Andrea La Mendola’s first job at HyperloopTT was to create the company’s flagship video that would play in meetings and presentations. CEO, Dirk Ahlborn, loved it so much that he used it at his South by Southwest conference and soon set him to the task of creating a documentary which would follow the development of the Hyperloop. Ahlborn wanted to showcase not only the development of the Hyperloop as a technology, but put a human face on HyperloopTT as a company.
It was during this process that Andrea soon noticed a discrepancy in the workplace’s organization chart. Granted, when he first arrived, there were over 1000 applications and over 60 working teams, but he noticed that a better method of implementation was needed for the high number of employees working in vertically siloed teams.
La Mendola realized that he would have to utilize the team building formula he had acquired over the course of his professional career: recognize the strengths of the team, apply them to a unified vision, utilize salesmanship, and connect empathetically until enough knowledge about the team member is acquired so he could make a valid proposition. He soon created an organizational methodology and upon presenting it to the team, the impressed co-founders soon gave him more responsibility- specifically relating to the engineering teams.
This was evidenced in his formulaic approach to one of his earliest team members, Chris Bobko. La Mendola observed that Bobko, an MIT graduate with a Ph.D. possessed high levels of drive and accountability. He realized if he utilized proper salesmanship and connected empathetically with Chris, he would be able to recruit him to his vision of a more efficient engineering team. After a few weeks of practiced pitches, La Mendola sold Bobko on his vision and pushed him to expand his efforts to other teams as well. Chris went above and beyond in his role and is now the head of integration at HyperloopTT.
To the average onlooker, it would appear that this instance of team building and salesmanship was accomplished because La Mendola was an incredibly fast learner. However, even though La Mendola does possess high adaptability skills, his success was not solely determined by this trait. Rather, it stemmed from his experience in a much different career field: film directing.
In 2011, Andrea moved to Los Angeles and stepped out of his comfort zone by directing films in English. “I had coworkers from every different country, religion, and social class,” he said. “I didn’t know it at the time but it was a crash course on how to work well with different cultures.”
Scholars agree that even though a multicultural workplace has the potential to come up with the most creative solutions due to diversity, the cultural differences can lead to a high number of disagreements. Andrea had to learn how to adapt immediately to peoples of different cultures and ethnicities, and soon found that he had a knack for it. “The ability to read the room in a business setting is crucial,” said La Mendola. He continued, “I had to get straight to business in some situations- when certain engineers were primarily business driven.”
Other times, he had to rely on his humor to lighten the room’s mood and see which team members preferred a more laissez-faire work environment. After the initial trial and error period, he soon pinpointed which personalities preferred a more serious work environment to a lighthearted one, and adapted appropriately. This adaptability allowed him to access his visionary nature more readily which resulted in much more efficient projects.
His efficiency and visionary nature didn’t go long without gaining the attention of business executives. Bibop Gresta, Chairman of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, happened to be on the set of a film La Mendola was directing. The two struck up a conversation and soon learned they had much in common: software engineering, an Italian heritage, and backgrounds in entertainment. However, it wasn’t their commonalities which impressed Gresta.
According to the company’s chairman, he was “blown away by Andrea’s managerial and visionary skills” and soon after their initial meeting, Gresta began recruiting Andrea to help capture the company’s evolution through video.
Excited about the prospect of levitating capsules at 760 mph within elevated low air pressure tubes as well as Hyperloop Transportation Technologies’ innovation opportunities and organizational structure, La Mendola joined the team of 420 in 2015.
After the successes of his flagship video and pitch to solve the company’s growing pains, Ahlborn and Gresta gave him the green light to implement his solution for the company’s organizational chart. He soon began reshaping the organization’s workforce and created a more efficient, effective ecosystem for the development of the Hyperloop.
For example, his propulsion and levitation team began with a team of four and had to be strengthened to meet the global demands of the company. By leading a media company and directing films, he had unknowingly prepared himself with key operations skills. He was now adept in leadership, vision, planning, and business operations. His utilization of these skills combined with his work ethic allowed him to recruit, select, and manage a team of rockstar engineers. This team now has 11 PhDs who are global thought leaders in their respective engineering backgrounds and are working every day to further enhance transportation technology. Additionally, Andrea’s leadership and organizational strategy have increased the company’s overall headcount. Since La Mendola started, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies has grown to nearly 900 employees, 35 patents, and a dozen international deals.
Today, Andrea is the Chief Global Operations Officer of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, part of the company’s strategic committee, and is even included by name on some of their technological patents. The former film director/producer has harnessed his engineering and entrepreneurial roots, with most of his workday consisting of collaborating with the engineering and business teams. His film background works to his advantage; It prepared him to not only be a visionary for his team of multicultural engineers but also to actualize his vision with talented people from diverse industries and backgrounds. The once shy adolescent who spent most of his time observing others now leads a globally diverse team of engineering PhDs on one of the most visible projects in the world