Aicha Evans: A Senegalese Woman Impacting the Auto-tech IndustryAug 04, 2022 12:00PM ● By Candice Stewart
Aicha Evans, CEO of Zoox | Source: GW School of Engineering and Applied Science
A Black woman in the tech and automotive industry at one of the highest levels is like witnessing a rare animal in its natural habitat. You know they exist but to be lucky enough to see and engage with them is life changing. That’s the rarity of Aicha Evans, CEO of Zoox.
Zoox is an autonomous vehicle company that provides mobility-as-a-service “in dense urban environments” where the company handles the driving, charging, upgrades, and maintenance. The rider will only pay for the service. The company “was founded to make personal transportation safer, cleaner, and more enjoyable—for everyone. To achieve that goal, the team created a whole new form of transportation.”
Prior to her role at Zoox, Evans worked with Intel Corporation for 12 years excelling in leadership and being recognized as a Black woman in a predominantly White and male-dominated field. Prior to leaving Intel, Evans served as Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer where she drove the company’s transformation from a PC-centric to a data-centric company. Before that, she operated the company’s wireless efforts and oversaw a global team of 7,000 engineers.
In an interview with Auto News, Evans shared that she grew tired of being identified as the somewhat tokenized Black woman in high-tech.
“I was at Intel having a lot of fun; dabbled a little bit with new mobility because Intel acquired Mobileye. As people looked at me, they saw a Black woman in high-tech, so I got a lot of calls. I grew tired of it, and it forced me to have a one-on-one with myself — what am I going to do going forward?” she said in that interview.
An executive recruiter asked her what interests she had and Evans shared that she wanted “something that’s high impact from a technology standpoint … a private company; … a team that I fall in love with; and it’s in Silicon Valley and I don’t go too far down the ladder.” That is where Zoox came into play. The recruiter contacted her and the company checked all the right boxes for her and she was tapped as the company’s CEO and joined in February 2019. Being the visionary and leader that she is, Evans orchestrated Zoox’s $1.2 billion sale to Amazon but held on to her C-Suite spot.
Evans grew up in Senegal and Paris and later moved to the US. She dreamed of becoming a technologist and making an impact on the world in that role.
“I loved tinkering with things from an early age. I drove my parents absolutely crazy because I would take things apart and try to understand them if I was interested in them and then I would put them back together. I also solved a few problems. Back then, telephone calls were very expensive in Senegal and there was no internet. So, when I was in Senegal for the summer, I wanted to stay in touch with my friends in Paris. My dad got tired of the phone bills. It was a rotary phone and he put a lock on it thinking that it was gonna be fine,” Evans says in a keynote speech at the 2019 Grace Hopper Celebration event. Evans continues and reveals that she found a way around the lock and made the calls just the same.
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“Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more so that we may fear less” – Marie Curie
The quote is one that Aicha Evans says that grounds her on a daily basis. So, when things are hard and people try to belittle her despite the role that she plays, when those days come, she remembers that nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.
It would only be natural for Evans to follow along the lines of science and technology as her idol did. As a child, she loved Math and Science. Additionally, she loved Philosophy, Literature and the Humanities in general. With prodding from the education system in France and her father, she went with the technical route of things.
“Growing up in Senegal, at a very young age, I thought I was going to be a fighter pilot. By the time I got to Paris and bounced between Senegal and Paris, I wanted to be a technologist but I wanted to be impactful. By the time I arrived in the US, it was going to be around computers,” says Evans in a video with Forbes for their 2021 ‘50 0ver 50’ honorees listing.
Forbes’ 50 over 50 listing is an inaugural class of dynamic women entrepreneurs, leaders and creators who are part of an exhilarating movement redefining life’s second half and proving that success has no age limit.
“When I was younger, and even not so long ago, I did not think that I would be working at 50. I thought that would be teaching Math in elementary school, middle school or high school – because I feel that math is not taught properly, especially to girls. Along the way, though, I’ve discovered meaning. Frankly, I don’t know what I would be doing if I was not working. The idea of playing golf all day long, traveling and eating country club sandwiches are not very appealing to me. I have plenty left.” she continues.
Passionate about the education of girls and women, Evans shares a message for them. She urges them to “take a chill pill”. She says, “By and large, it’s gonna be okay. Don’t worry about making too many plans and then disappointing yourself or limiting yourself. Know yourself really well. What type of person are you? What really motivates you? If you find it, you’ll know because you find the traits to almost everything that you do. Figure out what’s important to you and then ride the different phases and waves. By the way, if something doesn’t go so well, take a step back, have a one-on-one with yourself, talk to your support system, see what really happens, make adjustments – by and large, you’re gonna be fine.”
Evans shares that some of her choices were not pleasing to family and friends, but she knew it was in the right direction. At one point, she was a restaurateur earlier in her career. She says that some of her greatest lessons in leadership came from her time with the restaurant she opened. Evans also took pauses in her career while meandering the river of success and lessons which led her to where she currently is. This journey started with the restaurant in 1992 with ups and downs that led her to being the Zoox CEO in 2019.
“Take the paths less traveled – the jobs, assignments, and projects that people are running away from. Those are the opportunities to learn important lessons and have great impact and essentially grow in a way you never thought possible,” she says.
It was her rarity in the field at Intel that made her so special to so many people. It was also her rarity in going for the challenge that led her to Zoox.
“I wanted to create, to transform, and to change the world, and that’s why I joined Zoox to do just that,” she says.
Aicha Evans is a wife, mother, leader, and member of the Supervisory Board of SAP and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering from The George Washington University. She also serves as a trustee for the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology. In 2019 Aicha was named to Business Insider's list of 100 People Transforming Business in the transportation category.
100 Leading Women in the North American Auto Industry | Aicha Evans – Automotive News
Aicha Evans, CEO – Zoox
GHC 19 Opening Keynote – Aicha Evans - Anita_org YouTube channel
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