Many years ago, I was asked to give an assessment of a Midwest company that was then owned by private equity. The CEO not surprisingly was quite full of himself, and he made it instantly clear upon meeting me that he was neither interested in my services nor cared to hear whatever communications recommendations I might suggest. He had it all under control.

“Leadership, leadership, and leadership,” the CEO told me over cocktails. That, he said, is what makes companies successful. The CEO was confident that his leadership talents were all his ailing company required to become successful.

My recommendation to the private equity firm was that their hand-picked CEO lacked the leadership skills required to lead a company with working class employees, which obviously cost me my relationship with the partners of the private equity firm. However, my assessment proved prescient, as the CEO was ultimately forced out. He wasn’t quite as impressive as he deceived himself into believing.

Elon Musk so far has demonstrated he’s a leader of unrivaled proportions. While there’s been lots of criticisms of his style lobbed from the HR consultant and media peanut galleries, the undeniable truth is that Musk nurtured to success the world’s most respected electric vehicle company, breaking every employee management and branding rule along the way. Unlike GM and Ford, Tesla doesn’t spend millions on advertising. Tesla fired all its PR folks years ago.

SpaceX is launching satellites with even more frequency than Ford issues safety recalls and despite all the media’s ad nauseum articles that Musk destroyed their beloved Twitter, it continues to function with a fraction of its previous staff. I suspect that the legions of experts who chastised Musk for renaming Twitter “X” and destroying the company’s “brand equity” won’t be looking too smart in short order. I’ve come to like the X name, which eliminated my associations with the company’s previous despicable government censorship management toadies.

Musk summoned all his Tesla employees back to the office five days a week a year ago, warning that he’d fire everyone who didn’t comply with his mandate. Meanwhile, C-team CEOs are still wrestling how best to coax their employees back into the office without upsetting them. GM CEO Mary Barra went so far as to apologize for sending a late afternoon Friday email mandating that her employees return to the office three days a week.

Musk is an undeniable visionary, but it takes an incredibly talented team of employees to execute his plans, particularly given that working for him reportedly isn’t all that pleasant. In wake of the heavy rainstorm we experienced here in Los Angeles last week and the recent upgrade to Tesla’s app, I’ve come to appreciate that Musk’s ultimate brilliance is his ability to attract the world’s best technologists, despite lacking empathy, morals, and basic human decency.

Tesla’s engineers are roiling their automotive competition in ways not yet fully understood by their rivals, the media, and likely many analysts on Wall Street.

Let’s start with the notice my cousin Rob received on his Tesla app alerting him that a storm was forthcoming and that his Tesla solar panel settings were being overridden to ensure his backup batteries were fully charged and would provide him backup power in the event of a blackout, which local media warned was a strong possibility.

Cousin Rob ordered and installed his Tesla solar panels earlier this year, and he said the process was flawless, from making the reservation online to the final installation. He takes great delight showing me his electricity price savings, an abuse I deserve given I’ve mocked his Tesla as a soulless vehicle from the moment he took delivery. Cousin Rob already has reaped the benefits of going solar; there recently was a blackout in his neighborhood, which he only learned about when he saw area residents discussing it on an area social media site.

Tesla’s most recent software update will keep Cousin Rob’s Tesla Model S minimally charged at 40% so he can tool around L.A. on a whim, and thereafter will charge off his backup solar power. Over time, that could save Cousin Rob a considerable sum of money. If Cousin Rob suddenly decides he wants to drive to San Francisco, he can override the solar function and charge at home, or the legions of Superchargers he will pass along the way.

If I didn’t have so much disdain for Musk, I’d go all in with Tesla’s EV/solar ecosystem.  If you live in California with lots of sunshine and a Third-World grid, it’s a no brainer.

I’m blown away with Tesla’s flawless expansion of its Supercharging network in Southern California, which is growing like weeds in prime locations.

In Santa Monica, I estimate there are now more Supercharging stations than there are gas pumps. The media has led the pubic to believe that when Tesla begins opening some of its network to EVs manufactured by Ford, GM, and others, drivers of those vehicles will enjoy the seamless and reliable charging experience that Tesla owners have long come to enjoy. I recently saw an industry consultant on a podcast who shared my suspicions that might not be the case.

If Musk is possibly open to a suggestion from the marketing peanut gallery, I’d open small kiosks at all Supercharging locations selling premium coffee exclusively for Tesla owners and Starbucks coffee for drivers of other EV brands.

Teslarati, August 24, 2023

Tesla last week received the go-ahead to build a Tesla Diner and Drive-In Movie Supercharger complex in Los Angeles that will host 32 stalls, two screens to show famous movie clips, and a restaurant with rooftop seating. Rest assured that restaurant will instantly become a hangout for A-list celebrities and their admirers.

For all his brilliance, there’s evidence that on a technical level, Musk possibly isn’t always the genius he’s made out to be.

A group called the Cybertruck Owners Club last week obtained the email below that Musk sent to employees demanding “sub 10 Micron accuracy” in the metal used for Tesla’s Cybertrucks.

The pea-sized sliver that controls the science portion of my brain was wowed that Musk could fire off an email dictating the specs he wanted in such detail, but many readers of the trade publication Jalopnick, who no doubt mastered the Periodic Table of the Elements in high school, insist Musk doesn’t have a clue about what he’s talking about.

“I test materials for high purity process orbital welding and we don’t even get to those tolerances,” posted one reader on a story about Musk’s email. “Every time he pretends to be an engineer or manufacturing genius I have to laugh. If this is indicative of their work and QC, they’re going to be in a world of hurt.”

Said another: “There is also a massive gulf of difference between injection molded plastic (like LEGO) and stamped steel. I imagine his engineers will just reply “Okay, noted” and ignore this email and keep doing what is actually achievable and practical. Meanwhile, Musk will brag about the incredible precision that he assumes exists because he told them to do it. And if he asked for it, they have to do it, right?”

Maybe Musk is mistaken about “Sub 10 Micron accuracy” but I’d be even more impressed if he routinely fires off technically nonsensical memos and still manages to attract and retain the quality engineering team he does. Moreover, there’s evidence that stealing a supposedly A-team player from Tesla and have them work for a B-management team, they won’t continue to thrive.

Ford last year hired with great fanfare Annie Liu, Tesla’s former head of supply chain, battery and energy, to guide the company through ongoing supply challenges and material cost issues.

Less than a year later, Liu was gone, supposedly having developed a sudden urge to spend more time with her family. Liu promptly scrubbed her brief Ford sojourn from her LinkedIn profile.

If there’s any doubt about Musk’s leadership abilities, here’s something to ponder: Imagine what would happen to their battered stock prices if GM unexpectedly announced Musk agreed to replace CEO Mary Barra or Ford announced he had agreed to replace CEO Jim Farley.

Now imagine what would happen to Tesla’s stock price if the company announced Barra or Farley was to replace Musk.

I rest my case.

Meta’s “People” Management

As long as we are on the subject of leadership, Business Insider obtained a copy of a memo Lori Goler, Meta’s “head of people,” recently sent to that company’s employees. The memo reinforces my perception that A-team players wouldn’t be attracted to work for that company or its ethically challenged CEO.

The recipients of Goler’s memo have my heartfelt sympathies. I’m confident speculating that Goler has no future as a motivational speaker, her Harvard MBA and Yale degrees notwithstanding.

Lori Goler/Meta photo

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