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Elon Musk, the embattled chief executive of electric automaker and sustainable energy company Tesla, tried to “set the record straight” about his recent behavior in an hour-long exclusive interview with The New York Times. Instead, it only served to further underscore how out-of-touch the billionaire chief executive seems from the ongoing operations at his company. The fallout has already begun, with shares falling in early trading.
His erratic behavior could cost investors billions and potentially destroy a company that has, in fact, revolutionized the automotive industry in America.
In the wide-ranging interview, Musk acknowledged the personal and physical toll running Tesla was taking on him and tried to explain away his recent behavior.
The latest drama began with a simple midday tweet last week indicating that Musk had secured funding to take Tesla private at a price of $420 per share.
The number (which is both within the range of a 20 percent premium of Tesla shares at the time, and a code with special significance for people who smoke marijuana), the timing of the announcement and the medium on which it was issued all raised eyebrows.
From there, it has pretty much been all downhill for Musk and Tesla as the company’s executive bounced from one public relations blunder to another.
There are the allegations of illegal drug use, which Musk feebly addresses in his interview, saying:
“I was not on weed, to be clear,” he said.
“Weed is not helpful for productivity. There’s a reason for the word ‘stoned.’ You just sit there like a stone on weed.”
Reporting from the Times also contradicts another assertion that Musk made in the interview — which is that Tesla’s board is not seeking someone to take the reins as a chief operating officer at the company. Something which would indubitably help take off of Musk’s shoulders some of the pressures of running the business.
The chief executive acknowledged the physical toll that managing Tesla has taken on him, but said that he does not regret any of his recent actions.
Given that the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating the circumstances around the tweet, that may be another position that is subject to revision.
It’s been a long, hot summer for Tesla’s operations, and Musk has only exacerbated problems for the company with his very public complaints about short sellers, whistle-blowers, reporters, analysts and others who have openly questioned the company’s viability.
There are very real concerns about production of the company’s newest model, alongside claims from whistleblowers that the pressures of meeting deadlines for the new car have led to cutting corners on safety.
Throughout all of it, Tesla’s board has remained firmly committed to protecting Musk and preserving his role as chief executive officer.
As the board said in a statement it released to the Times:
There have been many false and irresponsible rumors in the press about the discussions of the Tesla board. We would like to make clear that Elon’s commitment and dedication to Tesla is obvious. Over the past 15 years, Elon’s leadership of the Tesla team has caused Tesla to grow from a small start-up to having hundreds of thousands of cars on the road that customers love, employing tens of thousands of people around the world, and creating significant shareholder value in the process.
Perhaps the best thing the company’s caretakers can do now is ensure that Musk gets some help (in the C-suite — and potentially outside of it).
It seems from the interview that Musk is asking for the same thing.
“[If] you have anyone who can do a better job, please let me know. They can have the job. Is there someone who can do the job better? They can have the reins right now,” Musk told the Times.