Robert J. Shillman

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Robert J. Shillman
Born (1946-04-06) April 6, 1946 (age 72)
Boston, Massachusetts (USA)
Occupation CEO, Cognex Corporation (Nasdaq: CGNX) in Natick, Massachusetts
Statue of Robert J. Shillman at Technion – Israel Institute of Technology

Robert "Bob" Shillman (born April 6, 1946 in Boston, Massachusetts) is founder, chairman and CCO (Chief Culture Officer) of Cognex Corporation.[1] Cognex is a provider of machine vision systems, sensors, and industrial ID readers used in automated manufacturing. Shillman holds a B.S.E.E. from Northeastern University as well as an M.S.E.E. and a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.[2]

Founding Cognex[edit]

Shillman founded Cognex Corporation in 1981 while a member of the Electrical Engineering faculty of Tufts University. He left academia to start Cognex, investing his life savings of $86,000 into the company. He invited two MIT graduate students-–Bill Silver and Marilyn Matz–-to embark on this business venture with him, offering free racing bicycles to convince them to leave MIT for a summer. These three individuals gave Cognex its start and its name, which was derived from the phrase "Cognition Experts".[3]

Cognex was one of the first companies to explore commercial applications for machine vision in the early 1980s. By the 1990s, Cognex’s business had grown substantially due to the demand for machine vision to help automate semiconductor and electronics manufacturing. The company went public on the NASDAQ exchange in 1989.

Professional recognition[edit]

Shillman was named Inc. magazine's Entrepreneur of the Year in 1990, received an Achievement Award in Leadership from the Automated Imaging Association in 1992, and received the North American SEMI Award in 2005[1] for his contributions to the semiconductor industry. He has published more than 20 technical papers and is recognized as an expert in the field of optical character recognition (OCR) and industrial uses of machine vision.

In June 2000, Shillman received an Honorary Doctorate in Business Administration from Northeastern University in recognition of his work in the field of machine vision technology in factory automation. In September 2008, Shillman was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Waseda University in Japan for his work in establishing an entrepreneurship program at Waseda and for his contribution to the development of machine vision systems.[2]

Professional activities[edit]

Shillman sits on the board of trustees at the Northeastern University.[4]

Political activities[edit]

Shillman sits on boards of The Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, and the David Horowitz Freedom Center.[2][5][6]

He also funds Brigitte Gabriel´s ACT!, James O'Keefe's Project Veritas, Frontpage magazines and The Rebel Media and argues against the US accepting Syrian Muslim refugees.[7][8][9] President George W. Bush appointed Shillman to serve on the Honorary Delegation to accompany him to Jerusalem for the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the State of Israel in May 2008.[10]

In August 2018, it was revealed by The Times that Shillman had been providing finances to British far-right activist Tommy Robinson by helping to pay his "five figure salary",[11] although at the time of writing this arrangement had ended.


He instituted the Cognex Community Donations Program that supports several causes in the towns and cities where the company’s regional offices are located.[12]

Shillman also established the Perseverance Awards at Cognex to reward those individuals who have devoted significant time to the company’s success. The awards increase in value, and when an employee reaches 25 years of service he/she is given the opportunity to become a philanthropist. The company sets up a charitable giving account in the employee’s name and under his/her control, funded with $25,000 to donate to the employee's choice of IRS-approved charities.[12]

Shillman has made substantial financial gifts to Northeastern University, which named a classroom building Shillman Hall in his honor, and to Waseda University, which named the building housing its Center for Entrepreneurship in his honor, and to the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, which named the plaza of its physics center in his honor. He has endowed three professorships, the Robert J. Shillman Career Development Professorship at MIT, the Robert J. Shillman Trustee Professor of Entrepreneurship at Northeastern University and the Robert J. Shillman Career Advancement Chair at the Israel Institute of Technology.[2][13]

Starting in 2006, Shillman has waived his annual salary and bonus at Cognex and has requested that those amounts be donated each year to charity.[12]


  1. ^ a b "SEMI Award North America Past Winners". SEMI. 2005. Retrieved 2009-10-16.
  2. ^ a b c d "Advisory Boards". Northeastern University College of Business Administration. Retrieved 2 March 2011.
  3. ^ "Cognex - Fast Facts". Cognex. Retrieved 2 March 2011.
  4. ^ "About Northeaster > Board of Trustees". Northeastern University. 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-16.
  5. ^ "Our Board and Staff". Friends of the Israel Defense Forces. Retrieved 2 March 2011.
  6. ^ "Our Board". The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous. Retrieved 2 March 2011.
  7. ^ Strident Calls to Reject Syrian Refugees Fueled by Wealthy California Donor, Oct. 16 2015, The Intercept
  8. ^ "Inside Rebel Media's big-money anti-Islam crusade". VICE News. Retrieved 2017-08-22.
  9. ^ "James O'Keefe's Big-Money Donors Revealed". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 9 December 2017.
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ a b c Munoz, Macarena. "Cognex CEO leads community giving by example". MassHighTech. Retrieved 2 March 2011.
  13. ^ ["[]=4&page=3&act=read&id=192" "Personnel Cards - Lindell"] Check |url= value (help). Israel Institute of Technology. Retrieved 2 March 2011.

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