Bailey Barton is a political science senior and Mustang News columnist. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang News.
It’s in the news again: Elon Musk has gotten in trouble for his shenanigans on social media.
This has become more of a pattern in the past few months, and it’s a trend that doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon. Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk has been the CEO of Tesla Motors since the company’s founding in 2003. He was the mind behind many of the company’s innovative ideas such as the Model S, a luxury electric car with a battery range able to compete with traditional luxury sedans.
Many Cal Poly students have and will go on to work or intern for the company, and their recruiting events are highly sought-after. However, given Musk’s current streak of behaviors, students may want to think twice about accepting a position with the company.
Take the rescue of the 12 young boys from a flooded Thai cave this past summer. Musk, attempting to assist the rescue, built a small submarine with SpaceX engineers that was supposed to be able to hold a child. Rescue teams decided against using the device. Diver Vernon Unsworth called the move a “PR stunt” and told Musk that he could “stick his submarine somewhere it hurts.” Musk, enraged by the incident, called Unsworth a “pedo” in a tweet and went to BuzzFeed News claiming that Unsworth moved to Thailand from the UK for a “child bride who was about 12 years old at the time.”
Unsworth is now suing Musk for defamation and is seeking “more than $75,000 in damages and a court order stopping Musk from making further allegations.” The lawsuit is ongoing. If the allegations are true, we cannot accept this kind of childlike behavior from someone who is supposed to be in charge of a multinational corporation. Not only that, but this kind of behavior sets a bad example for the already sometimes toxic culture of men in engineering.
Or take the case of Musk’s latest legal battle with the Securities and Exchange Commission [S.E.C.]. In August, Musk tweeted that Tesla had plans to go private at $420/share. This was later discovered to be false, as shareholders and board members had no knowledge of the plans. Additionally, the chosen price of $420 was rounded up as a joke to amuse Musk’s girlfriend, referring to 420 in weed culture. The S.E.C. then sued Musk, claiming that he had deceived investors to drive up stock prices with the “false and misleading” tweet. Musk was ordered to pay a $20 million fine and step down as chairman of Tesla Motors for three years. Musk then commented that the tweet was “worth it” and mocked the S.E.C., calling them the “Shortseller Enrichment Commission.”
Tesla has now been forced to appoint a replacement for Musk as well as two new independent directors, and oversee Musk’s communications, especially on Twitter. Stock prices fell sharply by 9% after the appearance of Musk’s now-infamous video of him appearing to smoke marijuana while recording a podcast. The U.S. Air Force has denied reports that it is reviewing Musk’s security clearance associated with SpaceX due to his drug use. However, if incidents like this continue, it seems likely that they may be forced to begin a review. With someone as erratic and irresponsible as Musk leading the company, the future of Tesla looks bleak.
Musk himself attributes much of the stress he’s under to the pressure to meet Model 3 quotas. The company has been behind on production of its supposed “mass-market vehicle” for months. The vehicle was supposed to be the car that made Tesla profitable, as it was intended to be a mass-market vehicle at a starting price of $35,000, made to appeal to a broader audience than just the luxury market. As of today the company has failed to produce such a vehicle. Instead, it is only producing a $49,000+ model, due to cost concerns. Musk himself tweeted that Tesla would “lose money and die” if the company were to start producing the low-cost Model 3 right now. Musk has commented that the cheaper version should be available by the end of the year, but even Tesla’s own website says that customers won’t be able to take delivery before February 2019.
Musk himself even stated in an August interview that “this past year has been the most difficult and painful year of my career,” and appeared deeply emotional throughout the interview. In April he stated that he was “sleeping on the factory floor” because he doesn’t “have time to go home and shower.”
It is clear that Musk is becoming less capable of running Tesla, perhaps due to the fact that he is now the CEO of not one but three additional companies besides Tesla Motors — The Boring Company, Neuralink, and, of course, SpaceX. Musk has said that he puts in 85-100 hours a week for work and will plan his days in five-minute increments. A company like Tesla requires someone who can focus entirely on the day to day operations of running a multinational corporation rather than being spread so thin focusing on many other endeavors.
Make no mistake, Tesla has done some pretty incredible things for the electric car industry. In October, Tesla’s Model 3 sedan became the best-selling luxury car in America. It has forced major luxury carmakers to come up with their own all-electric luxury vehicles to compete, such as Audi’s new e-tron GT and the Jaguar I-Pace. Most importantly, Tesla has proven to the public and to other major automakers that an electric car can be stylish, luxurious and have all the same functionality as a traditional gasoline vehicle. One of Musk’s best qualities as a CEO is his faith in his ability to lead the company.
It is true that Musk’s brilliance and unwavering belief in himself and his company has allowed him to achieve the success he has today. However, there is a difference between confidence and hubris. If Elon Musk continues his erratic behavior believing he is infallible, the company may be headed for serious trouble in the coming years.