In Defense of Elon Musk

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk celebrates after the launch of his spacecraft at Cape Canaveral, Fla., on May 30, 2020. (Steve Nesius / Reuters)
The world needs more Musk, not less.

You know that friend you have who just says whatever comes to mind, does things on a whim, and lives more care-freely than you would ever dare to? The one you laugh at for being silly and not thinking before acting, but whose company you so dearly miss as you’re cooped up with your family for the 90th consecutive day? Elon Musk is a lot like that friend — he’s just much more intelligent and successful.

The brilliant consultants at Pirc UK, an investment-advisory firm, have been paid a hefty sum of money to come up with innovative ideas for Tesla, the rapidly growing electric-vehicle and clean-energy company founded and led by Musk. Pirc UK’s idea for Tesla’s shareholders? Make Musk step down as CEO. Musk is, you see, an “unnecessary reputational risk to the company,” and too highly paid at that. Evidently, the hacks at Pirc UK procrastinated for a few weeks, were unable to come up with anything interesting, and finally said to themselves: “You know guys, we could always throw Elon under the bus!”

Do these guys have their heads buried in the sand? If Musk poses a “reputational risk” to Tesla, it’s a risk that the company must take. Yes, he says and tweets things other CEOs wouldn’t dream of. He called one of the divers in the famous 2018 Thai cave rescue a “pedo guy.” He’s had to pay millions in fines and step down as chairman of Tesla for supposedly violating SEC rules with loose-lipped tweets. This May, he caused his own company’s stock to fall after speculating that it was “too high.” But to me, such stuff is pure entertainment, especially since Musk is a private CEO with no duty to decorum. And I’ve yet to meet anyone who feels otherwise: The typical reaction to his antics is a huge smile, a shake of the head, and an, “Oh, Elon Musk.”

That’s because Musk has something that his rivals don’t: personality. Other CEOs say the most carefully calculated thing in every situation. They don’t get in big trouble, but they also don’t stand out. Can you name the CEO of Honda or Fiat Chrysler? I sure can’t. But everyone knows Musk, and that’s worth a lot to his company. He has a loyal following that believes in his vision, and the results speak for themselves: Tesla just sold 90,000 vehicles in the second quarter of 2020, greatly exceeding projections. Its stock has more than tripled in value since March, such that it is now the most valuable car company in the world. It may even end up being the only car company that reports sales growth during the coronavirus pandemic.

It would be a mistake to overlook the huge positive role that Musk’s unique, fascinating personal brand has played in his company’s success. I, for one, find many of the weird things he says on Twitter to be refreshing and quintessentially American in their entrepreneurial eccentricity. I hope he keeps saying them. And I hope Tesla’s shareholders kick those uninspired naysayers at Pirc UK to the curb.


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