CMU Alumni Feature
Vivian Sun, Head of Public Relations, TuSimple
Vivian graduated from California Miramar University with a Master of Business Administration with a concentration in Technology Management. Vivian Sun leads Public Relations and government affairs for TuSimple, one the world’s most advanced self-driving truck company. Based in San Diego, she is a member of the executive leadership team.
Vivian has leading roles in industry associations. She is a member of the American Trucking Association’s Communications and Image Policy and Environmental and Energy Policy Committees. She is also a frequent guest speaker at the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International ( AUVSI) events as well as other leading conferences in the industry.
As employee #8 at TuSimple, she has been a key driver of the company’s growth since its founding in 2015. A fast-growth startup, the company has scaled from 80 to 400 employees worldwide in 36 months. TuSimple’s goal is to deliver the first and safest driverless truck to market. The company is currently validating its system in Arizona, earning revenue while hauling goods everyday for large companies. The company’s mission is to increase safety, decrease transportation costs, and reduce carbon emissions.
Vivian also holds a Master of Public Administration from Cornell University and a Bachelor of Science in Business Management from the University of Surrey.
What is your specific job title at TuSimple? Head of Public Relations
In what city is your company located? San Diego,CA
Q: What was your concentration at California Miramar University?
A: Technology Management
Q: Since graduating, where has your career taken you?
A: After graduating I was eager to explore new, and exciting opportunities.
I immediately recognized the field of autonomous driving offered so much potential for personal and professional development. I knew this could be an arena I could immerse myself in and grow quickly.
And now I lead public relations for TuSimple, and given my educational and professional background, this industry is a very exciting and non-traditional path for me. I also travel around the US to give keynotes and/ or presentations to industry members. To educate the industry the positive impact of automation.
In the past few years, I quickly became an industry expert in AI, automation, trucking and automotive.
Q: Can you describe what your day-to-day work looks like? Your company has had incredible growth in just a few years? How, specifically, did you facilitate that growth?
As the employee number 8 and the first non-technical hire, I was in charge of building the company structure from the ground up. But as the company experiences exponential growth, new challenges/ projects are emerging every day. I was tasked with projects that had never been done before in different stages of the company’s growth.
For example, during the early stage of the company, we had to expand our footprint to another state for a driverless fleet facility since California has a very restrictive legislation on driverless trucks. So I was tasked to locate a new state with lenient legislation for autonomy, but also justify the total addressable market (TAM) to be appealing for deploying driverless trucks. It was a rigorous process, but I was able to convince the board and the company to expand into Tucson, Arizona, and effectively doubling the team size over a year.
Since I am part of the executive team, In the big picture, I am involved in overall strategy planning, planning organization milestones, facilitating fundraising discussions. But I am also closely involved in external communications with various federal departments that are responsible for drafting legislation for autonomy, negotiation with potential customers that are in the logistic industry, and establishing key relationships with industry partners.
Q: What are the greatest challenges that you or your company face as you move forward with plans to make driverless technology a reality?
One of the greatest challenges that we face moving forward with driverless technology is the lack of standardization operating procedures in the industry. Companies that are developing autonomous driving technology should and must agree to a set of safety standards that they can prove and abide by. At TuSimple, we are conducting millions of miles of simulated and real world driving to ensure the safe operation of our trucks. We are also working proactively with law enforcement, government agencies, and safety bodies to provide open, transparent testing.
Another challenge would be the public debate of the future of the workforce. As of 2019, the official number of driver shortage in the class 8 trucks has reached up to 60,000. It is the duty of the companies that are developing driverless technologies to educate the public that the driverless solution will bring positive impact to the industry. Part of their duty is also to ensure a smooth transition for existing drivers. For example, TuSimple recently launched an autonomous vehicle driver certificate program for certified truck drivers in conjunction with Pima Community College in Tucson, AZ to equip themselves with relevant knowledge and skills to expand their roles in this new and rapidly growing industry.
Q: What are the most rewarding aspects of your career/work?
On a professional level, playing a role in an emerging industry like self-driving trucks is very challenging but yet rewarding because it unites leaders from different sectors and gets them excited. At TuSimple, I get to build new partner ecosystems and a completely new business model for the future of trucking. I enjoy working with OEMs, Tier 1s, suppliers, shippers and fleet managers as they figure out how to make autonomy work for their businesses. As autonomous technology begins to dramatically change these very traditional businesses, I love creating new opportunities in each part of a newly evolving supply chain.
On a personal level, one of the rewarding aspects of my career would be the opportunity to educate the public with the positive impact of automation/ artificial intelligence. For example, in the healthcare industry we’re already seeing AI being utilized to benefit human health with improved image analysis, information exchange, and even scheduling. AI improves our lives and has the potential to transform the negative aspects of work like tedious repetition and labor into positive ones through efficiency and safety. And self driving technology will provide similar benefits.
Q: When you were at CMU, had you already developed an interest in driverless technology or was that something you developed after joining TuSimple? Please explain.
A: Throughout my career, I always believe in catching the wave. It is crucial to join a rising industries and become an expert quickly to catch the growth.
I think entering a growing industry is more likely to position you for future opportunities. For this reason, I looked into opportunities to ride the wave in an up-and-coming sector and found a great one – specifically transportation and self-driving vehicles powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI). I currently lead business and partner development as well as marketing for TuSimple, and given my educational and professional background, this industry is a very exciting and non-traditional path for me.
Q: What advice would you give current CMU students who are interested in pursuing a career in your industry?
A: Don’t be afraid to tout your strengths to others and network as much as possible with leaders in your field of interest. Keep learning! You must acquire as much information as you can throughout your working life to stay current in a rapidly changing business environment and industry. Continuing to learn and pushing yourself will help you develop confidence when establishing yourself in any field.
As you know, there are not that many women in your industry. Can you share 3 things that you would you advise to other women in the AI space to thrive?
- Be visible: I believe women should always actively look for opportunities to shine light on our achievements and capabilities. Find opportunities to present yourself in front of your company and then go to bigger stages in your industry.
- Take credit for your work: Women don’t like taking credit for their projects or achievements. We play vital roles as leaders and team members, and we should be proud of our contributions.
- Communicate: I believe that communication is the most important soft skill in career development. Expertise in your field is the foundation of all your work, but it is equally necessary to be able to persuasively articulate your ideas, thoughts and needs, particularly in a team setting.