It takes an ego of a certain size to be at the helm of an upstart automaker with aspirations of shaking up the status quo.
There’s little doubt Tesla chief executive Elon Musk thinks of himself with such a degree of self-importance, something that was reinforced this week when he remained as optimistic as ever about his company’s success despite larger-than-expected financial losses for the quarter.
Regardless, there’s no disputing the fact that Musk and the car company he co-founded have been on the forefront of electrification, helping steer the industry as a whole towards alternative fuels. (Of course, there’s an argument to be made that the industry had little choice in that regard, with regulations the world over forcing its collective hand, but we’ll save that for another time.) Disruptive is a word that best describes Musk, with a bit of fearlessness thrown in for good measure.
Both of those character traits are almost undoubtedly necessary for a person in Musk’s position, the spotlight shining brightly in his direction as he goes toe-to-toe with industry titans like Toyota and General Motors. Appearing any less brash could affect his reputation and scare off investors. Except the positives that can be gleaned from Musk’s bullish behavior — the confidence in his products, or the perceived honesty with which he speaks — are beginning to cast a rather dark cloud over Tesla.
Production barely broke 25,000 units in the first quarter, or about 1,900 cars and crossovers a week, yet Musk and Tesla somehow expect to ramp up weekly manufacturing numbers of the hotly anticipated Model 3 alone to 5,000 units at some time this year and 10,000 next year. Making matters worse is the nearly $400-million in lost profits Tesla reported in the first quarter of this year, small peanuts compared to its valuation of $48.2-billion but a hefty loss for a company struggling to raise cash these days.
Add in Tesla’s groveling to Consumer Reports downgrading the Model S sedan by pushing out its autonomous braking system, or the ill-timed integration of SolarCity into the Tesla portfolio, and it seems like Musk’s ego is beginning to stand in the way of progress for his company. Like a kid opening another Lego kit before finishing the last one, Musk is struggling to stay on task. While it hasn’t slowed investors just yet — Tesla’s stock price continues to rise to record levels — the risk is real that the company and its fearless leader are taking on too much at once.
In order to avoid letting his ego get the best of him and his company, Musk would be wise to surround himself with auto industry vets who know a thing or two about production. The first step was bringing chief financial officer Deepak Ahuja back into the fold after his retirement last year. Ahuja, who spent many years with Ford, brings a wealth of knowledge to Tesla that its crew from Silicon Valley simply can’t match. But Ahuja’s just one man, and Tesla needs more folks like him on its leadership team if the company — not to mention Musk — wants to maintain its upward trajectory.