Elon Musk’s latest revelation? His Tesla management team

Usually cars are the stars.

But this week, Elon Musk went out of his way to highlight Tesla Inc.

TSLA 3.61%

management team, although Wall Street was eager for an update on efforts to develop a new, inexpensive electric car.

Sitting on stage Wednesday, Mr Musk was surrounded by 16 executives, in an apparent attempt to appease shareholders worried that the automaker’s CEO has been distracted in recent months with his purchase of Twitter Inc.

The unspoken message: Tesla is more than Elon Musk.

His team spent nearly four hours Wednesday at Tesla’s Investor Day detailing how they work behind the scenes on cost reduction, vertical integration, software development and battery production. The work, they said, lays the foundation for the company’s next generation of vehicles and plans to increase deliveries to 20 million a year from 1.3 million last year.

“We obviously have significant bench strength here,” Musk said, noting the crowd of managers around him. “Maybe we have too many people on stage.”

The presentation came as investors debated how Tesla, the world’s most valuable automaker, should be judged: more like a traditional automaker with a lower valuation or a high-growth tech company with a higher value. higher market?


What do you think the future holds for Tesla under the leadership of Elon Musk? Join the conversation below.

Its value has risen dramatically in recent months amid concerns on Wall Street over Mr Musk’s Twitter drama and the company’s ability to continue the incredible growth it has enjoyed since the introduction of the Model compact car. 3 in 2017.

“I’m sure he was trying to show that Tesla is more than Elon Musk given the market’s view that the Twitter transaction was a major and potentially damaging distraction to Tesla,” Chief Investment Officer Brenda Vingiello said. at Sand Hill Global Advisors LLC. , which owns Tesla shares.

On stage, Mr Musk, dressed in a black t-shirt, did not receive a single question on Twitter, where he cut costs and tried to restructure the historically loss-making social media company he acquired in a $44 billion deal in late October.

Some investors have pressured Mr. Musk to step down from Twitter, where he is also CEO, while others have asked about succession planning at Tesla. He responded to criticism by saying he attends all of the automaker’s important meetings and that Tesla performs at a high level. Tesla posted record profit last year. He and Tesla did not respond to requests for comment.

Tom Zhu, Tesla’s longtime China leader, at Investor Day on Wednesday.


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Mr. Musk’s showmanship has been at the heart of so many Tesla events over the years. He is seen by many investors as extremely important as he is seen to have the vision and the drive, and there has also been quite a turnover in the management ranks.

Some deputies played sidekick roles, such as when his design chief Franz von Holzhausen threw a metal ball through a window pane at the Cybertruck that Mr. Musk was trying to promote as unbreakable in 2019. On Wednesday, Mr. von Holzhausen talked about the evolution of Tesla’s design process, focusing on ways to improve efficiency. He avoided throwing anything away.

Investors, analysts and the media have long watched closely who Mr. Musk is presenting to the public. The awkward appearance of Drew Baglino, then vice president of technology, on stage at Tesla’s 2019 annual shareholder meeting alongside co-founder JB Straubel sparked discussion among observers close to the company that Mr. Straubel could leave the company.

Mr. Straubel exited a few weeks later and Mr. Baglino resumed his role as the leader of all powertrain efforts. He is one of the few executives named in regulatory filings.

On Wednesday, Mr. Baglino played the lead role, including sharing the stage with Mr. Musk when discussing the company’s broader goal of replacing fossil fuels with electricity.

Many managers on stage Wednesday would have been unknown to mainstream investors, their voices unidentified during quarterly earnings calls and their titles unlisted on the company’s website because they spent years at Tesla away from the spotlight.

Twitter has been in turmoil since Elon Musk took over. To get a sense of what’s going on behind the scenes, The Wall Street Journal spoke with former Tesla and SpaceX employees to better understand how Musk runs the companies. Illustration: Ryan Trefes

“We’ve never brought our management team in and asked them to talk about the things they’re working on,” chief financial officer Zach Kirkhorn said.

Longtime Tesla China chief Tom Zhu, dressed in a black “Gigafactory” t-shirt, made his debut in his new role as an executive overseeing part of the company’s operations: global production, sales and services. Mr. Musk even threw a question at him during an analyst question about strained US-China relations, saying, “Hey, Tom…don’t sweat too hard.”

Among the new faces: Brandon Ehrhart, Tesla’s new legal counsel, who made an appearance, briefly telling investors, “We have an active and engaged board and management team. We met you and today is the culmination of that,” he said. “We heard you.”

During previous difficult times, Mr. Musk has pushed his employees to the fore, albeit to a lesser extent. Amid an exodus of executives and fears that Mr. Musk was overtaxed in 2018, for example, the company released a memo detailing newly promoted or hired executives.

In 2019, when the company was criticized for developing its driverless cars, Tesla held a so-called autonomy day for analysts that included appearances from several important topic-specific officials: the former director of artificial intelligence, Tesla’s chip architect, and a vice president of engineering.

At the company’s 2020 Battery Day, Messrs. Musk and Baglino outlined Tesla’s battery strategy and teased the $25,000 car investors were hoping to learn more about on Wednesday. They ended the day by having eight members of their team take the stage. But these people spoke little.

More recently, Mr. Musk has tried to promote his team, mostly at recruitment-focused events like Tesla’s AI Days in 2021 and 2022.

After several hours on Wednesday, Mr. Musk opened the question room to investors and analysts gathered at the automaker’s headquarters in Austin, Texas, promising to answer almost any question about “creating long-term value.” “.

Ultimately, however, Mr. Musk declined to discuss one thing on investors’ minds: when the cheapest vehicle, talked about throughout the day, might actually be revealed. Ultimately, it seems many wanted to know more about Tesla’s upcoming cars. Shares fell nearly 6% the next day.

Write to Tim Higgins at tim.higgins@wsj.com

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