Elon Musk’s employees check his Twitter feed upon awakening to judge his mood, and staffers at Tesla flood the mercurial CEO with budget requests if a SpaceX launch is successful—but shelter in place if a rocket fails, according to a lengthy new profile of the entrepreneur by Vanity Fair’s Nick Bilton.
Vanity Fair reports Tesla staff pay attention to developments at SpaceX, and vice versa, because it affects how Musk, the third-richest person on the planet, with a fortune estimated at around $94 billion as of Wednesday, treats them afterward.
“On launch days, you have everyone at Tesla tuned in to see if the launch is successful, not because we are vested in the rockets, but because it directly impacts Elon’s mood for the next few days,” a Tesla executive told Vanity Fair. “If there was a failure on a launch, there’d be hell to pay; you didn’t want to have a phone call set up with Elon afterward.”
A former staffer also told Vanity Fair that they check Musk’s Twitter account every morning to try and divine his mood.
“We all wake up and look at it every day, thinking, ‘Oh, God, now what?’ You really had no idea what you were going to see,” a former employee told Vanity Fair.
The article also states that “some people close to him believe his erratic behavior in 2020 was even more on display because he has taken to substances, including alcohol and marijuana, which he obsesses about on social media.” One pot-inspired 2018 tweet, where he said that he was thinking of taking Tesla private at “420” a share (the number is code for pot smoking) famously landed Musk in hot water with America’s financial regulators; he was charged with fraud by the SEC, but eventually settled, agreeing to step down as Tesla’s chairman and pay $40 million in penalties.
The article accuses Musk of only retweeting unquestioningly pro-Tesla media outlets such as the website Teslarati. It says he largely runs his own comms, and has not replaced many of those members of his communications and PR staff who have left since 2019, after he was cleared of defamation in a lawsuit brought against him by a British cave diver living in Thailand whom he accused of being a “pedo guy.”
When contacted for comment by Vanity Fair, Musk responded, “Vanity Fair sucks.” Bilton adds that Musk attributed the quote “very clearly to himself.”
The piece also claims that in recent years Musk has burned through staff, saying he has “lost more than two dozen executives at Tesla, including three different general counsels, his director of engineering, director of sales, directors of finance, operations, accounting, production, and recruiting.”
Musk’s temper is explored in the piece, which, on the testimony of one alleged witness, claims that during an argument between Musk and a former girlfriend “upon leaving a club one evening, Musk aggressively railed against her, asking why she had hair on her face (referring to the slight peach fuzz that everyone has, visible under the bright light of the club’s awning).”
The girlfriend allegedly replied, “Because I’m a mammal.”
Another anonymous source who is described as knowing Musk told Bilton, “There is a high level of degenerate behavior with Elon… There’s a paranoia: Are you with me or against me?”
The person added, “All of these guys, I’ve spent time with them, Musk, Zuck, all of them; they all exhibit tendencies of total and complete pathological sociopathy. They don’t at their core give a flying fuck about you or me as individuals.”
The piece also rehashes an April investor call on Tesla’s first-quarter earnings in which Musk railed against COVID-19 lockdowns: “Frankly, I would call it forcible imprisoning of people in their homes against all of their constitutional rights,” he said on the call. “It’s breaking people’s freedoms in ways that are horrible and wrong and not why they came to America or built this country. What the fuck? Excuse me. Outrage. Outrage.”
Musk has come to be seen as a coronavirus-minimizer, and has claimed that the actual mortality rate from the highly contagious virus differed from projections “by at least a factor of 10, maybe a factor of 50.”
But the piece says that one person allegedly told Vanity Fair that Musk “told them he was canceling trips to Asia due to COVID concerns.”