Elon Musk: Tweeting, sleepless, under siege
Is Elon Musk losing his grip? asked David Gelles in The New York Times. That’s the question Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and Tesla’s investors are asking after “increasingly erratic” behavior by the impetuous billionaire. Musk set off shock waves two weeks ago, when he tweeted he’d secured a multibillion-dollar deal to take Tesla, the publicly traded electric-car company he heads, private. That impulsive announcement—which appears to be untrue—triggered a Security and Exchange Commission investigation, and led Tesla board members to seek “a No. 2 to take the pressure off Musk.’’ In an interview, Tesla acknowledged he is going through “the most difficult and painful year of my career,’’ and said that he was toiling 120 hours a week to hit production goals for Tesla’s Model 3, his first mass-market car. He revealed that he was spending three or four days at a time inside Tesla’s factory without seeing the light of day, and taking Ambien regularly to get even minimal sleep. Unfortunately, he only compounded the pressure he’s feeling with his claim about taking the company private. That tweet “sent the stock soaring,” said Chris Isidore in CNN.com, which is why the SEC is asking questions. And “even if the SEC doesn’t find he crossed the line,’’ Tesla has been hit with several shareholder lawsuits.
Face it—“Elon Musk is broken,” said Alex Davies in Wired.com. The mercurial entrepreneur appears to have reached the dangerous point where he believes he’s the only person qualified to lead Tesla. There are “hundreds of capable executives at the world’s automakers,” but he’s convinced the public, and investors, that “there’s no replacing Elon Musk.” Musk made electric cars genuinely desirable and generated plenty of goodwill. But now the cult of personality Musk built when times were good has largely faded. Though fans and investors are accustomed to Musk’s missed targets and broken promises, the Model 3 has become an embarrassment. Musk also keeps “finding himself the center of unwanted attention.” When he recently claimed to have invented a mini-submarine that could save the boys trapped in a Thai cave, he was greeted with widespread mockery. “His mantle as a Renaissance Superman is slipping.’’
Clearly, Musk has spread himself too thinly, said Felix Salmon in Slate.com. The overburdened CEO doesn’t just run Tesla. There’s SpaceX, where he built the world’s most powerful rocket; the infrastructure startup Boring Co.; and Neuralink, developer of “interfaces to connect humans and computers.” That’s just too much for anyone, even a genius. Every extra hour he spends working damages “not only his own physical and mental health, but the corporate health of Tesla too.”
In fact, Tesla seems to be having serious cash-flow problems, said Tim Higgins in The Wall Street Journal. The company is taking longer to pay for parts, and suppliers think dealing with Tesla is “a financial risk to their companies.” Now Tesla’s board is wedged between their loyalty to Musk “and their larger responsibility to shareholders,” said Dana Hull and David Welch in Bloomberg.com. Musk’s Ambien use, his impulsive tweeting—often while behind the wheel—and the drumbeat of reports that Tesla struggles to pay suppliers and is nearing bankruptcy should compel the board to step in. ■