Appalling reality of working for Elon Musk
ELON Musk is having a hard time at moment. And it is only about to get worse.
As his company Tesla is under investigation following his tweet that it might go private after "funding secured", employees working for the business magnate have opened up about how hellish it is to work with the entrepreneur, telling the New York Post that the company is in turmoil.
"Elon talks about being a socialist and doing good for mankind - unless you work for them," one source told the New York Post.
"It's a s**t show."
Until recently, Tesla investors and employees bought into Musk's inspired vision, but that faith is now beginning to erode.
Another employee told the New York Post that Musk is walking a razor wire between the things he's promising and the things he can actually deliver.
Last year, the Wall Street Journal published an exposé about the deep divide between the Tesla engineers working on self-driving cars and Musk's pronouncements about deadlines and capabilities.
At least 14 people had already resigned and since then the electric car maker continues to suffer a talent drain.
In March, corporate treasurer and Vice President of Finance Susan Repo left after five years, followed by sales chief Jon McNeill, who left for rideshare app Lyft, and Chief Accounting Officer Eric Branderiz, who left for personal reasons.
In July, Chief Engineer Doug Field resigned along with top sales executive Ganesh Srivats.
An employee who worked under Mr Srivats said he was recruited as a sales rep - or "owner adviser" in Tesla parlance - one year ago. He couldn't resist Tesla's seductive pitch.
"They told me, 'Your industry is destroying the world,' so come to Tesla and save it."
Musk himself, as the quirky tech entrepreneur, has been the ultimate draw for many.
But the reality of working for Musk is far different from the fantasy.
Staff meetings with the tycoon, according to another source, aren't that far afield from the infamous Trump cabinet meeting in which members went around the table praising the president and thanking him for the privilege.
And when Musk makes promises about a car's capabilities that aren't realistic, he'll double down.
"He is very difficult to move off his stance," a source described.
"He'll say, 'The car can do X, Y or Z,' and yes, that is possible - two decades from now. "He bases his argument on the physically possible rather than the practical reality."
TESLA IN TROUBLE
Musk's sudden public unravelling has placed his company Tesla under more scrutiny.
In May, he alarmed investors by calling their semi-challenging questions "boring" and "boneheaded".
In July, after unsuccessfully inserting himself into the Thailand cave rescue attempt, Musk took to Twitter and called one hero diver "a pedo".
And on 7 August, Musk shocked Tesla and its investors with the "funding secured" tweet. At $420 a share, that would put the company's valuation at about $80 billion.
In the wake of that tweet, the US Securities and Exchange Commission opened an investigation, reportedly subpoenaing Tesla one week later.
This likely prompted Musk's unhinged interview with the New York Times, published on 16 August, in which he vacillated between tears and laughter.
Musk, 47, described the past year as "excruciating".
He said he hadn't taken a week's vacation since 2001 and claimed to be working 120 hours a week - with three to four days spent sleeping at the factory, never seeing daylight.
Musk also said he sometimes took Ambien to sleep, but according to the Times, board members know he has occasionally used recreational drugs.
The businessman said his stress doesn't come from production woes or missed deadlines, nor a failure to delegate or master time management, but from the short-sellers who, he said, "are desperately pushing a narrative that will possibly result in Tesla's destruction".
Musk's rants like this, particularly those on social media, are worrying board members, but the entrepreneur reportedly still has no intention of abandoning Twitter.
"You had a very big shareholder last week say they want him to focus on executing and stop with the tweets," Gordon Johnson, managing director of investment research firm Vertical Group, told the Washington Post in July.
"What's his angle? What is he doing? … He keeps promising things, and he keeps missing, and he's not being held to task."
A source, speaking to the New York Post, confirmed this, saying that when Musk tweets about a new functionality or feature, it's often in response to a fan who has asked when such a thing might be available.
Musk, according to the source, will often email the tasked department then tweet back to the fan the date it will be done, no matter how unrealistic the request.
Some of Musk's more incendiary tweets, according to an employee theory, are a form of distraction - if there are a number of commitments Musk knows he'll never fulfil, he hopes people will forget by moving their eyes off the ball.
Meanwhile, Tesla's current great hope, the (relatively) affordably priced Model 3, is having its own issues.
Business Insider reported this week that although the company hit its production goal of 5000 Model 3s by the end of June, 4300 of those vehicles required substantial fixes.
That means just 14 per cent are making it through "first pass yield" (FPY) - meaning coming out of the initial production line requiring no fixes at all.
An industry executive told the publication that the standard automaker FPY is 80 per cent.
This Tesla employee isn't surprised.
"The Model 3s come in [to the showroom] scratched or damaged," he told the New York Post.
"They don't fit together properly. If you look at the panels, they'll be mismatched. They won't line up."
Business Insider also reported that Wall Street analysts tore apart a Model 3 to find multiple failures, including "inconsistent gaps and flushness throughout the car, missing bolts, loose tolerances, and uneven and misaligned spot welds".
They concluded that the results confirm media reports of quality issues and are disappointing for a $49,000 ($A67,000) car.
This "owner adviser" says he left a job paying $150,000 ($A205,000) a year for a Tesla base salary of $34,000 ($A46,000), with Tesla executives promising enough in annual commissions to match his previous salary.
However, he soon learned that would never happen, because Tesla keeps moving the goalposts.
"I had a friend who killed it - her commission check was going to be $42,000 ($A57,000)," he says. "They said, 'Just kidding. You missed [your goal]. It's going to be $4000 ($A5,500) for the year.'"
Last May, the company settled a class-action suit brought by three former salespeople who accused the company of abusive workplace practices, including the constant manipulation of sales figures and commission fees.
However, Tesla employees are directed to feel for only one victim: Elon Musk.
Recently, the employee told the New York Post, headquarters "literally sent out a picture of the couch and blanket that he sleeps on" at the Tesla factory.
"They were selling it to us like his team pitched in to buy him a new couch. He's a f**king billionaire. He can afford a couch."
But even as doubts fester within Tesla's factory walls, few want to believe the trajectory may be downward.
"Elon emails us directly, saying, 'We're on top, we're going to prove [everybody] wrong,'" the employee said.
"Everyone realises it's f**ked up, but everyone's afraid of losing their job before Tesla 'hits it big'. It's a mess."
This article originally appeared in the New York Post and was republished with permission.