“I don’t have time for this,” Elon Musk yelled as he stormed out of a meeting about Tesla’s upcoming public offering around 2010. “I’ve got to launch the f—— rocket!”
It’s one of the many heated episodes detailed in a new book out Tuesday that documents Tesla’s 18-year rise from a puny upstart to the most valuable carmaker on the planet.
“Power Play: Tesla, Elon Musk, and the Bet of the Century,” by The Wall Street Journal’s Tim Higgins, sheds new light on the impulsive SpaceX and Tesla CEO’s short fuse and habit to unload on anyone – from hourly workers to strangers to top executives – who he saw as a threat to Tesla’s growth.
Sometimes employees drew Musk’s ire for seemingly no reason at all.
Circa 2010, as Tesla was developing its first mass-market car, the Model S sedan, engineers on the project would occasionally hitch rides from Los Angeles to Silicon Valley on Musk’s private jet. On one such trip, an engineer recalled asking Musk his opinion on the sedan’s suspension – should it be sporty, like a BMW, or more cushy, like a Lexus?
“I’m going to sell a f— load of cars, so whatever suspension you need so I can sell a f— load of cars – that’s the suspension I want,” Musk replied, according to the engineer.
Musk gained a reputation for exploding at top executives, too. Ahead of each weekly executive committee meeting, members would joke about Musk’s lunch plans. “Who would he be devouring this week?,” they wondered, according to the book.
Musk became increasingly frustrated with Peter Rawlinson, who was leading the development of the Model S. During one spat, Musk towered over the chief engineer screaming “I don’t believe you!” as he jabbed a finger toward Rawlinson’s chest. Rawlinson eventually quit and later started an electric-car company of his own, Lucid Motors.
Read more: Elon Musk said he hates being Tesla’s CEO. Here are 9 top candidates who could replace him if he stepped down.
Musk’s fuse grew shorter throughout 2016 and beyond, as the company struggled to develop and manufacture the Model 3 sedan, a more affordable car that threatened to make or break the automaker.
Longtime Tesla employees told Higgins it was around this time that Musk’s eruptions became increasingly unpredictable, indiscriminate, and public. He would now berate employees of any rank – and not behind closed doors as he used to.
One evening, according to the book, Musk called a group of engineers tasked with making the Model 3 assembly line work into a conference room. He told them their work was “complete s—” and asked that they each tell him “who the f— you are and what the f— you’re doing to fix my goddamn line.” One engineer quit on the spot.
Musk’s outbursts extended beyond his own staff. When a lobbyist for franchise dealerships approached Musk about abandoning Tesla’s direct-sales model for one that involved traditional dealerships, Musk cut the meeting short.
“I’m going to spend a billion f—— dollars to overturn the dealer franchise laws in America,” the lobbyist recalled Musk saying. Then he abruptly left the room and slammed the door behind him, yelling “Get that guy the f— out of here!”