Musk was at home in Los Angeles, struggling to maintain his composure.
“This past year has been the most difficult and painful year of my
career,” he said. “It was excruciating.”
year has only gotten more intense for Musk, chairman and chief executive
of the electric-car maker Tesla, since he abruptly declared on Twitter
last week that he hoped to convert the publicly traded company into a
private one. The episode kicked off a furor in the markets and within
Tesla itself, and he acknowledged Thursday that he was fraying.
multiple points in an hourlong interview with The New York Times, he
choked up, noting that he nearly missed his brother’s wedding this
summer and spent his birthday holed up in Tesla’s offices as the company
raced to meet elusive production targets on a crucial new model.
if the exhaustion was taking a toll on his physical health, Musk
answered: “It’s not been great, actually. I’ve had friends come by who
are really concerned.”
events set in motion by Musk’s tweet have ignited a federal
investigation and have angered some board members, according to people
familiar with the matter. Efforts are underway to find a No. 2 executive
to help take some of the pressure off Musk, people briefed on the search
said. And some board members have expressed concern not only about
Musk’s workload but also about his use of Ambien, two people familiar
with the board said.
two decades, Musk has been one of Silicon Valley’s most brash and
ambitious entrepreneurs, helping to found several influential technology
companies. He has often carried himself with bravado, dismissing critics
and relishing the spotlight that has come with his success and fortune.
But in the interview, he demonstrated an extraordinary level of
self-reflection and vulnerability, acknowledging that his myriad
executive responsibilities are taking a steep personal toll.
the interview, Musk provided a detailed timeline of the events leading
up to the Twitter postings on Aug. 7 in which he said he was considering
taking the company private at $420 a share. He asserted that he had
“funding secured” for such a deal — a transaction likely to be worth
well over $10 billion.
morning, Musk woke up at home with his girlfriend, the musician known as
Grimes, and had an early workout. Then he got in a Tesla Model S and
drove himself to the airport. En route, Musk typed his fateful message.
has said he saw the tweet as an attempt at transparency. He acknowledged
Thursday that no one had seen or reviewed it before he posted it.
shares soared. Investors, analysts and journalists puzzled over the
tweet — published in the middle of the day’s official market trading, an
unusual time to release major news — including the price Musk cited. He
said in the interview that he wanted to offer a roughly 20 percent
premium over where the stock had been recently trading, which would have
been about $419. He decided to round up to $420 — a number that has
become code for marijuana in counterculture lore.
seemed like better karma at $420 than at $419,” he said in the
interview. “But I was not on weed, to be clear. Weed is not helpful for
productivity. There’s a reason for the word ‘stoned.’ You just sit there
like a stone on weed.”
reached the airport and flew on a private plane to Nevada, where he
spent the day visiting a Tesla battery plant known as the Gigafactory,
including time meeting with managers and working on an assembly line.
That evening, he flew to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he held Tesla
meetings late into the night.
Musk meant by “funding secured” has become an important question. Those
two words helped propel Tesla’s shares higher.
that funding, it turned out, was far from secure.
has said he was referring to a potential investment by Saudi Arabia’s
government investment fund. Musk had extensive talks with
representatives of the $250 billion fund about possibly financing a
transaction to take Tesla private — maybe even in a manner that would
have resulted in the Saudis’ owning most of the company. One of those
sessions took place July 31 at the Tesla factory in the Bay Area,
according to a person familiar with the meeting. But the Saudi fund had
not committed to provide any cash, two people briefed on the discussions
possibility under consideration is that SpaceX, Musk’s rocket company,
would help bankroll the Tesla privatization and would take an ownership
stake in the carmaker, according to people familiar with the matter.
tweet kicked off a chain reaction.
hour and 20 minutes after the tweet, with Tesla’s shares up 7 percent,
the Nasdaq stock exchange halted trading, and Tesla published a letter
to employees from Musk explaining the rationale for possibly taking the
company private. When the shares resumed trading, they continued their
climb, ending the day with an 11 percent gain.
next day, investigators in the San Francisco office of the Securities
and Exchange Commission asked Tesla for explanations. Ordinarily, such
material information about a public company’s plans is laid out in
detail after extensive internal preparation and issued through official
channels. Board members, blindsided by the chief executive’s
market-moving statement, were angry that they had not been briefed, two
people familiar with the matter said. They scrambled to cobble together
a public statement trying to defuse a mounting uproar over the seemingly
haphazard communication. Musk said in the interview that board members
had not complained to him about his tweet. “I don’t recall getting any
communications from the board at all,” he said. “I definitely did not
get calls from irate directors.”
shortly after the Times published its interview with Musk, he added
through a Tesla spokeswoman that Antonio Gracias, Tesla’s lead
independent director, had indeed contacted him to discuss the Aug. 7
Twitter post, and that he had agreed not to tweet again about the
possible privatization deal unless he had discussed it with the board.
added that he did not regret his Twitter post — “Why would I?” — and
said he had no plans to stop using the social media platform. Some board
members, however, have recently told Musk he should lay off Twitter and
focus on making cars and launching rockets, according to people familiar
with the matter.
SEC investigation appears to be intensifying rapidly. Just days after
the agency’s request for information, Tesla’s board and Musk received
SEC subpoenas, according to a person familiar with the matter. Board
members and Musk are preparing to meet with SEC officials as soon as
next week, the person said. In the interview Thursday, Musk alternated
between laughter and tears.
said he had been working up to 120 hours a week recently — echoing the
reason he cited in a recent public apology to an analyst whom he had
berated. In the interview, Musk said he had not had taken time off of
more than a week since 2001, when he was bedridden with malaria.
were times when I didn’t leave the factory for three or four days — days
when I didn’t go outside,” he said. “This has really come at the expense
of seeing my kids. And seeing friends.”
stopped talking, seemingly overcome by emotion.
turned 47 on June 28, and he said he spent the full 24 hours of his
birthday at work. “All night — no friends, nothing,” he said, struggling
to get the words out.
days later, he was scheduled to be the best man at the wedding of his
brother, Kimbal, in Catalonia, Spain. Musk said he flew directly there
from the factory, arriving just two hours before the ceremony.
Immediately afterward, he got back on the plane and returned straight to
Tesla headquarters, where work on the mass-market Model 3 has been all
thought the worst of it was over — I thought it was,” he said. “The
worst is over from a Tesla operational standpoint.” He continued: “But
from a personal pain standpoint, the worst is yet to come.” He blamed
short-sellers — investors who bet that Tesla’s shares will lose value —
for much of his stress. He said he was bracing for “at least a few
months of extreme torture from the short-sellers, who are desperately
pushing a narrative that will possibly result in Tesla’s destruction.”
to the short-sellers, he added: “They’re not dumb guys, but they’re not
supersmart. They’re OK. They’re smartish.”
tweets on Aug. 7 were the most recent of several flare-ups that had
drawn scrutiny. He wrangled with short-sellers and belittled analysts
for asking “boring, bonehead” questions. And after sending a team of
engineers from one of his companies to help rescue members of a stranded
soccer team, he lashed out at a cave diver who was dismissive of the
gesture, deriding him on Twitter as a “pedo guy,” or pedophile.
help sleep when he is not working, Musk said he sometimes takes Ambien.
“It is often a choice of no sleep or Ambien,” he said.
this has worried some board members, who have noted that sometimes the
drug does not put Musk to sleep but instead contributes to late-night
Twitter sessions, according to a person familiar with the board’s
thinking. Some board members are also aware that Musk has on occasion
used recreational drugs, according to people familiar with the matter.
executives have been trying for years to recruit a chief operating
officer or other No. 2 executive to assume some of Musk’s day-to-day
responsibilities, according to people familiar with the matter. A couple
of years ago, Musk said, the company approached Sheryl Sandberg, who is
Facebook’s second-highest executive, about the job.
said that “to the best of my knowledge,” there is “no active search
right now.” But people familiar with the matter said a search is
underway, and one person said it had intensified in the wake of Musk’s
response to questions for this article, Tesla provided a statement that
it attributed to its board, excluding Musk. “There have been many false
and irresponsible rumors in the press about the discussions of the Tesla
board,” the statement said. “We would like to make clear that Elon’s
commitment and dedication to Tesla is obvious. Over the past 15 years,
Elon’s leadership of the Tesla team has caused Tesla to grow from a
small startup to having hundreds of thousands of cars on the road that
customers love, employing tens of thousands of people around the world,
and creating significant shareholder value in the process.”
said he had no plans to relinquish his dual roles as chairman and chief
he added, “if you have anyone who can do a better job, please let me
know. They can have the job. Is there someone who can do the job better?
They can have the reins right now.”