If what Elon Musk wants is to make headlines every day, good or bad, he’s winning the week. If that’s not his main goal in life, it’s not going so well. You might say he’s succeeding in an increasingly competitive world of billionaire awfulness.
On Wednesday, Musk was in the headlines for two separate reasons: He sent the remnants of Twitter’s workforce a memo laying out the abusive conditions they would have to agree to in order to keep their jobs at the company, and he testified in the Delaware Court of Chancery in a lawsuit over his compensation at Tesla. The two incidents are linked, though, by Musk’s high regard for himself, his toxic attitudes about work, and his low regard for both the truth and the people who work for him.
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“Going forward, to build a breakthrough Twitter 2.0 and succeed in an increasingly competitive world, we will need to be extremely hardcore,” Musk wrote to workers. “This will mean working long hours at high intensity. Only exceptional performance will constitute a passing grade.”
Musk gave employees a choice: Agree to “working long hours at high intensity,” or take three months of severance and go. They have until 5 PM ET on Thursday to make that decision, so the size of the exodus from Twitter isn’t yet known. But what is on display once again is Musk’s failure to comprehend how human beings function. It is not possible for any person to put out their best work on a sustained basis while working “long hours at high intensity.” You can do it for a couple of weeks in a sprint to finish a major project or avert a disaster, but if it becomes a long-term lifestyle, people hit a wall. The quality of their work suffers. That’s not a decision people make, it’s a reality that Musk seems to think he can change through sheer bullying.
Musk’s testimony in the shareholder lawsuit over his Tesla compensation strongly suggested that this is the environment already in place for Tesla engineers, when he acknowledged having about 50 Tesla engineers working after hours on Twitter “on a voluntary basis.” He “didn’t regard this as using Tesla assets,” he said, because it was just a few days of after-hours volunteer work by about 50 engineers.
Musk’s testimony also demonstrated that he believes he’s been putting in this kind of effort himself for years now. One of the key points in the lawsuit is that Tesla awarded Musk, as its CEO, compensation far outstripping what even other top tech CEOs make even though he was also supposedly serving as the CEO and chief engineer of SpaceX. In effect, how could he be worth more to Tesla than other tech CEOs are to their companies when Tesla wasn’t even getting all of his time?
In that testimony, The Chancery Daily reports, the plaintiff’s attorney cross-examining Musk asked him “Would you have accepted a plan that effectively had a punch clock where you had to punch in and out at certain times at Tesla In order to get the compensation?"
Musk responded, "I mean, I just pretty much work all the time w/rare exceptions. So, I don't know what that would've achieved."
Beyond the parenting implications of a man with nine surviving children saying, “I pretty much work all the time,” there are two things here. One is that Musk thinks that working all the time reasonably entitles him to two executive compensation packages, even as he’s demanding that Twitter employees work all the time for one salary. Because Elon’s just that special. The other thing about this is that … does anyone think, looking at his performance recently, that Musk continues to do his best work?
By many accounts, Musk has done excellent work in the past (if you can set aside the pattern of personal workplace abuses and presiding over an environment of extreme racism at Tesla), but right now, the world is watching him careen from one terrible decision at Twitter to another, with negative effects for Tesla stock.
His Delaware Chancery testimony repeatedly showed Musk screwing up in real-time. He basically dared the Federal Trade Commission to come after himself and Twitter for violating that company’s consent decree when he said, with regard to Tesla’s SEC consent decree, “The consent decree was made under duress. An agreement made under duress, is not valid, as a foundation of law.” The Tesla SEC consent decree was established after the SEC charged Musk personally with securities fraud. So the duress here was securities fraud charges, and Musk does not know a single thing about consent decrees despite being under a couple of them. There’s always an element of duress because you’re agreeing to them to settle some kind of legal trouble. And the government is allowed to put people under duress when they break the law.
Musk’s testimony on cross-examination, according to The Chancery Daily’s excellent Twitter thread, repeatedly had him walking into traps set by the plaintiff’s attorney and showing his contempt for basic truthfulness as he defended getting a massive CEO compensation package while acting as CEO at one and now two other companies.
He also displayed the kind of world-historical ego that has led him to this point, saying, “'I’m trying to take the set of actions that maximize the probability for the good of civilization. If I overallocate time to Tesla at the expense of humanity becoming a multiplanetary species, then I'm not sure that would serve the greater good.” That’s an admission that he’s not a full-time CEO for Tesla, but also just wow. WOW.
Musk is destroying Twitter, and he isn’t doing Tesla’s stock price any good, either, yet he continues to believe that he is uniquely doing the work of saving humanity. Meanwhile, the people who work for him mostly need to be saved from his ego.
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