Last week Elon Musk previewed the new Tesla SUV. A pretty tantalizing prospect for those eco-parents who want to ferry their kids around all while attempting to reduce their carbon footprint.

The Tesla Y is due out in late 2020 and I don't believe Musk will be around to see it. Setting aside his ongoing battle with the SEC which can't best please shareholders, there are three key blindspots is Musk's leadership which I believe could ultimately lead to his demise.

He over-promises and under-delivers.

When Tesla revealed it's more affordable Model 3, Musk estimated they would sell and produce 500,000 in the first year and would be manufacturing 10,000 cars per week by the end of 2018.

To date, Tesla has produced approximately 225,000 units and is only just producing 5,000 cars a week, vastly short of their own targets.

Although trending upward, it remains to be seen if Tesla has the ability to sell and manufacture at scale a model that could deliver profitability in a mass-market. There's only so long shareholders will deal with that uncertainty.

He's over-reliant on heroic leadership.

There was a moment of joy for Tesla workers at the start of summer in 2018. Having missed all weekly production targets since the launch of the Model 3, the Tesla team miraculously hit their production target of 5,000 cars per week. Musk lauded it as a turning point for the company. 

The problem was it was only achieved through brute force. An additional line was built specifically for the model, employees from other departments were brought in to bolster resources and breaks were staggered to keep the line running. Musk was also known to be sleeping under his desk at the time. This isn't a scalable business, it's an over-reliance on acts of heroism.

This vicious cycle leads to burnout for many employees and a realization that the company isn't set to scale. My guess is that the recent exodus of top executives including the Head of Global Finance, Chief Accounting Officer and their CFO are all related to that dynamic.

He's embedded in the company.

By all accounts, Tesla is Elon Musk and Elon Musk is Tesla. The synonymity between founder and company is as strong as Jobs/Apple (the early years), Dell/Dell and Gates/Microsoft.

That's all well and good when you hit your numbers consistently. But Tesla isn't there yet. As such, it comes down to the Founder to pull a rabbit out of a hat to ward off frustrated investors. Musk has perfected the ability to distract with the new and shiny. If it's not the Model Y, it's the long-range 18-wheeler he showcased last year or it's blow-torches for his other endeavor The Boring Company. 

All very exciting!

At some point, however, if the company can't deliver on the basics, shareholders will start to look for solutions outside the founder. When that happens, watch for Musk to be unceremoniously fired ala Jobs or asked to step into some ceremonial role with little influence quickly followed by the appointment of an industry veteran with a track record of delivery.
 

Published on: Mar 19, 2019
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