Elon Musk: ‘worst is over for Tesla, for me it’s yet to come’
In a remarkably open, sometimes emotional, one hour-long phone conversation with New York Times columnist, David Gelles, Elon Musk admits the last year to be “the most painful in his career”. “For Tesla the worst is over”, said the CEO, who is working 120 hours a week and needs sleeping pills to get some rest, “but for me personally it’s yet to come.”
Since his last tweet on August 7th that he “considers to take Tesla private”, which caused a storm on Wall Street, Musk kept ‘deafening’ silent. On social media and in talking to the press. Until he suddenly phoned David Gelles of the NYT – to the latter’s surprise – and showed to be open and rather vulnerable in his answers.
Musk details in the interview the timeline for this controversial tweet. He said he woke up next to his Canadian singer-girlfriend, did his morning workout and drove to the airport in a Tesla S to fly to Nevada, to go to the Gigafactory battery plant. Later that day he flew to San Francisco and had meetings until deep into the night.
On the way to the airport, he typed the tweet “Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured”, without consulting anyone before in the idea to create transparency for all share holders, apparently without thinking too much about possible legal consequences.
Exploded as a bomb
As the tweet was sent while the stock market was fully open, the news ‘exploded’ as a bomb, pushing the Tesla shares first to 7% and later, after a short suspension to 11%. He now has to prove his claim that “funding is secured”, counting on the Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund that would have confirmed to be willing to finance the deal in a verbal agreement end of July.
The latter is questioned by the stock market’s ‘watch dog’, the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission), who had subpoenaed the company a few days later. If it turns out there is no binding agreement with the Saudis, Musk risks severe punishment.
The troubles with Wall Street are the temporary climax of a turbulent year, that was marked especially by the production problems Musk faced with the Model 3, the ‘affordable electric car’ that should be mass-produced, but had to be postponed by six months.
In the interview Musk tells about these hectic days he ‘lived’ at the Fremont factory to take the helm himself to solve the problems, mainly due to what he later called “a misjudgment of wanting too much automation”. He recalls not leaving the factory for days, not seeing his five children or friends even on his 47th birthday (June 28th) and almost missing the wedding of his brother in Catalonia.
Taking sleeping pills
Asked whether this had an effect on his personal health, Musk admits that the latter isn’t that good and worrying friends already warned him. To get some sleep, he takes pills (Ambien). “Often I have the choice: either I don’t sleep, or I take Ambien.”
Further he denies being given a rap on the knuckles by his board members about this twittering and says not to regret this famous tweet on August 7th. He also denies the board is looking for someone – a chief operating officer (COO) – to help him at running Tesla, while being concerned about Musk’s health.
“To my knowledge the company isn’t actively searching”, Musk says. He says having no plans to cut back on his role in the company but he adds: “If you know somebody that can do this better than me, please let me know. He or she can absolutely take the reins…”