Tesla CFO Zachary Kirkhorn's Quiet Executive Leadership

Posted on May 15, 2023 by Peter McGuthrie

While many Tesla fans are familiar with CEO Elon Musk’s unique management style, there is another executive who has helped implement his vision and keep the company moving forward. Since 2019, scaling electric vehicle production from a financial standpoint has been the work of Tesla’s Chief Financial Officer Zachary Kirkhorn. 

Above: A Tesla service center (Image: Casey Murphy / EVANNEX).

Kirkhorn has been Tesla’s CFO since 2019, and he has helped the company go from a valuation of roughly $50 billion when he started in the position to over $500 billion now, as The Wall Street Journal reports. Others who have worked with Kirkhorn have pointed to his willingness to remain behind the scenes while quietly implementing Musk’s vision – both things that dozens of other executives have struggled to do.

“He doesn’t take the limelight from Elon,” said Kurt Kelty, Tesla’s former senior director of battery tech.

WSJ likens Kirkhorn and Musk’s relationship to that of Apple CEO Tim Cook and Steve Jobs. Both of the Tesla executives studied at University of Pennsylvania with related and overlapping departments in the economics department.

Kirkhorn manages many of Tesla’s everyday tasks, and some have even discussed him being a potential successor to Musk. He has also played a crucial role in balancing expenses and keeping production costs down. Tesla’s increased supply chain efficiency in the past few years is also one of Kirkhorn’s many handiworks.

In March, Kirkhorn was the master of ceremonies at Tesla’s Investor Day. During his speech at Gigafactory Texas, he talked about the cut-throat nature of the auto industry.

“In this industry, in this business, you survive or you die based upon the ability to manage your costs,” Kirkhorn said.

Still, Kirkhorn has followed Musk’s hyper-pursuit of ever-more-affordable EVs, as Tesla currently prepares to build its next generation of vehicles at an upcoming plant in Mexico. The mass-market vehicle is expected to be markedly cheaper, supporting Tesla’s overall goal of helping the transportation sector shift to the zero-tailpipe-emission technology.

“As we improve affordability, the number of customers who have access to our products dramatically increases,” Kirkhorn added.

Many say that part of Kirkhorn’s expertise comes from his ability to unravel complex problems, and his skills in diplomatically critiquing and refining things he has trouble with. RJ Johnson, former head of Tesla’s energy department, points to this very skill – and to how often Kirkhorn was right about things in general.

“The big risk or the issue you didn’t want to talk about? He’s going to find it and quickly dig into that thing,” Johnson said. “He would almost scare people more because he was so often correct.”

In any case, Kirkhorn remains an important part of Tesla’s executive team, no matter how quietly he operates in comparison with Musk. And he knows that as EV affordability improves, Tesla will be able to invest in even more EV volume, along with other financial endeavors.

“Improving affordability allows us to comfortably make investments that grow volume,” Mr. Kirkhorn said at Investor’s Day. “We’re going to achieve unprecedented scale in the manufacturing space.”


Source: The Wall Street Journal

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Posted in Elon Musk, Tesla, TSLA, Zachary Kirkhorn



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