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Special Forces: What it's like to work for Tesla CEO Elon Musk
Posted on November 20, 2016 by Matt Pressman
To understand what it's like to work for Elon Musk, perhaps no one knows better than SpaceX's former head of talent acquisition, Dolly Singh, who would recruit candidates for Musk. Singh says that, "Diamonds are created under pressure, and Elon Musk is a master diamond maker... he knows you will exceed your own expectations if he keeps the heat on. It's purposeful, and it's brilliant."
Above: Tesla CEO Elon Musk is known to be detail-oriented (Flickr: Steve Jurvetson)
Singh explains that working at: "SpaceX is like Special Forces, we take on missions that others have deemed impossible." And, the same is true at Tesla Motors [NASDAQ: TSLA]. Autoblog interviewed Musk and he commented that: "the general understanding is that if you're at Tesla, you're choosing to be at the equivalent of Special Forces. There's the regular Army, and that's fine, but if you are working at Tesla, you're choosing to step up your game. And that has pluses and minuses. It's cool to be Special Forces, but... it's not for everyone."
Above: Elon Musk at SpaceX (Source: ABC News)
Hackaday* also gleaned unique insights into Musk's management style from Ashlee Vance’s biography Elon Musk – Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. Musk has a reputation for setting hyper-aggressive timelines. When it comes to crunch time, according to one employee, “He will pick the most aggressive time schedule imaginable assuming everything goes right, and then accelerate it by assuming that everyone can work harder.”
Above: Elon Musk and the Tesla Model X (Image: Fresh Dialogues)
He's equally aggressive on finding cost-savings. Looking back on Tesla's early days, it's reported that, "when the Tesla Roadster was still under development and the cost was looking like it would be in the $200,000 range with the manufacturing costs being ambiguous and in need of lowering, Musk gave a speech saying, 'we would work on Saturdays and Sundays and sleep under desks until it got done.'"
Above: Elon Musk with a Tesla Roadster in the documentary film (Source: Revenge of the Electric Car)
Furthermore, "he was methodical in getting that cost down, too. In December the motor cost $6,500. Musk wanted it to cost $3,800 by April and costs were plotted and analyzed monthly. There was hell to pay if you fell behind... [and] during the 2007 and 2008 battle to get the Tesla Roadster costs down one employee stated about presentations, 'If you put a number on the projector that does not make sense, he will spot it. He doesn’t miss details.'"
Above: Tesla's first electric car, the Roadster (Image: Eichler Vision)
It's also reported that, "Musk gets some of his aura from his ability to absorb information with near-flawless recall, often pumped from his employees. He’d grill them about some component or material. One employee reported, 'I thought at first that he was challenging me to see if I knew my stuff. Then I realized he was trying to learn things. He would quiz you until he learned ninety percent of what you know.'"
Above: Elon Musk inside the Tesla Model S (Image: Motor Trend)
Others interviewed remarked that, "Musk doesn’t like it when an employee tells him something can’t be done for the cost he thinks it can be done for or on his schedule. If you’re in the way, he’ll take over the project and accomplish exactly what he said was possible, while also running his two companies." His old business partner, Peter Thiel, concluded after working closely together with Musk building Paypal that he's, "very smart, very charismatic, and incredibly driven—a very rare combination, since most people who have one of these traits learn to coast on the other two.” He also warned that he: "would never bet against Elon in anything."