Founder & CEO, ATDynamics, Inc.
Have the confidence that even if you don’t know the answer immediately, with a little bit of time and work and brainstorming, you can always come up with an alternative.
Andrew Smith’s commitment to green energy goes back a long way. In eighth grade, after hearing from his science teacher that his favorite sports cars got poor gas mileage, Smith decided he was going to start a company to make fast electric automobiles. “Since Elon Musk has done such a spectacular job with Tesla, I figure it’s good that I ended up in the trailer aerodynamics business,” he says.
He’s talking about ATDynamics, a company he co-founded during his first year at Tuck, which patented and sold TrailerTails—attachments that reduce the aerodynamic drag behind tractor trailers and save 5 percent of the fuel burned by long haul trucks at highway speed.
Smith teamed up with a few Tuck classmates to develop the idea in his first year, winning the largest business plan competition in the country, at Rice University in Houston, TX, in 2006. In his second year, “every class I took had a whole new meaning because it had direct application to the business I was incubating,” he says. That year he also found a group of Thayer students to help him build prototypes, and he ended up hiring Jeff Grossmann Th’06, who eventually became the vice president of engineering and helped set up the company’s headquarters in the Bay Area.
“We took the company from a cardboard box prototype and a business plan at Tuck to a profitable 75-person company. By 2015 we had 40,000 TrailerTails installed on over 500 trucking fleets in nine countries and were reducing trucking industry diesel fuel consumption by tens of millions of gallons annually,” Smith reports.
Smith sold ATDynamics in 2015 to EnPro Industries, a diversified industrial company, which continues to manufacture TrailerTails and sell to the long-haul trucking industry. He is now involved with a diverse portfolio of environmental business ventures including the commercialization of autonomous electric freight vehicles and zero-waste 3D printed houses.
Tuck was Smith’s first choice for business school because he was looking for a beautiful environment where he could spend time thinking about how to maximize his impact on the big challenges of the world. Tuck proved the perfect setting, as he could indulge his love of the outdoors while gaining some invaluable lessons on entrepreneurship—such as the need for patience, persistence, continuous prototyping, and team building.
He still reflects often on an acronym from his Tuck Negotiations class: BATNA. It stands for “best alternative to a negotiated agreement.” It’s a reminder to not panic when things don’t go your way. Smith explains, “When you’re taking on a really challenging problem, have the confidence that even if you don’t know the answer immediately, with a little bit of time and work and brainstorming, you can always come up with an alternative.”
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