Aug. 18, 2020 - 5 min read

Women of Aurora with Lia Theodosiou-Pisanelli

Women of Aurora with Lia Theodosiou-Pisanelli

Meet Lia Theodosiou-Pisanelli, our former US trade negotiator and multilingual Director of Partner Product and Programs.

As we build a diverse culture at Aurora, we are committed to empowering and elevating leaders with unique experience to transform the world of technology.

In our series, Women of Aurora, we share the personal and professional journeys of the women of Aurora. In this edition, we’re excited to introduce Lia Theodosiou-Pisanelli, Director of Partner Product and Programs.

Read on to learn about Lia’s unique career path, from serving as a US trade negotiator to carving out her role at Aurora.

Tell us about how you started your career.

Lia: I started my career in government, serving both in civil service and as a political appointee in the Office of the United States Trade Representative. I worked on a number of economic and political initiatives, and most memorably, as a negotiator on behalf of the United States in multilateral trade negotiations.

As a negotiator, I had to thread the needle between satisfying key domestic stakeholders and what was achievable with my counterparts and their respective countries’ economic and political priorities. It was in this capacity that I first learned how to negotiate under tight deadlines and narrow parameters, as well as how to efficiently absorb and master technical information. The work was always challenging, but incredibly fulfilling.

Women of Aurora with Lia Theodosiou-Pisanelli

Lia served as a US trade negotiator in the Obama Administration. Here she is pictured with President Obama (left) and at the Diplomatic Entrance to the West Wing (right).

As a trade negotiator, how did you end up in Silicon Valley?

Lia: I was given an opportunity to move to the private sector and apply my experience to help a fintech company navigate a complex regulatory landscape and expand globally. I have worked for a number of pre and post IPO tech companies, in various capacities. Everything from leading global government and regulatory affairs, to opening international markets for new products in Europe and Asia, to building partner ecosystems from the ground up, and leading technical partnerships to develop, deploy, and evangelize autonomous vehicle technology and mobility services.

Each role has presented a new opportunity to bring different worlds together to drive impact. Whether political parties, foreign countries, engineering teams, banking, automotive, or tech business executives, the challenges are similar, and the skill set is the same.

What excited you about joining Aurora?

Lia: The improved safety and accessibility that self-driving technology will bring and Aurora’s unique technical ability to deliver it. I also believe that the only way autonomous vehicle technology will be deployed is if each stakeholder focuses on what they do best and works closely, and humbly, with partners to get products to market together. It was clear to me that the Aurora leadership team shared those beliefs.

The founders also recognized the value of my multidisciplinary background and carved out a role and a function that would make use of my experience, acting as the bridge between partners, business, and engineering teams. They not only recognized the importance and need for the role, but they trusted me to build out this new function and bring in the team to execute it.

Describe what you do at Aurora.

Lia: I lead a growing team that is responsible for defining the products that we build for our partners, and running the programs that deliver those products. Tactically, we do everything from leading engagements with our partners, driving vehicle programs and fleet planning, and working with our business, operations, communications, and policy teams to ensure Aurora is best positioned to deliver on our mission.

Why do you think Aurora is positioned to succeed?

Lia: We have an experienced team who have worked on various elements of self-driving technology and saw the opportunity to take it to the next level at Aurora. Based on our collective experience, we’ve built our business, partnership model, and technology to be agnostic, which we believe positions Aurora to successfully deliver the Aurora Driver safely, quickly, and broadly. We can’t predict what the future will look like, but we’re nimble and ready to take on whatever comes our way.

What is your advice for women who may want to pursue a career in autonomous vehicles?

Lia: It’s not easy being a woman in any male-dominated industry, autonomous vehicles included. It’s especially difficult to be a leader in the space because there are few other women to look to as examples or for support. However, it’s absolutely possible!

My advice is to not fixate on the fact that you may be the only woman in the room. That will happen. Don’t think of it as a vulnerability — seize it as an opportunity to share your unique voice even if it’s different or occasionally makes others uncomfortable. You are there for a reason. Always come prepared and put in the time and effort to learn your craft. You are paving the road for the women who will come after you.

August 18th is the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote in the US. How are you honoring the centennial anniversary of women’s suffrage?

Lia: August is a meaningful month for the history of voting in America. Both in passage of the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965, and the ratification of the 19th Amendment on August 18, 1920. I will be volunteering (virtually) to help people register to vote and request absentee ballots.

Outside of work, what do you like to do in your spare time?

Lia: I am still involved in policy work, serving as a Fellow on the Truman National Security Project, an organization of current and former political and national security professionals that collaborate on policy initiatives, give guidance to campaigns, and support rising leaders.

At home, I really love making and eating pasta. I can pretend to say exercising, but truthfully, pasta and politics are how I spend my time outside of work.

What is your favorite pasta?

Lia: It depends on the hour! I find the best pasta is made with the simplest ingredients. (See below!)

Do you have a hidden talent?

Lia: I can speak five languages: Greek, Mandarin, Spanish, French, and English. I’m pretty rusty in most of them since I haven’t had to use them in a while, but I can get by. Especially if food is involved.

What is on your bucket list?

Lia: More travel, now more than ever! Growing up, I spent my summers in Greece with my family and have since traveled quite a bit, particularly when I was in government. There are more places I’d love to visit: Burma, Cuba, Iran, and Jordan.

Women of Aurora with Lia Theodosiou-Pisanelli

From left to right: Lia visiting Machu Picchu in between negotiating rounds in Peru, at the Taj Mahal, and on a four-day trek on Tiger Leaping Gorge when she lived in Yunnan Province, China.

What is the best thing about working at Aurora?

Lia: Working with exceptional people. The talent bar at Aurora is really high and I’m lucky to have an amazing team that makes us better every day.

Aurora is looking for talented individuals from diverse backgrounds. Join us if you’re interested in building the future of transportation.

Aurora Team
Aurora delivers the benefits of self-driving technology safely, quickly, and broadly

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