It’s been more than a month now since Elon Musk uncovered the newest Tesla. Model 3 starts a completely new era not only for carmakers but also for the world and its consumers. The newest model is still an electric car but this time with a reasonable price which makes it affordable to a wider range of customers. The relation between price and quality resulted in more than 400 000 preorders, which is something even the CEO himself hasn’t expected. My question is, will Tesla be able to fulfill their promises and deliver the cars on time? Elon Musk says yes. But his history in Zip2, Paypal, Space X has proven that sometimes he sets goals that are simply impossible to reach in such a short period of time.
Recently, I’ve started reading a book about Musk. The author, Ashlee Vance, succeeds in describing Musk’s accomplishments hand in hand with his hard character and his behavior towards his employees. Don’t get me wrong, considering the situations Elon Musk finds himself in, there is no reason to be gentle. I think it is his super-driven nature towards his goals that sometimes escalates into targets for his companies that are simply out of this world. Let’s see what the book itself points out.
Hours into days
While still being a part of Zip2 Musk’s goals and standards were a painful part of working in the company. When Jim Ambras “cherry-picked” the best employees of Silicon Graphics Inc. and moved them to Zip2 the approach towards setting goals had to change. Ambras doesn’t hesitate and describes Musk’s ways of setting goals during these times: “If you asked Elon how long it would take to do something, there was never anything in his mind that would take more than an hour.” Ambras continues: “We came to interpret an hour as really taking a day or two and if Elon ever did say something would take a day, we allowed for a week or two weeks.” The arrival of the new engineers from SGI was welcome by the majority. This was a welcome change in Musk’s approach that had been so far to set overly optimistic deadlines and then try to get engineers to work nonstop for days on end to meet the goals.
Optimism in space travel
Musk’s overly optimistic nature hasn’t changed even after years in the space industry. One would think that such an important thing as development of rockets needs time. For Musk time is a luxury, so instead he puts a lot of pressure on fast and efficient development. The book mentions such occasions. In regards to time, Musk may well set more aggressive delivery targets for very difficult-to-make products than any executive in history. Both his employees and the public have found this to be one of the more jarring aspects of Musk’s character. One of the SpaceX employees said: “Elon has always been optimistic. That’s the nice word. He can be a downright liar about when things need to get done. He will pick the most aggressive time schedule imaginable assuming everything goes right and hen accelerate it by assuming that everyone can work harder.”
Musk has been pilloried by the press for setting and then missing product delivery dates. This also happened in SpaceX and Tesla. During the development of Tesla Roadster, I can absolutely understand why. Tesla Roadster was a step into an area which has never been uncovered by any carmaker. The fact is, that the same thing happened to Model X when the company confessed being too optimistic with the materials used in the car. Hopefully, Tesla and Musk himself are more aware of such problems with Model 3. But to be sure about Tesla fulfilling the promises is a mistake as of right now.
Reminded about the initial 2003 target date to fly Falcon 1, Musk acted shocked. ”Are you serious?” he said. ”We said that? Okay, that’s ridiculous. I think I just didn’t know what the hell I was talking about.”
The book also gives space for Musk to explain his “problems” with setting realistic goals. Even though his answer to this problem is longer, I picked the most important part of this piece: “ I certainly don’t try to set impossible goals. I think impossible goals are demotivating. I don’t ever set intentionally impossible goals. But I’ve certainly been optimistic on time frames. I’m trying to recalibrate to be a little more optimistic.”
Treat people nicely
Do not get me wrong, though. By pointing out these facts I am not trying to criticize Musk. I am discussing this problem from the point of view of the consumers. Tesla will undoubtedly lose its credibility if they do not meet the deadlines for the delivery. I am more worried about consumers not wanting to buy Tesla anymore because of company’s inability to make promises happen. As for the employees, Musk has managed to what any other CEO wants to have in his company. The book says it all: There can be no question that Musk has mastered the art of getting the most out of his employees. Interview three dozen SpaceX engineers and each one of them will have picked up on a managerial nuance that Musk has used to get people to meet his deadlines.
Some people feel strong dislike towards Musk because of his approach towards setting goals. One former official reported that Musk would call very intelligent people idiots. A high-ranking government official also points out the need to have good relations with government agencies, especially in the space industry. ”His biggest enemy will be himself and the way he treats people,” the person said.
Should we be worried?
Throughout the whole book, the tendency of Musk overhyping his goals and being too optimistic is present. Luckily, Elon himself started to realize how this can damage his image and the credibility of his companies. Both SpaceX and Tesla are on their way to become one of the most remarkable companies of all time. I hope that the problems with Model X will not be present while the Model 3 is being developed and eventually delivered. If so, it would be a huge problem for the further growth of the company as many consumers would simply lose the trust they have in the company’s management. As for myself, I have high hopes of Model 3 in general. It is a huge step towards a cleaner planet. If this step is undertaken without any setbacks, there is no doubt that the whole world will have to recognize the importance of being environmentally friendly.
The sentences in cursive are quoted from the book by Ashlee Vance named “Elon Musk: How The Billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is Changing our Future.”