March 17th, 2019 by
Originally posted on EVANNEX.
By Shankar Narayanan
2018 was both an excruciating and rewarding year for Elon Musk and Tesla employees — painful because Elon Musk kept getting himself entangled in needless controversies, Twitter fights, and a lot more; and rewarding because Tesla not only doubled its production in 2018, but also managed to find new demand to match its rising production.
In the fourth quarter of 2018, Tesla delivered 90,700 Model 3, Model X, and Model S passenger vehicles. That’s a huge number when you consider that the disruptive EV maker delivered just 103,020 units for the entire year in 2017.
Hamish McKenzie, a former member of Tesla’s communications team, recently commented on Musk’s recent escapades:
“It has sometimes been tempting to join those celebrating his recent public embarrassments – I think we can confidently state that he is the only executive to have achieved the rare trifecta of getting sued over a tweet, calling a British cave-diver a ‘pedo,’ and smoking a joint during an on-camera interview. And now he’s in hot water again with the SEC over another tweet. But my basic position hasn’t changed since 2014. We should hope he succeeds.”
Despite all the controversy that Musk has been shrouded in over the past 12 months, there’s been a clear signal that the people he leads at Tesla as well as SpaceX — a significant majority of them — believe in his leadership.
In a recent survey conducted by Blind, a social network for the workplace, it emerged that no less than 3 out of 4 Tesla and SpaceX employees felt that Musk had it in him to take the two companies forward. The statement was a simple one that required a true or false response: “I am confident in Elon Musk’s ability to lead the company.”
Knowing Musk’s penchant for off-the-cuff, often caustic remarks that could create cringing apprehension within Tesla’s board (and its investor community), you’d think that employee opinions would reveal a mixed bag. In a way, they do, but they also validate Musk’s ability as a leader, not just as a maverick entrepreneur with a flair for rubbing people the wrong way.
The survey ran from Feb. 14–21, 2019 and was answered by 1,400 Tesla and 250 SpaceX employees who are also users of the Blind app. Here are the results:
- 77.82% selected “Yes,” while only 22.18% chose “No.”
- The total number of respondents was 284, with 221 positive and 63 negative responses.
Musk now faces possible penalties and other fallout effects of his most recent Tweets about Model 3 production, but at least the survey shows us that the majority of his employees have his back. Exactly how much that’s worth is another matter altogether, but it’s helpful to know that his people largely still trust him as their leader.
As it now stands, the SEC is in a bit of a pickle. They likely won’t remove him as CEO because that would severely impact investors. “SEC Chairman Jay Clayton argued at the time of the original October settlement that taking Musk out of Tesla may also harm investors, since he is so important to the company. That would be anathema to the regulator’s mission to protect investors.”
Part of that settlement was that Musk would continue as CEO of Tesla, and it would be counter-intuitive if the SEC were to revisit that decision at this time.
No one really knows which direction this will take, but it’s clear that the SEC is watching Musk’s every action very closely, which will certainly make Elon’s Twitter life more difficult. But what can continue to strengthen Elon’s conviction is his employees’ support in him and the mission at large. After all, when the team has your back, it can provide that extra bit of resolve to push through short-term challenges in order to refocus on the big picture.
Shankar Narayanan is the editor of 1redDrop.com. He has an MBA from Kent State University and an engineering degree from Madurai Kamaraj University. He has been an active contributor to top financial sites like SeekingAlpha and GuruFocus, and has a penchant for talking business, finance, and technology.