A story from two CEOs: Tim Cook shows what some of Elon Musk want


Losing one large money person from your company can be considered an accident; to lose two within a week seems like carelessness. You do not have to be good at numbers to find out that it is not really stellar optics.

CNBC reported that chief accounting officer David Morton stopped Friday with Tesla – after about a month in the gig – because he felt that Musk was not following his advice on private matters. (The previous head of the accounting department left in March.) Michael Hiltzik on the Los Angeles Times says: "It is conceivable that he saw something in the books that scared him to death."

Then, on Wednesday, Bloomberg reported the departure of Justin McAnear, the vice president of global finance for Tesla. McAnear leaves for a CFO performance at a previously unnamed company. And those are just the money people! Tesla's HR manager, Gabrielle Toledano, tied the company on the same day as Morton, just like the company's VP or communications. Thirty-like other executives have left the company since June.

And between all this turnover, what does Elon Musk do? Last Friday I just came from Glacier National Park and touched Browning, Montana, when I got the first mobile service I'd had in a few days. I have opened Twitter. And the first thing I saw was a GIF by Elon Musk who smoked a blunt nose. I will summarize the recordings in the form of the choir of the "Slippery People:" by The Talking Heads: "

What's wrong with him?
He's okay.
How do you know that?
The Lord will not mind.
Do not play games.
He's okay.
Love from bottom to top.
Turn like a wheel.
He's okay.
See for yourself.
The Lord will not mind.

We are now going to move right away – turn like a wheel in a wheel – a discussion about why smoking by pots dominated the news circle around this podcast. There were a number of other interesting things discussed! Musk teased a design of a flying vehicle that he does not (yet) intend to pursue and suggested that serious Neuralink news is forthcoming. So why are people focused on the blunt?

I have previously written about the competing stories around Musk; A common thread in the story of his erratic behavior has to do with alleged drug use, although the medicine cited in that case was Ambien, instead of weeds, and the care was specifically about Ambien who fed his wild tweets.

I have a guess why it bluntly lit the net, and it has to do with symbolism. The CEO is the human face of a vast abstract organization. In general, CEOs' efforts are to discipline, calm and feel that everything is under control regardless of what happens internally; Tim Cook has given a perfect example this week. The Apple event for which he served as a hypeman was an almost painfully controlled presentation and he sent the message that the company is a great success.

Apple does not have any Tesla baggage. It does not have to signal everything is under control to reassure someone. But it is the kind of signaling that reassures investors and the public. So after all these wild tweets, high-level departures and faltering at the factory, you could expect Musk to project that he has a steady hand on the wheel. Instead, he poured a whiskey and beat bone.

I concentrate on Apple partly because Tesla followers make the comparison themselves. "The only thing comparable to Tesla brand recognition is according to Apple," wrote Nomura Instinet analyst Romit Shah in a week's report. Shah specifically cited Musk's "capricious behavior" as a risk to Tesla, suggesting that Musk's antics are distracting Tesla's attention. The note includes charts of Musk's Twitter activity per month, as well as a timeline of recent Musk controversies to drive Shah's point home.

While Shah has confidence in Tesla as a company ("Tesla is positioned to deliver unprecedented revenue growth and generate significant profits," he said), he also believes the company needs "better leadership".

Shah is not alone. Baillie Gifford, Tesla & # 39; s largest institutional investor, says that it has talked with the SEC about the abandoned private private plan that Musk drew last month. And asset manager James Anderson told Reuters that Musk "needs help, and that I mean psychologically as much as practical." Cool off, stop crazy.

Musk's off-the-cuff handling of most public appearances helped him with his fans; it gives him a kind of authenticity that Cook misses. The loose, whiskey and weed version is the kind of thing that many Musk fans connect to, especially on YouTube.

Most people do not have time to understand the finances of Tesla, even though they are sufficiently well-educated to understand them. And I can only speak for me, but I do not look at the health of a company before I buy a consumer product. Most consumers, on the other hand, follow sentiment. The sentiment has not been great lately: Tesla's cars are defective; customer service has been a "nightmare"; and just this week Tesla has withdrawn to the colors it offers for Model 3. Oh, anyway, and there is also something embarrassing about a Tesla crushing himself by stepping out of a garage using his Summon function? In addition, Tesla is about $ 10 billion debt, has not yet made annual profits and loses a lot of senior talent.

Tesla does not advertise, so it depends on Musk & # 39; s "earned media" (that's the technical name for it!) Appearances to help determine the sentiment. And now that there are real concerns about the long-term stability of the company, it is a little weird to see that the CEO drinks whiskey and weed smokes as if he has no worries in the world. It is not exactly the kind of sentiment that everyone who is skeptical about the future of Tesla will appreciate.

Many shareholders seem to believe that chaos is a ladder for the ultimate success of Tesla since the stock of Tesla rose this week after the fall of last Friday. But even their self-confidence may well decline: option data suggest that holding Tesla shares "is close to the most risky ever", Reuters. That is not all. The price on Tesla's junk bonds also slipped to about 85 cents on the dollar last week, according to Market overview.

This will all be well known to Muskwatchers, who have been in the open for a long time and have experienced the public sentiment, which sometimes gives the impression of a very strange roller coaster ride. Musk is not going anywhere. Even if the board wanted to eject it, I suspect that you would have to drag him away with shovels and shouts, leaving claw tracks behind his desk. There is a lot of noise but no real indication that something will change soon.

Eventually Tesla will become profitable, as Musk has proposed this year, otherwise the market will lose patience. But this week in Elon feels a bit like groundhog day: another week of shouting without a clear outcome. Turn like a wheel into a wheel.

with reporting by Sean O & # 39; Kane