From car racer to self-made billionaire: Meet Hyliion’s Thomas Healy

  • After his electric truck startup debuted on the New York Stock Exchange Friday, Thomas Healy became both the youngest CEO of a publicly traded company and one of America’s youngest self-made billionaires.
  • Healy has an estimated net worth of $1.6 billion, per a Business Insider analysis.
  • In an exclusive interview with Business Insider, Healy shared what it’s like to become a billionaire overnight.
  • Regarding major rivals Nikola and Tesla, Healy says ‘all of us are bringing electric vehicles forward. We’re all focused on electrification, but each one of us is taking just a little bit different of a path.’
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Thomas Healy just had a big week.

Within five days, the 28-year-old mechanical engineer led his electric truck startup, Hyliion, through a shareholder vote and its first day of trading on the public markets, all in the middle of a pandemic. He also led it through a merger with a SPAC, or a special purpose acquisition company, also known as a “blank check” acquisition fund, which is designed to facilitate sudden public listings such as Hyliion’s. 

Hyliion, which retrofits class 8 semi-trucks with electric power trains instead of the traditional diesel, debuted on the New York Stock Exchange on Friday. Now that Healy is the youngest CEO of a publicly traded company in the US and among its youngest self-made billionaires,  it seems like he can barely believe it himself.

“I think the best word I can use to describe it is surreal,” Healy told Business Insider. 

Just hours after Hyliion closed its merger with the SPAC, Tortoise Acquisition, on Thursday afternoon, Healy sat down with Business Insider via Zoom to discuss the IPO, how he plans to outsmart Tesla, and what it feels like to become a billionaire overnight.

Healy is far from your average billionaire CEO. For one thing, he’s far younger at 28. The median age of America’s 788 billionaires was 65.9 in 2019, according to research firm Wealth-X.

For another, his dream of electrifying truck fleets began when he was racing go-karts on weekends, growing up in the Boston suburbs.

Eventually, he progressed to formula cars and sport cars, before giving up the sport altogether to focus on his studies and football career after enrolling in Carnegie Mellon. But Healy said the countless hours he spent working with and using race cars gave him the idea for Hyliion’s unique product — an electric engine for existing diesel trucks powered by natural gas.

Hyliion hybrid electric truck at the company's Austin HQ

A Hyliion hybrid electric truck.

Courtesy of Hyliion.

“We looked at this and we said, ‘let’s not go reinvent the entire vehicle because that’s a big undertaking,'” Healy said. “Fleets are all about how does this work within my operations?” Hyliion’s model works within the existing trucking space, reducing the cost of new clients by making a product that can be retrofitted inside semis that fleets already had the infrastructure to maintain.

And unlike top competitors Tesla and Nikola, Hyliion has managed to get semis on the road and running.

Tesla has already taken orders for its semi, but has delayed the first deliveries until 2021. Nikola is enduring inquiries from the Department of Justice and the SEC over allegations of fraud, the sudden resignation of CEO Trevor Milton in September, and a stock price in free fall. The two companies are also embroiled in a lawsuit over patent infringement.

Healy said Hyliion’s trucking “hasn’t stopped at all” during the pandemic. Before his Zoom call with Business Insider, he said, he had been on another with a fleet that had purchased trucks and put them en route to Hyliion’s Texas headquarters without giving the company advance notice. 

Still, Healy doesn’t shy away from comparisons to Milton or Tesla CEO Elon Musk. The company’s promotional materials contain direct comparisons to Nikola, claiming that trucks modified by Hyliion have a range nearly twice that of Nikola’s and nearly three times that of Tesla’s.

“All of us are bringing electric vehicles forward,” Healy told Business Insider. “We’re all focused on electrification, but each one of us is taking just a little bit different of a path.”

Hyliion hq thomas healy

Hyliion’s headquarters in Cedar Park, Texas, near Austin.

Courtesy of Hyliion

Healy does have one thing in common with Musk, though — a workaholic tendency. When asked how many hours he puts in at the office, Healy replied, “You don’t want to know. It’s all-consuming, which is the way it should be. It’s 24/7.”

Despite his newfound riches, Healy said his lifestyle hasn’t changed. He now has a net worth of $1.6 billion, according to an analysis for this article by Business Insider’s Maddy Simpson, but some of his fortune is tied up in Hyliion stock for two years, per the terms of Hyliion’s listing.  

He said he had no plans on how to spend the money, but hopes to do some philanthropy centered around climate change in the future. Healy also doesn’t plan to take any time off to celebrate his induction into the three-comma-club, aside from a brief trip to ring the New York Stock Exchange’s opening bell Monday morning.

“From my end, it’s thrilling and fascinating to be able to say that now my job is getting to actually work on automobiles and trucks and take what was a hobby and actually convert it into a job,” Healy said. “You can’t beat it.”

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