Donaldson Leader in Residence

Supported by a generous donation from Jane and Bill Donaldson, the Leader in Residence Program brings successful and impactful Illinois alumni, who exemplify the highest standards of leadership, to campus. The Leader in Residence will be on campus for 3-4 days, allowing for formal and informal interactions with the campus community, while encouraging candid dialogue and transformative idea exchange.

Former Leaders in Residence

The Inaugural Leader in Residence: Martin Eberhard (2023)

Martin Eberhard is an engineer, a veteran Silicon Valley entrepreneur, and inventor on at least 29 granted patents, with another dozen or so in the works. He received a BS in Computer Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1982 and an MS in Electrical Engineering from the same school in 1984. In 2015, he was inducted into the University of Illinois Engineering Hall of Fame. Eberhard and his wife fund a scholarship at the University of Illinois that is designed to encourage students, especially women, to pursue degrees in engineering.

Eberhard co-founded Network Computing Devices in 1987, where he served as Chief Engineer through its IPO on 1992, developing several successful products there.

In 1996, Eberhard founded NuvoMedia with his colleague, Marc Tarpenning, where they developed the Rocket eBook, the first eBook with secure internet delivery of content. Eberhard served as Chairman and CEO until NuvoMedia’s profitable acquisition by Gemstar in 2000.

In 2002, Eberhard and Tarpenning founded Tesla Motors, where Eberhard was its original Chairman, and served as its CEO until late 2007. Eberhard and his team reinvented the electric car, changing public perception of electric cars to be fast, sexy desirable cars that will obviously become the future of transportation.

Eberhard’s key innovations have set the way for all subsequent electric cars: 1) an electric car should not be a compromise. With the right technological choices, it is possible to build electric cars that are actually better cars than their competition. 2) Battery technology is key to a successful electric car. Lithium-ion batteries are not only suitable of automotive use; they are game-changing, making decent driving range a reality. 3) If designed right, electric cars can appeal to even the most serious car enthusiast, as electric drive is capable of seriously outperforming internal combustion engines.

Late in 2007, Eberhard left Tesla Motors with a fair bit of press drama, as his largest investor took control of the company. Despite the drama, Eberhard is very pleased to watch Tesla succeed in the trajectory that he first envisioned.

Since leaving Tesla Motors, Eberhard served as VC Entrepreneur in Residence at Mayfield Fund, and as Director of EV Development at Volkswagen (working primarily with Audi). Later, he was a founder, CTO, and Chairman of Inevit Inc., an American/German startup company acquired by SF Motors in 2017. He served as Chief Science Officer at SF Motors until he left in 2018, to serve as an advisor for various startup companies in the clean energy field.

Eberhard continues to lecture around the world on reasons for reducing the use of carbon fuels, on the advantages of electric drive over other automotive technologies, and on entrepreneurship and the need for more young people to pursue degrees and careers in science and engineering.