As a former transportation secretary and later White House chief of staff for President George W. Bush, Andy Card could have his pick of corporate directorships. So why choose hybrid-electric powertrain startup Hyliion Inc.?
The answer is 28-year-old CEO Thomas Healy. Card encountered Healy in 2016 at the annual management conference of the American Trucking Associations (ATA), where Card delivered a keynote address. Walking the ATA exhibit area the next day, Card found himself at Hyliion’s booth.
“I was struck by this very young guy,” in part because of a trace of a Boston accent that Card shares. Healy’s hometown of Easton, Massachusetts, also struck a chord with Card, who lives in neighboring Brockton. Healy’s parents attended Stonehill College in Easton, where Card served as a trustee.
“I thought he was just a prop at this booth,” Card said. “But he was the booth. It was Hyliion. And we had a good talk.
Contact after that was infrequent: a note here, a Christmas card there.
“I kept following him and I was overwhelmed with how much credibility he was gaining in the work that he was doing,” Card said. “He was so young. But he had quiet confidence. He wasn’t arrogant. He was ethical. So I kept track of him. “
Then Card learned Healy was moving Hyliion to Austin, Texas. He sensed “something big must be happening.”
Sure enough, Hyliion left its slow-and-steady growth path in June, bursting on the scene in a trendy reverse merger pointed toward trading as a public company by the end of the current quarter. Healy asked Card to join his board of directors.
As the interim CEO of the George and Barbara Bush Foundation, volunteer chairman of the National Endowment for Democracy, and a director of Union Pacific Railroad (NYSE: UNP), and commercial drone maker Draganfly (OTC: DFLYF), the 73-year-old Card’s plate seemed full. But he said yes, pending shareholder approval.
“Andy is an esteemed, seasoned executive hailing from some of the country’s most demanding and integral leadership roles,” Healy said. “His diverse professional career, combined with his passion for driving innovative change in global logistics, make him an ideal fit for our growing leadership team.”
In an interview with FreightWaves, Card talked about the transitional and future role Hyliion could play in commercial transportation. Here are edited excerpts:
What is the lure of Hyliion versus other startups?
They’re cognizant of the current market. It’s not like they’re just building for the future. They’re building to make the current platforms more efficient. They can fit an all-electric truck if you go to an all-electric system. But they recognize the vast number of trucks in the fleet in America today are not electric. But they could benefit with this powertrain technology that could be an add-on to what they’re already doing. So, it’s transitional as well as the future.
How does your Washington D.C. experience help?
My job is not to be a lobbyist. I always tell people, “No politician is as smart as they claim to be, and no bureaucrat is as smart as they need to be.” They both need to be educated. But if you do it more than three times, you’re a lobbyist. I’m an educator. And I want to introduce people to the need to look beyond yesterday to tomorrow. Bureaucrats and politicians should be focusing on the needs of the future because that’s what the business community has to do.
Are hybrids a bridge to or part of the future?
I think it’s both. It is a bridge to the future and will be part of the future because I think [Hyliion’s] technology is very efficient [and] very proven. There are companies today that can take his powertrain technology and put it on their existing system.
With your car experience, how different is the trucking space?
I was secretary of transportation. So I tried to do my homework on all modes of transportation. And I also tried not to have a favorite one. I believe an automobile is the greatest freedom machine in the history of the world. So personal passenger cars, SUVs, pickup trucks, they give freedom to people. The uses are different. The technology is a little bit different. But what Thomas Healy and others are doing in the electric vehicle market is all transferable. I’m into all forms of transportation. Because I’m an engineer who was also a politician — and I know that’s an oxymoron — I don’t know whether I’m the oxy or the moron — because there were very few engineers in politics. But I’m an engineer who was in politics.
Rail. Drones. Trucking. Is this like a DOT redux?
It is. I’m an eclectic person. I try to make sure [my vision is] more peripheral than blind staring. I try to look around the room and see what’s happening and what’s the context. If you’re a package, you don’t know whether you’re on a plane, train, automobile [or] truck. You can also be on a drone. You have no clue. You’re just a package being moved from point A to point B.