Boryana Straubel, 38, Dies; Philanthropist and Former Tesla Executive

Boryana Straubel, a former executive at Tesla, the electric car company, who was also the executive director of the Straubel Foundation, a family foundation that focuses on environmental sustainability, and the founder of Generation Collection, a jewelry company that uses recycled metals for its designs, died on June 19 while riding her bicycle on a highway in Washoe County, Nev. She was 38.

A spokesman for the Nevada Highway Patrol said Ms. Straubel died after being hit by a car traveling in the opposite direction.

As a teenager growing up in a small Bulgarian town, Ms. Straubel was a self-described math nerd who spent Friday evenings in a deserted pay-by-the-hour internet shop researching foreign universities. That behavior 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 math 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 at Tesla, where she led teams in human resources and new markets expansion, among other roles.

She also met Jeffrey Brian Straubel, known as J.B., one of Tesla’s founders. As chief technology officer, Mr. Straubel, an engineer, was in charge of Tesla’s battery cell design and other innovations.

“J.B. Straubel is the guy people imagine Elon Musk to be,” Edward Niedermeyer, author of “Ludicrous: The Unvarnished Story of Tesla Motors” (2019), said in an interview. “His work was at the heart of what allowed Tesla to become Tesla.” Forbes magazine, which compared the relationship of Mr. Musk and Mr. Straubel to that of the Apple co-founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, has estimated Mr. Straubel’s net worth at $120 million. He stepped down from his position as chief technology officer in 2019.

The couple married in 2013 and started their family foundation in 2015.

Ms. Straubel conceived her company Generation Collection when she learned that precious metals like gold were a large component of electronic waste. A jewelry company that used this material instead of mined gold — which is carbon intensive and heavily polluting, and which often relies on forced and child labor — 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,” Ms. 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 26, 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.

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In 2008, she graduated from the College of San Mateo, a two-year community college in Silicon Valley, along with her younger brother, Stoyan. With scholarships from the San Mateo Rotary Club, among other awards, they were both accepted at 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 the Wikimedia Foundation in 2015, before returning to Tesla for another year and a half. She then returned to school to better prepare herself for her philanthropy. She earned a master’s degree in management from the 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, the founder and chairman 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 Ms. Straubel in her Stanford courses on philanthropy and justice and on women and leadership. Ms. Straubel became a protégée and then a friend.

“Her critical thinking skills were at the highest level,” Ms. 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.”

Ms. Straubel’s survivors include her husband and 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, a professor of management science and engineering at the Stanford School of Engineering. “She was full of energy — passionate, caring and very persistent.”

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