Elon Musk fanboys get upset when anyone suggests that it's time for him to go, even as his behavior continues to worry Wall Street and even left TV investment personal Jim Cramer to suggest yesterday that Musk should go on medical leave.
Sorry, but it's time for a more complete departure. Way past, even. And it isn't because Musk smoked pot during an interview on the Joe Rogan podcast, which resulted in an immediate 7 percent drop in share price.
At that rate, who needs to hate the short sellers as Musk does? By the way, for those who are certain that Musk is the stock price, as of this afternoon, shares are down 30 percent from the 52-week high and down 28 percent since August 7 when prices had surged after the CEO claimed he'd take the company private -- at $420 a share. How apt.
Oops, his bad. It's staying public.
If you look at all the ways Musk has screwed up and imagined them perpetrated by a different chief executive, you might well wonder why the person still had a job. Here are the basic five reasons Tesla would be better off without Musk as either CEO or chairman. (And for those who are sure that anyone doubting Musk must have a financial interest, I own no shares of Tesla and have no financial position at all, including shorting the stock.)
Actions and comments badly affect Tesla's financial state and future
Some major duties of a CEO at a publicly-held company are to comply with regulatory requirements, avoid saying things that spook investors, and generally learn when to keep mum. The fundamental concept is that you want the market to work and don't want to give investors an unnecessary reason to walk away.
Forget the shares that executives and directors hold. When the price goes down, so does the value investors get. Equity-backed financing typically requires certain levels of stock performance, with terms changing if the share price is too low. Falling shares also worry suppliers and business partners that a company may be unstable and a poor risk.
In the past, there has been a correlation between Musk's Twitter statements and positive stock reactions. But that hasn't stopped the price from sliding.
If Musk would stop making rash statements, whether publicly accusing someone via Twitter of being a pedophile, discussing his plan to take the company private when he didn't really have the funding, bemoaning in an interview the pain he experiences as a result of his obligations, or lighting up a joint in a podcast, the stock would do better.
And maybe the company wouldn't face two simultaneous SEC investigations.
Financial engineering puts his interests above the company's
A publicly-held company ultimately belongs to the shareholders. Holding 20 percent of the outstanding stock doesn't given Musk the right to treat corporate finances as a tool for his self-interest.
Some previous financial engineering, like the deal for Tesla to acquire SolarCity, which provides solar energy services, was highly suspect. So was using credit lines backed by his Telsa shares to invest cash in both the companies through additional stock purchases. Or having his other company, SpaceX, buy $255 million in bonds from SolarCity, where two of his cousins were also major shareholders.
Musk has 36.4 percent of his holdings pledged as collateral for personal bank loans, possibly for investment cash. If the price drops too much (impossible to know from the outside what the level would be), he'll face a margin call and have to sell shares, which could have a significant effect on overall prices. At least, that's what Tesla's most recent 10-K reports as a risk factor.
He is way too distracted
All this would be a lot for a full-time CEO. But Musk isn't that. According to the annual report:
Although Mr. Musk spends significant time with Tesla and is highly active in our management, he does not devote his full time and attention to Tesla. Mr. Musk also currently serves as Chief Executive Officer and Chief Technical Officer of Space Exploration Technologies, a developer and manufacturer of space launch vehicles, and is involved in other emerging technology ventures.
His "hobby" company to drill a transportation tunnel network under Los Angeles "started out as a joke."
The company needs full-time attention. He can't give it, and putting in 120-hour weeks overall, as he told the New York Times, means that he's grinding himself into the ground. This isn't smart management. It's ego, with Tesla paying the price.
Operations under his management have been a disaster
Part of the price is the terrible operational and financial performance. I might be wrong, but I don't think Tesla has ever in its history met a single initial promise of a new vehicle delivery date. The cars run years late.
This has a direct and inexorable impact on the bottom line. It means lost revenue as customers get fed up, with an estimated 24 percent of Model 3 orders canceled because people got tired of waiting.
When your company owes $9 billion and has under $3 billion in cash at the end of the year's second quarter, keeping customers happy and sending money in would seem to be the order of the day.
As much as some people want to think that inherent "genius" overcomes anything, there are times you want deep and competent experience. When you have to run automotive production and need to know how to make it work would be a great example.
The Chief Accounting Officer Dave Morton just left -- after one month in the position. Here is his official statement:
Since I joined Tesla on August 6th, the level of public attention placed on the company, as well as the pace within the company, have exceeded my expectations. As a result, this caused me to reconsider my future. I want to be clear that I believe strongly in Tesla, its mission, and its future prospects, and I have no disagreements with Tesla
's leadership or its financial reporting.
The top HR person also just quit, both of these people part of the 41 executives who have left this year alone. Maybe it was because the culture supports 70-hour work weeks and a cult-like atmosphere, according to a Business Insider report.
This is no way to run a company.
Musk could still be part -- if his ego would let him
It's not that there is no room for Musk. He could do as many other entrepreneurs have in the past: recognize his limits, bring in seasoned managers, and find a way to contribute without having to be top dog.
But that would require checking his ego, and it's not clear whether he's capable of doing so. If not, for the good of the company, the employees, the investors, and any plans to improve the world he may have had, it's time for Elon Musk to walk away.