- Wired magazine reported in a deep dive on Tesla published Thursday that Elon Musk had a habit of going on firing sprees.
- The reporter, Charles Duhigg, said he spoke to numerous Tesla engineers, executives, and other employees over six months about what it was like to work at Tesla during its Model 3 “production hell.”
- One source told Wired that they coined a term for Musk’s outbursts: “Elon’s rage firings.”
- Sources described an instance where Musk fired a young engineer on the spot for reasons that were unclear, shouting at him to “get the f— out.”
- In a statement Tesla disputed Wired’s version of events, and said its article was “overly-dramatic and sensationalised.”
Elon Musk was so prone to firing sprees that Tesla employees were told not to walk past his desk in case it jeopardized their career, according to an explosive, in-depth Wired article published Thursday.
The reporter, Charles Duhigg, said that over six months he spoke to numerous Tesla engineers, executives, and other employees about what it’s like to work at Tesla.
One Gigafactory manager told Wired that they had stopped employees from walking too close to Musk’s desk for fear that a word out of place might end up in their getting fired. The manager called the outbursts “Elon’s rage firings.”
A former high-ranking executive told Wired that Musk would occasionally say “I’ve got to fire someone today,” and that when the exec said Musk didn’t, Musk would reply, “No, no, I just do. I’ve got to fire somebody.” Wired said a Tesla representative disputed this but said Musk made “difficult but necessary decisions.”
Another former executive told the publication that “everyone came to work each day wondering if that was going to be their last day.”
In one instance, Wired reported, Musk fired a young engineer whose name he didn’t know for reasons he didn’t explain.
A source who heard the conversation told Wired that one evening at 10, Musk called the engineer over and pointed at a machine, saying, “Hey, buddy, this doesn’t work,” and asking whether the engineer was responsible.
Confused, the engineer asked Musk to explain what he meant.
“Did you f—ing do this?” Musk asked, according to Wired. When the engineer said he wasn’t sure what Musk was referring to, Musk called him “a f—ing idiot” and told him to “get the f— out and don’t come back!”
‘The idiot bit’
Many sources who spoke to Wired also described frequent outbursts where Musk would shout at people and call them “idiots.” A senior engineering executive said employees even had a name for Musk’s behaviour: “the idiot bit.”
“If you said something wrong or made one mistake or rubbed him the wrong way, he would decide you’re an idiot and there was nothing that could change his mind,” the executive said.
In a statement to Wired, a Tesla representative said: “Elon cares very deeply about the people who work at his companies. That is why, although it is painful, he sometimes takes the difficult step of firing people who are underperforming and putting the success of the entire company” at risk.
Tesla sent Business Insider the following statement:
“It’s no secret that the Model 3 production ramp was excruciatingly difficult for everyone at Tesla. We’ve been open about that since the day we delivered the first vehicles and said we were entering ‘production hell.’ But Wired’s overly-dramatic and sensationalised tale would have you believe that we somehow pulled off this incredible feat – and succeeded in achieving profitability and building a car that no one thought was possible – by suppressing internal debates and randomly firing people for no reason or simply because they disagreed with Elon. That fundamentally does not make sense, as it would literally be impossible for Tesla to still be here if that’s how we operated. After all, if you were to believe the Wired story and employees really weren’t able to disagree with Elon, rather than ramping Model 3, Tesla would currently be focused on building cyborg dragons, implementing a company-wide policy banning blue shoes, and playing Monty Python videos on a 24-hour loop in all of the break rooms…
“In order for Tesla to succeed, we must have extremely high standards and work harder and smarter than everyone else. And although it is painful, Elon and the company’s leadership will sometimes take the difficult step of letting people go who are not performing and who are responsible for critical areas of the business, and who as a result, are putting the success of the entire company, including 45,000 people and their families, at risk. This undoubtedly happened at Gigafactory last year when the module line was the number one bottleneck and challenge facing Tesla. But Elon cares very deeply about the people with whom he works – Tesla owes its existence to its employees – and he basically lived in the factory for months working hand-in-hand with them to get production on track (though he doesn’t even have a desk in Gigafactory, contrary to Wired’s reporting). While this piece would make for a compelling dramatic screenplay, it’s certainly not news, since that would require it more accurately reflect reality.”