One of the most surprising things to emerge from Tesla Motors’ conference call with shareholders and analysts yesterday was the news that Elon Musk has a desk and a sleeping bag at the end of the Model X assembly line. Talk about the boss taking a personal interest in the business! Elon admits his presence may have slowed the production down a bit as he personally examines cars coming off the line.
Last month, Tesla was hit by a rash of complaints about the Model X. Customers experienced doors that wouldn’t open or close correctly. Many reported their touchscreens were inoperable. Others noted trim pieces falling off or windows that wouldn’t close properly. Musk calls the Model X “the best car ever made” and he took such complaints personally. More quality control procedures have been implemented, ending with Musk himself performing final checks on finished cars.
This direct and highly personal involvement by Musk may provide clues to another story from yesterday. Two of its top production executives are leaving the company. Greg Reichow, Tesla’s vice president of production, will take a leave of absence as soon as a replacement can be found. Reichow has been with the company 5 years and was in charge of designing the production facilities for the Model S and Model X. He was one of Tesla’s highest paid employees, earning a total of $6.4 million in cash, stock, and options in the past two years.
“Greg and the team deserve a lot of credit for building an all-new manufacturing organization from the ground up and for making Model S and Model X a reality,” said Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk in an e-mail to Bloomberg. “We’re confident that with the strength of the team, high-quality manufacturing at Tesla will continue.” In the same e-mail provided by Tesla, Reichow added: “My belief in Tesla’s ability to successfully deliver great cars and inspire the world to drive electric remains as strong as ever.”
The other executive to leave is Josh Ensign, vice president of manufacturing under Reichow. No words of praise for Ensign were forthcoming from Musk, leading many to speculate that he is being blamed for the numerous delays and supplier problems that bedeviled the launch of the Model X.
Both departures come at a bad time for a company that says it plans to build more than five times as many cars as it does today in just 2 short years. What’s going on here? It is true that a leader should not ask his followers to do anything he is not willing to do himself. But there is a darker corollary to that concept. Everyone who works for the leader should expect to do whatever the leader does. If the leader has a desk and a sleeping bag at the end of a production line, should underlings, no matter how high up, expect to do anything less?
It’s not hard to imagine how working for Elon Musk could lead to high stress and rapid burnout. Maybe Josh Ensign will write a book about life with Elon. That would make for some fascinating reading.