Autonomous tech / Business / Environment / Founders / Hiring

Power Moves: 3 Pittsburgh tech firms name big leadership changes and 2022 growth plans

Autonomous vehicle companies Aurora and Locomation and agtech company Fifth Season each made executive announcements this week. Here's what you need to know.

Robotic farming brings out a row of leafy greens from the LED growing room at Fifth Season's Braddock location. (Courtesy photo)

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Continuing the trend of big promotions at the start of a new year, three Pittsburgh tech firms just announced leadership changes and expansion plans for 2022.

From the impending commercial launch of autonomous vehicles to the growing agricultural tech scene in the city, these local tech innovators have selected new employees to lead the way.

These are Pittsburgh’s latest Power Moves:

An Aurora cofounder resigns from the board of directors as another member joins ahead of a commercial launch

This week, Aurora Innovation cofounder Drew Bagnell announced his resignation from the autonomous vehicle company’s board of directors, but shared that he would keep his position as chief scientist. The resignation was filed on Jan. 12.

Bagnell said the decision was not because of “any disagreement with [Aurora] concerning any matter relating to its operations, policies, or practices.” Pittsburgh Business Journal reports that Bagnell is the only Pittsburgh-based cofounder from the company, and his absence on the board means there will be no local representation for the time being, despite the fact that Aurora is headquartered here.

Drew Bagnell. (Photo via LinkedIn)

But with Bagnell’s resignation from the board comes the addition of Claire Hughes Johnson, a corporate officer and advisor at fintech company Stripe as well as a board member for The Atlantic and Ameresco. Of her new role at Aurora, Hughes Johnson said: “Self-driving technology will create a future with safer roads and improved efficiency — it also has the potential to vastly redistribute economic opportunities in the transportation landscape.”

In a prepared statement published on the company’s blog, she continued, saying “transportation is a massive part of any country’s GDP and it represents a wide variety of jobs. I’m interested in guiding self-driving technology to create new jobs and opportunities, and what better place to be a part of this critical evolution than from a Board seat with one of the most promising self-driving companies?”

The announcement of Bagnell’s resignation and Hughes Johnson’s new role come shortly after the company put out a press release detailing plans for its impending commercial launch of the Aurora Driver. While it remains to be seen how the leadership change will play a role in that strategy, Aurora’s public offering through a SPAC deal in the fourth quarter of last year means that the company now has to be more transparent in updates like this one.

Fifth Season expands farming centers and announces three new hires

Robotic farming company Fifth Season announced the opening of a new vertical farming facility in Columbus, Ohio, the second of the kind for the company following its initial launch in Braddock. The company, which uses aquaponics and vertical farming techniques to minimize energy, soil and land area, also offers a service where it provides freshly harvested greens and salad kits to customers. That produce is also available at local grocery stores in Pittsburgh, like Giant Eagle and Kroger.

“We’ve proven the viability of our model, and we’re pushing forward into high-growth mode with leaders who will use our scalable platform to innovate and increase distribution now, not five years from now,” said Fifth Season’s CEO, Austin Webb, in a press release.

The new farm won’t be in operation until 2023, and is meant to fulfill a projected 600% sales growth from the company in its ready-to-eat salads. To further assist this expansion in operations, Fifth Season also announced three key hires in executive roles: Brian Griffiths as CFO, Varun Khanna as VP of food products and Glenn Wells as senior VP of sales.

“From my 30 years of experience in technology, it was immediately clear to me that Fifth Season is in a league of its own,” Griffiths said. “We’re positioned to continue being the most capital-efficient company in our sector and rapidly scale our business.”

Locomation promotes its first chief product officer

Autonomous trucking company Locomation announced that VP of Safety Steve Kenner would be promoted to the newly created role of chief product and safety officer.

“Steve has already been instrumental in our product development process, and he has several decades of deep automotive product development experience in addition to his extensive safety expertise,” said Çetin Meriçli, Locomation’s CEO and cofounder, in a press release. “Under his leadership, we will continue marching towards commercial deployment while incorporating safety into every aspect of what we do.”

In his new role, Kenner will manage the company’s full portfolio products, including its autonomous relay convoy system, which it expects to deploy in the near future. He will also help ensure safe development and testing as he leads product vision and growth strategy.

“I am excited and humbled by this opportunity,” Kenner said. “This is a pivotal time not only for Locomation, but for the safety and efficiency of the entire trucking and transportation ecosystem. I’m excited to help lead the way towards this future.”

Sophie Burkholder is a 2021-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
Companies: Fifth Season / Locomation / Aurora
Series: Power Moves

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