by Renée Tillotson
Let me tell you about a young man who is creating a path for himself, and so for the rest of us.
I keep hearing from 20-somethings that they want to make a difference. They are worried about this world of ours. They’re not interested in buying a lot of stuff, and they’re very interested in knowing a lot about what they do buy. They’re more into travel
than into things – I think they want to take in all the beauty this world has to offer, maybe while they still can. My heart kind of aches for them… they feel so much responsibility to clean up messes that generations before them have created. Perhaps they’ll come to recognize themselves as Earth’s gifts to itself… more on that later!
The lad I’m telling you about is my 26-year-old nephew, Ryan Auker, who now works for the company that built the first electric pickup truck that’s come to market. And therein lies the tale, how he cut a trail for himself that did not exist.
Going through college, Ryan toyed with a lot of career ideas. But when push came to shove and he needed to decide a direction of study, he realized how much he loves this Earth and how worried he is about it.
So, he went with a double major in Environmental Studies and Economics to prepare himself to make a dent in our country’s extravagant overuse of fossil fuels. Ryan has spent his whole life recreating in the outdoors, enjoying frequent trips to the mountains. But getting there is fuel-intensive.
As early as freshman year, Ryan took a course from an influential professor whom he affectionately describes as “old as dirt” – who also sounds like “salt of the earth”. Professor Mel Manalis introduced the class to energy systems and moving beyond The Grid. From that time on, Ryan KNEW energy would be his field. He told me, “I knew I had to do my part to mitigate climate change and help the planet last longer.” Ryan learned years later that his mom Karin had been similarly inspired by the same professor!
His mom became an important leader in California’s field of responsible energy use. Before even graduating from UC Santa Barbara, Ryan got a summer internship in the energy company where she worked. The work intrigued him.
Once he graduated, the same company eagerly hired Ryan, recognizing a highly intelligent, motivated employee when they saw one. There my nephew worked with 100 clients on a hundred different energy topics, getting broad exposure to the field. On his days off, he enjoyed the natural world he wants to preserve.
“I wanted to specialize in electric transportation,” comments Ryan. “It’s where I felt I could have the biggest impact. We have so much to do to develop renewable-powered electric vehicles.” His job was to pay attention to all the developments in the industry.
How was he going to put wheels on his vision and let the ‘rubber meet the road’?
Ryan surveyed the field around him. Where was the cutting edge? Who was doing something significant in the fuel industry? One company commanded his attention as soon as he saw it: Rivian, brand-new car company out of Normal, Illinois that was building an electric pickup. As Ryan says, “Rivian is a company entirely driven by impact: it’s working on vehicles, electric charging stations and renewable energy!”
Rivian had decided the most important contribution it could make to the driving public would be a pickup truck and an SUV. Why would they do something so seemingly crazy? Because these vehicles – especially pickups – have a higher fuel consumption than the sports cars or sedans.
So an electric version of THESE vehicles would make a difference.
As soon as Ryan learned about Rivian, he KNEW he belonged there. I recall Ryan
telling us in our family zoom conference near the beginning of the pandemic: “I’m going to be getting a job at Rivian.” “Oh! Did they offer you one?” I asked. “No, not yet. But they will,” Ryan assured me.
Ryan knew no one at the company, they had no public contact lists, and he had never worked in the auto industry. Yet Ryan had no doubt in his mind: Rivian needed him… they just didn’t know it yet!
Rivian at that point, was a lean, scrappy young company. They were doing proprietary (secret) R & D work, so they were holding their cards tight to avoid getting infiltrated by their competitors. That fact also did not deter Ryan, a similarly lean, scrappy young man.
Ryan attended a public Rivian event. As an avid surfer, Ryan felt particularly comfortable at the venue Rivian had chosen: a taco shop near a local surf spot. With the one Rivian business card Ryan got at that event, Ryan began a networking campaign to get to know every possible employee there.
If you knew this kid, you’d like him. And he’s got smarts. From each conversation, Ryan learned the names of a few more folks working at Rivian. Once he figured out their email formula, he began cold-emailing others. He introduced himself and his skill set, telling them about his interest in their project. And eventually he got an interview! Yes!
Then Covid struck. Hiring froze.
Ryan explains why he was willing to go through this long waiting process: “I felt drawn by Rivian’s inspirational CEO who believes in the “why” for the company – very
different from some other CEO’s. He believes in ‘impact’ himself. He’s a big dreamer, motivated by the impact of putting the planet on the “path of forever” with decarbonization. Rivian looks at every single part that goes into their vehicles for sustainability, right down to the packaging the part comes in. They’re committed to lowering the harm that this industry has on the lands and oceans.”
Once Rivian started hiring again, Ryan applied for several jobs without getting one. Completely unperturbed, Ryan continued to contact more and more Rivian employees with his friendly messages, complimenting them on every little shred of news that came out about the prototype electric pickup truck they were tinkering with.
Ryan’s adorable, nature-loving girlfriend, Diana, tells me: “Yeah, Ryan never got ruffled. He knew he belonged at Rivian, and he had another job, so he wasn’t in a hurry. He was just chill about it.”
Ryan had a mentor whose advice made a lot of sense: “My strategy has never been to find a job posting and apply and try to fit their description. I always build a personal relationship with the company and show the value I can bring to the table. I define a mutually beneficial role that I could provide to serve the company.”
And that’s what Ryan did: “I pulled together for Rivian all of the different pieces of experience I had in their field, from green energy to charging stations to trends in electric vehicles, to economics, and showed them how I could benefit their company. And I was super honest with them: I already had a job I was happy in, and Rivian was the only company I wanted to move to. I liked their mission:
Keep the world adventurous Forever!”
End of the story? After nearly a year of unremitting effort, Ryan landed a job at Rivian in December of 2020. YES! The company launched their pickup truck in September 2021, and their SUV in December 2021.
Ryan got to go to the factory in Illinois and see the first pickups rolling off the line. How exciting is that?!? He loves that it has zero emissions, it’s powered by an efficient system of tiny little rechargeable batteries, it’s responsibly built by well-compensated employees, it has a 314 mile range so he and his buddies can get to a good surf break or he can go hiking in the backcountry with his girlfriend without needing to worry about a recharge. As more and more recharge stations spring up, he’ll be able to travel farther into the wilderness. And he’s
not polluting the atmosphere to do it.
Here’s Ryan sharing one of the first Rivians on the road with his uncle and grandfather!
Ryan walks his talk – I should say ‘drives his truck’ – creating his path towards a more sustainable future. For someone who wants to make a difference, as he does, that’s gotta feel great.
And I’m sure the Earth spins a little more happily, having gifted herself with Ryan!
For Earth’s Gift, please see Joanna Macy’s Word to the Wise below…
Still & Moving Center’s staff and I are continually on the hunt for magnificent places and people. When you learn about outstanding individuals, companies and non-profits, PLEASE let us know! You can write to email@example.com.
Renée Tillotson, Director, founded Still & Moving Center to share mindful movement arts from around the globe. Her inspiration comes from the Joy and moving meditation she experiences in the practice of Nia, and from the lifelong learning she’s gained at the Institute of World Culture in Santa Barbara, California. Engaged in a life-long spiritual quest, Renée assembles the Still & Moving Center Almanac each year, filled with inspirational quotes by everyone from the Dalai Lama to Dolly Parton. Still & Moving Center aspires to serve the community, support the Earth and its creatures, and always be filled with laughter and friendship!
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