Only a few of the world’s billionaire businessmen can also be considered celebrities, and Elon Musk is definitely one of them. Well before he reached the age of 40, he was on top of the business world as the CEO of SpaceX and Tesla. In the years that followed, he kept making headlines for his interesting technological ideas and concepts, as well as his views on artificial intelligence and the possibility that AI may soon take over the world. And we also shouldn’t forget his high-profile relationships, including his current one with Canadian musician Grimes, and the unusual name they chose for their first child, which was slightly tweaked soon after his birth to X Æ A-Xii, per CNN. (Don’t get us started on how to pronounce it.)
Considering how visible he is as a public figure, many have wondered what it’s like to work for someone like Musk. Is he really a real-life equivalent to Tony Stark/Iron Man, so much so that Robert Downey Jr. used him as his inspiration for his now-iconic role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Or maybe he’s a brilliant tech genius who isn’t above hanging out with average Joes, like he was during his divisive guest appearance on “The Simpsons.” We’re not spilling the beans yet, but in 2019, several former Tesla employees did just that, mostly speaking anonymously to Business Insider and sharing how it was like working for the colorful, high-profile billionaire.
Elon Musk expects a lot from his employees
Actually, saying that Musk expects a lot from his employees may be the understatement of the year, if a former Tesla manufacturing engineer is to be believed. They told Business Insider that Musk’s standards are so high that he wouldn’t hesitate to tell employees to redo everything from scratch if he doesn’t like one of their ideas. While the ex-employee added that Tesla “is an engineer’s paradise where the pencil is literally never down,” the publication explained that Musk’s perfectionism sometimes resulted in a decrease in efficiency and an increase in costs.
In addition to demanding perfection, Musk was similarly described as an energetic boss who’s “already 10 steps” ahead of everyone else. This would require workers to come up with ideas that are “10 times more audacious” than the ones he would normally think of, and knowing what we know about Musk, that’s an extremely tall order.
It can be said that these qualities have helped Tesla consistently create high-quality electric vehicles. However, they have apparently made Musk an intimidating person to work with, as suggested by multiple former senior-level employees. “”Because of the pressure that he puts on his entire executive team, his senior leadership team, even if they have the experience, they wouldn’t dare speak up against him,” one of them said. Another one stressed that when it comes to the decisions that are made at Tesla, Musk has the first and last word — in other words, he’s not in the business of running a democracy.
Musk is notorious for missing his lofty projections
Underpromise and overdeliver. It’s a safe, conservative strategy employed by many companies and their executives, and it works on many an occasion. But Elon Musk is not your average executive, and a former Tesla manager told Business Insider that Musk was notorious for setting “unrealistic stretch targets without a realistic plan in order to achieve them.” This is in line with the many times he had publicly announced certain projections but failed to meet them. Citing the Wall Street Journal, Inc. wrote in 2016 that in the five years prior, Tesla had missed over 20 financial and production-related targets, including the scheduled rollout date of its Model 3 sedan, which was originally expected to arrive in 2014 but had yet to enter production at the time of the report. (The first Model 3 eventually rolled out in July 2017, and, as reported by Industry Week, it was for Musk himself.)
Then again, the problem might have been Musk’s laser focus on certain initiatives allegedly proving to be a double-edged sword. A former senior-level employee revealed to Business Insider that the CEO, while capable of increasing momentum behind some of his projects, also “put employees on edge and could damage projects outside his area of focus.”
Musk has some strong points as a CEO
Although several of the employees who spoke to Business Insider about their time in Tesla didn’t paint a very flattering picture of Musk, some of them openly highlighted his strong points. One employee told the publication that he feels “10 times smarter now than when I first joined,” despite how he had frequently disagreed with Musk during his time with Tesla. As he further noted, Musk often turned out to be right during those disagreements.
Two senior employees who previously worked for Tesla pointed out that Musk pays close attention to social media, and is responsive to what people think is the company’s biggest issue at a given moment. “When you’re in a business meeting with him, he will pivot the direction of the organization literally overnight. So manufacturing could be a problem today, and as soon as it stops being reported on social media, as soon as it stops being reported in the news, then he’ll move on to whatever the news is claiming the new problem is,” one of them said.
Former senior manufacturing engineer Mitchell Stephens, who was the only ex-Tesla employee who agreed to be named in the Business Insider report, also told the outlet that Musk was skilled in thinking outside the box, to the point that he could see a spaceship when thinking of a supersized soda can. Granted, he is the founder of SpaceX, but that does give new meaning to out-of-the-box thinking.
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