‘Everyone in Tesla is in an abusive relationship with Elon’: Former execs reveal how Musk’s dream to create Model 3 car sent him spiraling as he ‘fired hundreds of people, refused to hire someone wearing blue shoes, and became depressed over Amber Heard’
- Musk announced the Model 3 in 2016 with a shockingly small $35,000 price tag
- 325,000 put down $1,000 deposits to reserve one before they were even made
- Problems began as Musk demanded the cars be made at fully automated plants
- He imagined robots building the new cars – ‘the machines making the machine’
- Tesla struggled to meet goals and Musk began firing employees by the droves
- As his personal life struggled, his behavior to the press became more bizarre
- At least 36 Tesla vice presidents or higher-ranking staff have since left company
- Musk had to pay $20million to SEC and is being investigated by DOJ and NASA
When Elon Musk announced the Model 3, a new electric sedan that would sell for just $35,000, he sent shock waves through Wall Street – and through America.
Thousands of people lined up for blocks across the country in 2016 to put down a $1,000 deposit for a Model 3 car before production had even begun.
In the first day alone 180,000 people had pre-ordered the Model 3. By the end of the week, that number went up to 325,000.
But a new WIRED expose has revealed that Musk’s mission to mass produce the affordable electric sedan would lead to dozens of top executives fleeing the company as Musk’s behavior only became more and more erratic.
‘Everyone in Tesla is in an abusive relationship with Elon,’ one former executive declared.
And those problems only to worsened as Tesla repeatedly failed to meet production goals and Musk split from Amber Heard.
A new WIRED expose has revealed how Elon Musk’s mission to mass produce Tesla’s Model 3 would lead to dozens of top executives fleeing the company as his behavior only became more and more erratic
Musk had never been the easiest of people to work with, but that wasn’t unusual or surprising in a Silicon Valley that was built by eccentric – and erratic – leaders.
The PayPal and SpaceX founder, who is currently worth $22billion, initially took Tesla to new heights when he invested $6.3million in the company in 2004.
He became the firm’s chairman and soon also was named its chief executive. Under his leadership, Tesla would go on to sell 50,000 Model S cars in 2015.
The company soon became worth $7billion and Musk’s star continued to rise, landing him spots on The Simpsons and Big Bang Theory as he racked up five houses in Los Angeles’ swanky Bel Air neighborhood – for a total of $72million.
Musk – who has five children with first wife Justine Wilson – also began dating celebrities, marrying actress Talulah Riley before later dating Heard.
‘He went from nerd famous to Hollywood famous,’ said one former longtime executive. ‘It changes you when you suddenly become a celebrity.’
Executives revealed to WIRED that they began reading tabloids. If there were reports of trouble in Musk’s relationship, they held off on telling him any bad news.
When Elon Musk announced the Model 3 (pictured), a new electric sedan that would sell for just $35,000, he sent shockwaves through Wall Street – and through America
But things were still going well in Tesla, thanks in part to the fact that Musk was surrounded by people who had been there for a while and knew ‘how to push back on him’, according to one former executive.
‘He listened to us when we said he needed to dial it down,’ they added. ‘But then the Model 3 happened and everyone started leaving, and then everything started falling apart.’
The original plan for the Model 3 was already ambitious. Tesla had sold fewer than 150,000 cars total. Now it was planning to make 5,000 Model 3 cars a week.
‘You are now working at a different company,’ Doug Field, the company’s senior vice president of engineering, told his staff. ‘Everything has changed.’
Little did everyone know that Musk had been dreaming of far more changes – inspired by a literal dream.
He wanted a manufacturing plant that was fully automated, one in which robots built everything at high speed and conveyor belts delivered parts at exactly the right time.
Musk wanted his departments to completely rebuild their manufacturing plants for the Model 3, telling them: ‘We’re going to build the machine that builds the machine’.
The announcement completely shocked the company. Engineers began handing in their notices as executives tried to push back on Musk’s plan.
But he wouldn’t relent. Whenever someone raised an alarm, Musk would pull their manager aside – sometimes to reassign them, sometimes to fire them, it is claimed.
But Musk sent shockwaves through his own company when he declared he wanted the Model 3 manufacturing plant (pictured) to be fully automated, one in which robots built everything
‘If you were the kind of person who was likely to push back, you got disinvited, because VPs didn’t want anyone pissing off Elon,’ said one former executive.
‘People were scared that someone would question something.’
As the company started burning through an estimated $100million a week, Musk only became more and more frustrated.
In one meeting, Musk was so furious he broke a phone. In another, he angrily called an executive who hadn’t attended because his wife had recently given birth. He once refused to interview a job candidate because they were wearing blue shoes.
‘Everyone came to work each day wondering if it was going to be their last day,’ one former executive said.
Another remembered Musk coming to work and declaring ‘I’ve got to fire someone today’.
‘I’d say, “No, you don’t” and he’d say, “No, no. I just do. I’ve got to fire somebody,'” the executive recalled.
Fast-forward a year and the company was still severely struggling. And now customers were asking for their Model 3 deposits back.
As the company continued to struggle, Musk split from girlfriend Amber Heard and became more desolate as he told one Rolling Stones reporter he was in ‘severe emotional pain’
Still Tesla tried to drum up some good press, presenting the first 30 Model 3 customers at a party at the company’s Fremont factory.
But their leader was desolate. Musk, who had recently broken up with Heard, instead told the press that Tesla was about to embark on ‘six months of manufacturing hell’.
‘Sorry for being a little dry,’ he added. ‘got a lot on my mind right now.’
One former high-ranking executive said the event was a turning point – the beginning of a ‘downward spiral’.
‘[Musk] was always a mad genius, but he was about 95 percent genius and 5 percent mad,’ the executive said.
‘The ratio started to shift, and by the fall it was totally inverted.’
Musk’s firings only accelerated, at one point becoming so bad that one manager forbade his staff from going near their leader’s desk.
Many employees – even brand new ones – learned that one chance encounter could end their career.
Such was the case for one young employee at Gigafactory, Tesla’s battery manufacturing plant in Nevada.
Musk’s firings at Tesla began to accelerate, at one point becoming so bad that one manager forbade his staff from going near their leader’s desk. Pictured is the Gigafactory 2 in New York
Musk had called on the employee over an issue with the production line, telling him simply ‘This doesn’t work!’
‘Did you do this?’ Musk then asked.
The employee had never met Musk before, and he had no idea what exactly Musk was talking about.
‘You mean, program the robot? Or design the tool?’ the engineer asked.
‘Did you f*****g do this?’ Musk asked again.
‘I’m not sure what you’re referring,’ the engineer told him, an apology in his voice.
‘You’re a f*****g idiot,’ Musk replied. ‘Get the f**k out and don’t come back!’
A few minutes later, the employee found out he had been officially fired.
‘We called it the “idiot bit,'” one senior executive told WIRED. ‘If you said something wrong or made one mistake or rubbed him the wrong way, he would decide you’re an idiot and there was nothing that could change his mind.’
‘It started to feel like every day you expected to be fired,’ another added. ‘There was this constant feeling of dread.’
One spokesman told WIRED that Musk only fired those who were ‘underperforming’.
Then, in August, Musk sent out a tweet that would cost him $20million and his chairmanship of Tesla’s board
The story only got weirder as rapper Azealia Banks claimed she had witnessed Musk breaking down to his girlfriend Grimes (pictured together) over the tweet. She even claimed he sent it while on acid
‘Elon cares very deeply about the people who work at his companies,’ they said in a statement.
‘That is why, although it is painful, he sometimes takes the difficult step of firing people who are underperforming and putting the success of the entire company’
Eventually 700 people would be let go, and more than 36 Tesla vice presidents or higher-ranking staff would leave the company – including the company’s chief information officer and vice presidents of manufacturing and engineering.
‘It felt like the adults were leaving the building,’ one senior employee said. ‘There was really no one left would could push back on Elon anymore.’
Meanwhile, Musk’s interviews were only getting more and more bizarre, even telling a Rolling Stones reporter that he was in ‘severe emotional pain’.
‘I will never be happy without having someone,’ he added. ‘Going to sleep alone kills me.’
By April, Musk finally admitted that ‘excessive automation’ was his mistake. Two months later, Tesla finally hit its goal of 5,000 Model 3 cars in one week.
Musk was over the moon, telling employees that Tesla had finally become a ‘real car company’. And yet, he personally continued to spiral.
His tweeting became rampant that summer as he called one critic a ‘sanctimonious idiot’ and told a Buzzfeed reporter in an email that he was a ‘f*****g a**hole’.
Musk called a cave diver who helped rescue the trapped Thailand boys that he was a pedophile, and told one Wall Street analyst he had asked a ‘boneheaded question’ during a company call about Tesla’s latest earnings.
Musk only found himself making more headlines a month later, when he smoked marijuana during an appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast
Then, in August, Musk sent out a tweet that would cost him $20million and his chairmanship of Tesla’s board.
‘Am considering taking Tesla private at $420,’ he wrote. ‘Funding secured.’
But no such funding was secured, and days the story only got weirder as rapper Azealia Banks claimed she had witnessed Musk breaking down over the tweet.
‘I waited around all weekend while Grimes coddled her boyfriend for being too stupid to know not to go on Twitter on acid,’ Banks wrote, referring to Musk’s girlfriend.
‘I saw him in the kitchen tucking his tail in between his legs scrounging for investors to cover his a** after that tweet.’
The Securities and Exchange Commission sued Musk for fraud – which has since been settled – and the Department of Justice has opened a criminal fraud probe.
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Musk only found himself making more headlines a month later, when he smoked marijuana during an appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast.
Now NASA is also investigating Musk’s SpaceX and Boeing companies to ensure they are adhering to the requirements for a ‘drug-free environment’.
‘For a long time, Elon would say or do something kind of wacky, and I would get up in front of my team and explain, this is why you shouldn’t worry about it,’ said former one executive.
‘But eventually it got to where I couldn’t apologize anymore.’
As some Tesla employees now, and they will say that the company has succeeded in spite of Musk – not because of him.
‘When people were shielded from Elon, Tesla was amazing,’ a high-ranking engineer executive said. ‘We did incredible things.’
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