As awesome as Tony Stark is, sometimes he needs friends to help him get through the day. That can include fighting aliens and rogue AIs or helping him recover from alcoholism and get his company back to speed. Perhaps, it’s time for Elon Musk to get the same kind of help, too.
Tesla’s shares slid by more than six percent on Friday, after Musk smoked weed during a live interview with Joe Rogan. This is the kind of behavior that, while not entirely unexpected from a man who launched a car into space, is also rarely seen from CEOs who run companies worth 45 billion dollars.
A Series of Unfortunate Events
2018 hasn’t been easy, for both Musk and Tesla. It has consistently missed production targets for the Model 3. Musk has amped up production since last year, a process that he has termed “production hell”. In a radical move, he attempted to automate most of the production line. One such production robot, affectionately dubbed the “fluffer bot”, was so ineffective that it repeatedly stalled production. He eventually had to replace it by human workers.
Then came the Thailand rescue saga, where Musk accused a diver of being a pedophile. He doubled down on these accusations in August, wondering why the diver, Vernon Unsworth, didn’t feel confident enough to sue Musk. Unsworth happily obliged.
Last month also saw Musk teasing about taking Tesla private. NYSE shorts Tesla among one of the most commonly shorted stocks. And Musk has often accused Tesla short sellers of actively trying to sabotage Tesla. However, he changed his mind after apparently securing funding from a Saudi Arabian fund. The SEC is also investigating Tesla for Musk’s initial “funding secured” tweet.
Should Musk Head Towards Greener Pastures?
Musk admitted, in a tearful interview for the New York Times, that 2018 has been the most stressful year of his life so far. He constantly uses Ambien and is open to hiring another executive at Tesla to help him tide over the constant challenges. Earlier, Azalea Banks also alleged on Instagram that she was in Musk’s house while he tweeted about taking Tesla private when he was on acid.
Musk’s latest stunt triggered two exits. His chief accounting officer, Dave Morton, is leaving Tesla after just a month on the job. Apparently, his expectations about the pressure and environment have been thoroughly exceeded, especially given the level of public attention being placed on the company. He and HR chief Gaby Toledano join a list of thirty executives who have departed Tesla since 2016.
Musk reshuffled his executive deck by announcing a series of promotions through a company-wide email. It should be noted that these were not new hires, and thus long planned before the resignations on Friday.
Musk’s antics put the investors in a tough spot. Tesla’s stocks are down by fifteen percent so far; compared to the all-time high last year, it’s a further degradation of thirty percent. There’s much to rejoice for within Tesla, with the SolarCity acquisition and plans for semi-trucks targeted towards corporate buyers. In fact, Tesla is forecasted to turn a profit for this year’s fourth quarter and expected to hold speed for the entirety of FY 2019-20.
However, now investors can’t help but wonder if Musk doesn’t just need another hand as a COO, but if he should step down as CEO entirely. Possible alternatives for Musk include ex-Ford CEO, Alan Mullaly.
SpaceX, for instance, is faring much better than Tesla, where Musk has a well-regarded CEO in Glynne Shotwell. Shotwell has been at the company since 2002 and was made COO in 2008.
Are Musk and Tesla Inseparable?
In Tesla, Musk’s influence is much more singular than in SpaceX. He constantly spends time with engineering problems. During a routine factory tour, Musk was visibly annoyed when the assembly line stopped moving. Although it was a standard safety precaution, he stated that wished the cars to keep moving anyways and didn’t see how the process could hurt him, head-butting a car to demonstrate his confidence.
It is, indeed, true that people are out to get Tesla. Andrew Left, an activist short seller, is suing Tesla and Chairman Elon Musk for actively inflating the company’s stock price. “In response to Musk’s tweets,” Left said in his official complaint, “many Tesla short-sellers were forced to cover their positions at artificially high prices, losing approximately $1.3 billion in a single day.”
It’s tempting to compare Musk to both Steve Jobs and Howard Hughes when it comes to brilliance, charisma and a bluster that may signal his eventual downfall. “People are always telling him he can’t do it,” explained Christopher Davenport, the author of Space Barons: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the Quest to Colonize the Cosmos. “But he doesn’t like to hear it can’t be done. He categorically rejects that. It’s all about, ‘How can we do it?’”
“Starting a space company from scratch is simply not done. People warned him against it time and time again, and Elon’s friends even staged an intervention. But he had a commitment to his ideas and a passion and a vision and belief that he saw an opening there — a real business opportunity where, from a technology standpoint, there hadn’t been a lot of advancement.”
“The reason Elon seems to attract drama is that he is so transparent, so open, in a way that can come back to bite him,” said Kimbal Musk, Mr. Musk’s younger brother, to New York Times. “He doesn’t know how to do it differently. It’s just who he is.”
Why Musk Prefers Sleeping on Floors over Cursed Vacations
The problem with Musk, perhaps, is that he is too confident and firm in his belief in himself. He leads from the front, like the engineering version of Alexander the Great. Often found sleeping on factory floors or under his office desk. “A C.E.O.’s most important job is to build a great team around you,” said Bill George, a Goldman Sachs board member. “He shouldn’t be sleeping on the factory floor. I’d rather have him sleeping at home.”
Musk’s legendary work schedule is well known. He works one hundred and twenty hours a week, dividing his time between SpaceX and Tesla. He nearly missed his brother’s wedding in Spain this summer. “I got there two hours before the ceremony,” he said. “I left directly from the factory. And then I went straight back.”
As committed as Musk is, he is only human. We need humans like Musk, now more than ever. In a world where the youngest billionaires run the gamut from Mark Zuckerberg to Kylie Jenner, Musk is working on genuine problems to create solutions that benefit society, and civilization, at large.
“Launching a business is hard, particularly when you have a vision to change the world like Tesla,” wrote Amy Nelson, founder, and CEO of The Riveter, which creates work and community spaces. “I applaud Musk for his authenticity and I believe it is important for founders to share with one another and the world what starting a company is like…Musk, I hear you. This is really wonderful and really hard. You’ve got a few more years of running a company under your belt, but trust me: I feel your pain.”
Musk hasn’t taken a vacation since 2001. Vacations are cursed, he thinks. You can’t blame him. In 2000, he was ousted from Paypal by the board and replaced by Peter Thiel. Later, he contracted malaria in Brazil and almost died. However, for his own sake, and for ours as well, perhaps Musk should try taking more time off than he usually does.
The truth is, we can all try staging an intervention to bring Musk down to Earth. But interventions haven’t worked for Musk in the past, and they probably won’t work now, either.