TuSimple taps UPS and Walmart execs to head strategy and fleet operations

TuSimple, an autonomous trucking technology company, has hired UPS (NYSE: UPS) and Walmart (NYSE: WMT) leaders to head its strategy and fleet operations, as the China- and San Diego-based company apparently staves off the economic carnage that has hit other startups in the self-driving industry.

Lee White, who spent 35 years at UPS in various leadership roles, will serve as TuSimple’s vice president of strategy. Conrad Miller, who spent 15 years as an executive in Walmart’s technology and transportation divisions, will serve as senior director of fleet operations.

White’s hire builds on an existing relationship between UPS and TuSimple. The logistics giant took a minority stake in TuSimple last summer, and UPS is one of TuSimple’s 18 contracted customers. 

Founded in 2015, TuSimple runs a fleet of more than 40 autonomous trucks and makes 22 weekly trips (with a safety driver behind the wheel) between Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The company declined to reveal whether Walmart is one of its customers. 

Navigating a pandemic, and a pull back

The autonomous trucking space has been hit hard by two events – the coronavirus pandemic as well as a pull back from investors that was well underway even before the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Over the past couple of weeks, two self-driving trucking companies – Kodiak and Ike – announced layoffs. Another autonomous vehicle startup, Starsky Robotics, shut down after failing to secure new investors.

With some of the deepest pockets of its startup peers, TuSimple so far seems to be bucking the trend.

The company has not laid off any employees and is actively hiring in all of its U.S. locations,  according to Robert Brown, head of government relations and public affairs. 

He told Freightwaves in an email, “Thankfully, our company has continued operations since the U.S. Department of Transportation has deemed our company and many of our customers ‘Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers’ in their emergency order.” 

Among those customers are the Arizona Food Bank Network, UPS, Faribault Foods and McLane. TuSimple is working for the food bank on a pro bono basis, Brown said, a service that has “actually increased the total number of runs we are making.”

New hires, and a reorganization

It is also expanding and reorganizing operations. As senior director of fleet operations, Miller will lead a large division responsible for vehicle quality, maintenance, manufacturing and the team of safety drivers who oversee the autonomous system for TuSimple. 

The role is part of the company’s newly formed Autonomy Operations Group, which focuses on vehicle reliability, availability and utilization. Miller will report to chief product officer Chuck Price, who also leads the new autonomy group, and will work out of the company’s Tucson facility.

In his role as vice president of strategy, White will be responsible for commercial operations and infrastructure with a focus on business expansion. He will report to TuSimple President Cheng Lu and split time between the company’s headquarters in San Diego and its operations facility in Tucson. 

“Lee and Conrad both bring a wealth of experience and knowledge to the TuSimple team through their impressive tenures at UPS and Walmart – companies that are known as leaders in logistics,” said Lu in a press release. “These strategic hires will help build an infrastructure that allows operations to scale while maintaining peak performance.” 

TuSimple plans to start driverless operations in 2021, the company said.