the bizarre outbursts and increasingly grandiose
performance-related promises (even as his company's Fremont
factory has continued to struggle), many have speculated that
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been cracking under the pressure. In
one sign that the pressures of running Tesla (not to mention
SpaceX and Neuralink) have been weighing on the CEO, some have
pointed out that he's becoming increasingly vindictive toward
anybody who doubts or questions him: for example, he recently
spent $25 million of his own money on Tesla shares just to blow up
a few shorts after tweeting threats of "unreal carnage".
a story that lays bare Musk's obsession with his public image and
his inability to tolerate criticism or dissent from his
employees or the media, Buzzfeed published
a piece late Thursday that's packed with alarming details,
including the story of Musk's meltdown during a conversation with
regulators from the National Transportation Safety Board.
outburst from Musk that ended the conversation prompted the NTSB
to announce that Tesla would no longer be cooperating with the
a separate incident, Musk went "ballistic" during a conversation
with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration after a
representative informed Elon Musk that the agency would be
announcing an investigation into a May 2016 crash involving a
Tesla Model S in Florida.
one lectures Elon Musk. In April,
the head of the National Transportation Safety Board discovered
this after a call about his organization’s investigation into
one of Tesla Motors’ autopiloted vehicles devolved into a heated
exchange, leading the billionaire entrepreneur to hang up on the
federal regulator. That
fiery interaction eventually leaked to the press and
ricocheted around the internet as further evidence that Musk
was losing it.
example, in June 2016 the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration had contacted Tesla as a courtesy heads-up that
it would be announcing an investigation into a May crash that
killed the driver of a Model S sedan on Autopilot. It
was the kind of call that, at most companies, would require
executive restraint and sensitivity. Musk was not originally
supposed to be on the call with NHTSA officials, Tesla’s general
counsel, and the head of its Autopilot team, but chimed in as
the conversation got underway. It was unfair that NHTSA was
targeting his company, he said, noting that skeptics would just
use the public investigation as evidence that Tesla was in
failing to convince the government officials to keep their
investigation private and forgo their announcement scheduled
for the next day, Musk went
ballistic and embarked on a profanity-laced tirade. He
threatened to sue NHTSA for what he saw as unfair scrutiny and
then abruptly disconnected the phone, leaving the people left on
the line shocked.
couldn’t believe it," said a former
Tesla employee familiar with the call.
recent behavior isn't a deviation: It's
more or less how he's always acted around his employees.
the thing is: None of this is new for Musk. He has always been
the architect of his own image and has long run roughshod over
journalists and his own communications team alike. In
interviews with BuzzFeed News, nine people who previously worked
with Musk, and who requested anonymity to preserve their
personal and professional relationships, said that while the
level of scrutiny on the CEO may be new, his behavior is not.
What we are seeing is less a crack in his well-being than his
facade. It is Elon unbound.
short temper has "long been legend" inside Tesla and SpaceX,
according to Buzzfeed.
The only thing that's changed, they say, is that Musk's profile -
and the company's share price - has risen.
changed is simply that Musk’s profile has risen while his
staff’s ability to keep him in check has waned.As
pressure continues to mount and Musk sheds the executives who
once provided advice and insulation, he’s no longer just the
Mars-bound genius with a promising electric car company.
Depending on who you ask, he’s an icon, an environmental
champion, or an attention-hungry micromanager, wielding Steve
Jobs–level influence in 240-character Twitter diatribes,
occasional public appearances, or mocking conference calls with
analysts. But no matter which Elon you choose, it’s become more
apparent that there’s no one who can rein him in.
inability to let go of anything remotely negative spouted by his
critics and the media makes working on his communications staff -
whether at Tesla or at SpaceX - a waking nightmare.
obsession with the media makes working in communications under
Musk, whether at Tesla or SpaceX, an unpredictable and
grueling gig. Multiple former
staffers recalled being kept up late or woken up in the middle
of the night because Musk was upset about a headline or an
article. Two other former senior employees described Musk
as notoriously thin-skinned. "He'll read an obscure critical
post by, like, some Belgian blogger at 3 in the morning and
he'll wake up people on the comms team and demand this person
be crushed," one former employee
said. "It's all utterly disproportionate in response."
you're thinking that some of Musk's tendencies - particularly his
treatment of the media - sound familiar, well, former Musk
employees would agree. Several of Buzzfeed's
sources independently compared working for Musk with working in
the Trump White House, the outlet said.
lack of control and continual need to put out PR fires wore on
professionals, even those who personally liked Musk and believed
in the missions of Tesla and SpaceX. Tesla is known for a high
rate of turnover, and some communications staffers only last a
few months. Some have done multiple stints, though have left or
were fired after clashing with the chief executive. Three
people familiar with Musk’s communications team independently
compared the pressure and publicity, and chaos of the job to
working in President Donald Trump’s White House.
has already been a rough week for Tesla. Musk has already had to downsize
Solar City's residential solar business and
finish laying off 9% of Tesla's staff (while
continuing to deny that the company is having funding troubles).
And this embarrassing Buzzfeed story is one more distraction for
the mogul, who's desperately trying to bring Model 3 production up
to 2,500 cars a week by the end of June. If
he fails at that task, we imagine there will be another round of
outbursts as Musk continues his crusade against the Tesla bears
and everybody else who doubts his vision.