Musk a “tyrant” who fires because of “ego”

  • Tesla employees complained about Elon Musk’s leadership and culture in a 2018 poll obtained by Insider.
  • The survey flagged compensation, “Elon and the management team” and “focus on the company’s employees” as high-risk areas.
  • The poll was referenced on the first day of testimony in a shareholder lawsuit against Musk.

A 2018 internal Tesla worker survey conducted during a trial period for the company reveals that employees expressed concerns about Elon Musk’s leadership.

The poll, which Insider obtained and is publishing in its entirety for the first time, was cited last week in a lawsuit against the billionaire over his more than $50 billion compensation package.

Former Tesla chief people officer Gabrielle Toledano sent the survey to Tesla board member Ira Ehrenpreis, who chairs the company’s compensation committee, on March 2, 2018. In her email, Toledano identified two key issues employees said they needed to address: and concerns about Tesla’s leadership, especially around Elon Musk.

“Review of employee survey results,” Toledano said in the email. “It’s not good in comp, especially from VPs, and it’s not good in leadership, especially on Elon.”

In the survey of Tesla professionals, managers, executives and directors, a total of 65% of respondents said they trust Musk and the executive team to “balance the interests of employees against those of the company.” 67% said they believed Musk and his executives “care about the company’s employees.”

A total of 58% of employees at the professional level and above said they felt “fairly rewarded” for their work.

A screenshot from the 2018 Tesla employee survey

A screenshot of the 2018 Tesla employee survey, showing preference responses from Tesla professionals, managers, executives and directors.

Insiders



A selection of responses about Elon Musk and his executive team showed employees complaining about his company culture, leadership, availability and communication, work schedules, and layoffs.

“Tesla is hemorrhaging highly talented and fiercely motivated people who truly believe in the company’s vision and continue to hope for its success,” wrote one worker in the survey. “Elon is a top-notch technical leader, yet he is widely seen as an unapproachable tyrant who devalues ​​staff contributions and can fire them on a whim…we treat people, the fundamental unit of a company, like any other asset expendable.”

The worker added that Tesla “fails to distinguish between technical leadership and people leadership,” calling it an “ugly part of Tesla’s culture.”

A screenshot of a page from the 2018 Tesla employee survey, showing comments on

A screenshot of a 2018 Tesla employee survey page, showing comments about “Elon and Exec Staff”

Insiders



Another worker wrote that he felt “anytime I or anyone around me is going to be fired,” saying they had no plans to stay in an “extremely toxic environment” much longer.

One worker said Musk’s “ego” needed to change, while another said people have been “forced by Elon into unrealistic commitments.”

In 2018, at the time the survey was conducted, Tesla was struggling to scale back production of its Model 3. Years later, Musk said Tesla was weeks away from bankruptcy during the ordeal.

“Watching the crushing hit of the ramp and the demoralization of the Model 3 battery team was extremely disheartening,” wrote one worker in the survey. “Even more the blame placed by Elon and the Exec team on lower level engineers without owning any accountability for poor design review, non-reality scheduling and poor resource allocation has led me to lose all trust Elon as the leader of this company.”

Despite numerous negative comments about Musk, 98% of employees surveyed said they were “proud of the impact Tesla is having on the world.”

The poll was cited last week during the first day of testimony in a Tesla shareholder’s lawsuit against Musk over his compensation package, alleging that Musk and the automaker breached their fiduciary duties by awarding compensation that was “beyond limits of reasonable judgement”.

The email was cited as potential evidence that the Tesla CEO was a “threatening” figure to Tesla personnel, including the executives tasked with approving his salary package.

Musk and a Tesla spokesperson did not respond to an Insider’s request for comment ahead of publication.

Last week, Ehrenpreis agreed in court that the quotes were “consistent with a long history of how some people felt.”

The billionaire has long been known for his intensity. At Tesla and SpaceX, he has pushed for ambitious goals and is also known to work up to 120 hours a week and sleep on the factory floor. Former executives have said the billionaire can be a difficult person to work for, prone to fits of anger and even cases of employees firing anger-charges he has flatly denied, calling them “fake” on Twitter and saying that it gives “clear and frank” feedback to employees.

Most recently, Musk fired several Twitter employees last week after engineers criticized Musk’s technical savvy.

Read the full survey:

Screenshot of the 2018 Tesla employee survey report

Insiders



Screenshot of the 2018 Tesla employee survey report

Insiders



Screenshot of the 2018 Tesla employee survey report

Insiders



Screenshot of the 2018 Tesla employee survey report

Insiders



Screenshot of the 2018 Tesla employee survey report

Insiders



Screenshot of the 2018 Tesla employee survey report

Insiders



Screenshot of the 2018 Tesla employee survey report

Insiders



Do you work at Tesla or for Elon Musk? Contact the reporter from a non-work email at gkay@insider.com

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