Boryana Straubel obituary: Philanthropist and former Tesla executive

Activist and ‘green’ jewellery entrepreneur killed at 38 in cycling accident

Boryana Straubel, a  former Tesla executive, who was also the executive director of the Straubel Foundation, a  foundation that focuses on environmental sustainability, and the founder of Generation Collection, a jewellery company that uses recycled metals for its designs.

Boryana Straubel, a former Tesla executive, who was also the executive director of the Straubel Foundation, a foundation that focuses on environmental sustainability, and the founder of Generation Collection, a jewellery company that uses recycled metals for its designs.

 

Born: May 25th, 1983 Died: June 19th, 2021

Boryana Straubel, a philanthropist and advocate for environmental sustainability who founded Generation Collection, a jewellery company that uses recycled metals for its designs, died on June 19th after being struck by a car while cycling in Washoe County, Nevada. She was 38.

A police spokesman said the car was travelling in the opposite direction on a highway when it struck Straubel.

As a teenager growing up in a small Bulgarian town, Straubel was a self-described maths nerd who spent Friday evenings in a deserted pay-by-the-hour internet shop researching foreign universities. That behaviour made her a loser among her peers who were out partying, she wrote later, as part of an assignment for Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. (When she was younger, she had turned down sleepovers to stay home and work on maths problems.)

When she arrived in the United States in 2005, she spoke no English. But after earning a degree in economics from the University of California, Berkeley, she became a star executive at Tesla, the electric car company, where she led teams in human resources and market expansion, among other roles.

She also met Jeffrey Brian Straubel, known as JB, who, along with Elon Musk, was one of Tesla’s founders. Forbes magazine, which compared the relationship of Musk and JB Straubel to that of Apple co-founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, has estimated JB Straubel’s net worth at $140 million (€118m). He stepped down from his position as chief technology officer in 2019.

The couple married in 2013 and started the Straubel Foundation, which focuses on environmental sustainability, in 2015. Boryana Straubel was its executive director.

Straubel conceived Generation Collection when she learned that precious metals like gold were a large component of electronic waste. A jewellery company that used this material instead of mined gold – which is carbon intensive and heavily polluting, and which often relies on forced and child labour – fit her desire to create a business that had a positive environmental and social impact.

“I joined Tesla in 2011 when it was still a small company and people made fun of me,” Straubel told The New York Times in April, when Generation Collection opened for business. “We were seen as a bunch of nerds who believed so hard in something that everyone else just didn’t get, but I believed absolutely in the mission, and look how that turned out. But now I trust my gut.”

Boryana Dineva was born on May 25th, 1983, in Bulgaria. With the fall of communism in 1989, her family emigrated to Germany, where they lived for a few months in a refugee camp. They also lived in Austria and Russia. After learning English, Boryana spoke a total of five languages – all with an accent, she said, even her mother tongue.

In 2008, she graduated from College of San Mateo, a two-year community college in Silicon Valley, along with her younger brother, Stoyan. With scholarships from San Mateo Rotary Club, among other awards, they were both accepted at University of California, Berkeley, where Boryana earned a degree in economics. She worked as an account manager at Brocade, a software company, before joining Tesla in 2011.

She became vice president of talent and culture at Wikimedia Foundation in 2015, before returning to Tesla for another year and a half. She then returned to education to better prepare herself for her philanthropy. She earned a master’s degree in management from Stanford University graduate school of business in 2019 and a master’s degree in management science and engineering the next year from Stanford’s school of engineering.

Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, founder and chair of the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society and a guru to the area’s newly wealthy, directing them in how to give their money away, taught Straubel in her Stanford courses on philanthropy and justice and on women and leadership. Straubel became a protege and then a friend.

“Her critical thinking skills were at the highest level,” Arrillaga-Andreessen said. “But what’s so powerful about Boryana is, she took the theory and the knowledge that she was given in class and over the last few years translated it into action and impact in her own philanthropy.”

In addition to her husband, Straubel’s survivors include their two young sons. Complete information on survivors was not immediately available.

“Boryana wanted to help people who had leadership potential and were committed to make a difference in the world, but who needed a little extra support to get there,” said Pamela Hinds, professor of management science and engineering at Stanford. “She was full of energy – passionate, caring and very persistent.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.