making foundational choices that give a particular vision the best chance to be realized over time. 

Then, the outcome may look predestined to an outsider, but in reality, destiny is being determined by an established mission, the major choices that underpin it, and the many smaller decisions, adjusted as needed, made to achieve it. This does not mean there will never be setbacks or failures. It simply means this mentality increases the opportunities within one’s control to move ever closer to the goal. 

Bruce Baumgartner, the Vice President of Procurement  & Strategic Partnerships at Zoox, a vertically integrated autonomous vehicle company, that appears destined to build a fleet of autonomous taxis. 

But is Zoox’s desire to control its destiny only about succeeding at building autonomous vehicles, or does it have an even higher mission it’s striving to achieve? Find out on this episode of Business X factors how destiny can be controlled by an individual person, and even by an entire company, if that drive is aligned with a higher purpose.

Main takeaways: 

  • Vertical Integration Pushes Innovation: To expand businesses, companies can choose to either grow horizontally with acquisitions or vertically, where products are developed in-house. The advantage of vertical integration is more control over product quality, the planning of production and alignment with the needs of the in-house end product. There is less dependence on suppliers, lower shipping costs, more design flexibility and efficient investment. Companies can avoid interference and adapt products faster. 
  • Go Big or Go Home: Normally, betting the house is not good advice, but when it comes to start-ups the advice of Theodore Roosevelt that, “You must dare greatly, step into the area and give it your all,” could be a good strategy. To be an entrepreneur, you will find yourself in an arena where the competition is great and standing on the sidelines is not an option. It can be terrifying when you have everything on the line, cash is tight and things are tough when you take big risks, but they can be managed. Make the hard decisions sooner rather than later, consider the consequences of risk, ask yourself the right questions, have a backup plan, plan for all risk scenarios, and understand the odds you are up against. 
  • Sustainability from the Word Go: Many companies do not have a comprehensive understanding of the sustainability impacts of their supply chain. If you are an entrepreneur that is growing your business vertically, ensure that sustainability is built into the supply chain right from the start. For businesses that uses suppliers, an early step is to inventory suppliers, identify the most significant environment and social challenges they have, and prioritize suppliers according to that. New Balance Athletic Shoe is an example of a company that has reduced its footwear supply chain by 65% to form strong positive partnerships with its suppliers based on sustainability criteria. 

Key Quotes:

“As I started to learn more and more and more about the space, which was certainly fairly nascent at the time, I felt like the technology was inevitable, right? The ability to do what it is that we’re trying to do, it’s coming. It’s really a matter of time. And ultimately there’s no guarantee that any one company that’s chasing this can pull it off. But the way that Zoox is thinking about it, that really resonates with me.”

“We have had and continue to have some of the best minds in the space and that’s super critical to anybody who’s going to tackle this. But I think that we’ve always had that vertical integration and we want to pull it all together and have that seamless hardware, software interface, and the ability to really control our destiny.”

We thought that the right way was to rethink the vehicle itself from the ground up and build something that was really purpose-built for this new market that doesn’t exist. Robo taxis they’re not out there. You can draw the corollaries between this and Uber or Lyft or whatever, but at the end of the day, this is a new thing that nobody has experienced before. And if you have the technology to do it, why would you not start from a clean sheet of paper and really re-invision what this can do.”

“If you go to one of our competitors today that is thinking about a ground-up vehicle, and it’s starting to talk more about a ground-up vehicle and their vision for that; it’s not all under one roof. There is an arm’s length relationship there with a parent company, for instance, who is really kind of taking over and controlling the vehicle program. Here at Zoox, that’s not the case. It’s all within these four walls. Every aspect of the project  is here.”

“Managing every aspect of the supply chain allows us to, from the outset, elect our partners as carefully as we possibly can. So, by doing that and controlling the supply chain, as we mature as a company, as we learn things internally or simply want to make a different decision about our supply chain strategy, we can just do it.”

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Episode 34