City Focus: Phoenix
Welcome to Phoenix, Arizona, a hub of industry, culture and innovation, and the best place in the world to see what a future filled with self-driving cars might look like.
Known to its 1.6mn residents as the ‘Valley of the Sun,’ Phoenix, Arizona is the fifth most populous city in the US and the only state capital that is home to more than a million people. First settled in 1867, it was incorporated as a city in 1881 and became the capital of the Arizona Territory in 1889. Phoenix was originally an agricultural community, with an economy that remained centered around cotton, cattle, citrus, copper and its desert climate for decades before the arrival of tech companies in the wake of the Second World War.
Today, the Phoenix Metropolitan Area has a GDP in excess of US$243bn, and a per capita GDP of approximately $44,500, although its 4.2% unemployment rate is higher than the national average of 3.9%. Despite this, however, its economy was the third-fastest growing in the nation last year, powered by healthy performance in financial and business services, healthcare and manufacturing sectors.
The largest company to call Phoenix home is national pet goods and supplies retailer PetSmart, which chalked up more than $5.3bn in revenue last year. Its largest private sector employer is Walmart, which has more than 30,000 workers across the state, many of whom work at the company’s supercenters, discount stores, neighborhood markets, Sam’s Clubs and distribution centers in Phoenix itself.
While coastal cities like New York, Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco have more prominent reputations for startup economies and being proving grounds for industry-disrupting innovations like food delivery rovers, Postmates and Uber, Phoenix has for the last year been home to the first steps of an even more important journey. Exactly one year ago, in December 2018, Google spinoff company Waymo launched a limited trial service of its self-driving taxi service in the city.
How we got here
In 2004, the US Department of Defense (DoD) hosted a competition. It took the form of a 142-mile-long obstacle course, designed to test the abilities of autonomous vehicles. Only one of the vehicles that entered made it more than seven miles. Undeterred, the DoD repeated the competition the following year. Five teams completed the grueling course in 2005, with the entry from the Stanford Engineering Department doing it in the shortest amount of time and winning a $2mn prize. That team was led by computer scientist Sebastian Thrun.
Two years later, Thrun was hired by Google to head up its fledgling driverless car program, Google X, which has since spun off into Alphabet subsidiary Waymo. Thrun left Google in 2014 to pursue executive roles at his own education and electronic aviation companies, but Waymo is now among the leading companies bringing autonomous vehicles to the point of commercial viability. The company says that it has tested its vehicles in over 25 cities across six states, but the largest concentration of miles driven have been in the suburbs of Phoenix.
Operational for a year now, the Waymo One service operates in four neighborhoods across the city: Chandler, Tempe, Mesa and Gilbert. A vetted group of around 1,000 local residents can use the company’s app to hail a ride from its growing fleet of autonomous vehicles, as well as give direct feedback on the service.
“It’s pretty trippy when you see the fact that the car is driving itself,” said Waymo One rider Nicole Collins in an interview with CNBC. “It’s great to be a part of history, for my kids to experience - my daughter actually liked it a lot.”
Riders with access to the Waymo One app can summon one of its 600 vehicles 24/7 and use them to travel anywhere in the limited area that the company’s fleet has mapped. The operational area is restricted because Waymo’s fleet is only autonomous in these pre-mapped areas, and the safety of its vehicles is largely dependent on the extensive pre-existing knowledge they have of an area’s roads and obstacles. In October, Waymo announced that its vehicles had begun the process of mapping out some streets in Los Angeles, as part of the process of determining whether the service is ready to take on one of the most congested urban transport environments in the country.
Waymo has also partnered with ride-hailing company Lyft, making 10 of its Phoenix vehicles publicly available through its platform. Also, in October, Waymo sent an email to its Waymo One customers, informing them of plans to remove the safety drivers that have so far been a necessary presence in all unmanned vehicles, ready to take the wheel in case of a malfunction or error.
As today’s cities become the smart urban environments of the future, places like Phoenix are offering remarkable insight into the solutions that may define the technological utopias of tomorrow.
For more information on business topics in the United States, please take a look at the latest edition of Business Chief USA.
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.