His power move

January 27, 2022

Careers

Despite an offer from a big-name corporation, Ting Li, ’15, stuck with his company and was on hand to see it ring the NASDAQ bell.
By Kim Catley

Five years ago, Ting Li, ’15, had just moved to California with the woman who is now his wife. She was enrolling in graduate school; he had recently finished at Columbia University.

As Li searched online for a job, he stumbled on the website for Xos Trucks. One line called out the company’s non-Palo Alto address, which intrigued Li, who “doesn’t like the concept of Silicon Valley.” Xos designs and builds electric fleet trucks — including engineering proprietary battery systems and driver software — for last-mile delivery. Their customers include Loomis and UPS.

Li didn’t see an option to apply for an open position, so he sent the CEO a message on LinkedIn, offering to work for free. Soon after, he was hired. “I didn’t know I would be working on batteries until the first day I walked in,” Li says.

Li stepped into a true startup environment with limited resources and high stress. He was one of eight employees, and the position was his first technical engineering job. Over time, the company grew and now employs nearly 300 people.

After five years with Xos, Li felt the time had come to explore other options. He was offered a job at SpaceX, working on batteries to power the satellites used for their broadband internet system. But right after Li informed Dakota Semler, his boss and the CEO of Xos, Semler took the first flight he could to meet Li and convince him to stay.

Li met him at the airport and drove him to the Xos office. As they sat in Los Angeles traffic, Li shared his thoughts about the company’s future, and Semler offered him a position running a new team. Li stayed, and he and his team are tasked with developing a battery cell to support the company’s battery pack manufacturing, bringing more materials in-house and circumventing supply chain challenges.

Semler also invited Li to attend the NASDAQ bell-ringing in conjunction with the company’s upcoming IPO.

As Li watched Semler speaking to the crowd just before Xos went public, it hit him just how far they had come. Li had joined the company at 23; Semler was just a year older.

“I saw the founders, the executives, grow alongside me,” he says. “I felt so proud of him in that moment.”

It also led Li to reflect on his time at Richmond, how he arrived on campus directly from China and experienced a cultural shift. He landed a spot in associate professor Emma Goldman’s chemistry lab, where he found a supportive mentor. He says the experience “saved” him as he sometimes struggled to adapt to life in a new country.

“The lab is like a meditation spot,” he says. “When you’re in the lab, you don’t think about anything else. You don’t care about what’s going on on the outside.”