Alex Rodrigues, CEO of Embark

The CEO Who Gave Up His Salary to Pay It Forward

April 20, 2022
Alex Rodrigues, CEO of Embark Trucks, donated his 2022 salary and bonus to fund Little Robots.

After a long career, many of us feel the need to help future generations find success.

It seems that age might not be a requirement. At 26, Alex Rodrigues, CEO of Embark Trucks, didn’t want to wait years to show appreciation to those who had helped him achieve early success. “I’m really grateful to the people that have helped me along the way,” explains Rodrigues. “From those involved with the first robotics team I was on who coached me and those companies who let us work at their expensive CNC labs, to a GPS company that took a bet on us when we asked to use their system for our golf cart. I wanted to say thank you to all of them and felt paying it forward was the best way to do that.”

To show that gratitude on March 16, 2020,  he announced that he would forgo his salary and bonus in 2022 and use those funds to  launch Little Robots, a grant fund dedicated to youth robotics and STEM education.

Rodrigues’ career has been closely tied to robotics. As a student at the University of Waterloo, in Canada, he and two friends had an idea for self-driving vehicles and so build an autonomous golf cart as a prototype. That led to their acceptance into Y Combinator, the Silicon Valley tech incubator. While at the incubator they began to develop software that allowed trucks to drive autonomously.

“It was a hard choice to leave college to pursue this dream, but I felt that the window of opportunity would pass if I waited,” says Rodrigues.

Turns out his gamble paid off. Rodrigues became one of the youngest CEOs of a public company at age 26. His company, Embark Trucks, employs over 200 people, and partners with shippers and carriers that represent over 38,000 trucks. In 2021 it went public through a SPAC merger and now holds a value of $4 billion.

 Paying it Forward

Timing and recognizing opportunity continue to be a theme in Rodrigues’ life. “Without the help of so many people over the years, Embark would not exist,” he says. “Creating this targeted opportunity to give something back to benefit the community is how I can show appreciation. And it’s important to me that this is a sacrifice for me personally, not the company.”

Rodrigues also wanted to counter the impression many have of tech start-ups. “We thought this was a bit of a counterpoint to the excessive way that some people have run companies that have come to market in the last few years,” he says. “What better way to make it clear that I am aligning my money with what I believe.”  In fact, if Rodrigues is to earn any money this year it will be contingent on the company achieving specific price-based milestones, including reaching a share price of $20 or more.

Setting up this type of milestone also represents his belief that public companies are an important part of society. “I’m very aware of the level of responsibility I have been entrusted with and take it very seriously.”

Choosing the Fund’s First Recipient

Deciding where to make the first donation from the Little Robots fund was based on Rodrigues’ experience. “I was involved with the FIRST Robotics competition for seven years before we started the company, and you meet teams from around the world. I heard about the Afghan Girls Robotics Team and was so inspired by their story as they had much harder conditions under which they competed compared to others.”

The team, called “Afghan Dreamers” has won numerous international robotics competitions, and recent members applied their skills to address immediate needs in Afghanistan, such as developing a low-cost ventilator derived from widely available used car parts at the height of a regional COVID outbreak. In the aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021, members of the team relocated to Qatar to continue their education, with support from the Digital Citizen Fund. The Little Robots donation will support their schooling and fund future robotics competitions.

Rodrigues hopes others join his mission and the Little Robots fund is accepting submissions. The application form, along with eligibility criteria, is available at littlerobotsfund.com.

Funding hands-on projects align with Rodrigues’ view on education. “In education, we should put effort into how to build things. In some, ways,  I learned more from FIRST robotics, than I did informal education.” And for his part, funding the Little Robotics is his contribution to STEM education. “Walk the walk if you are going to talk the talk,” he says.

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