Elon Musk’s latest revelation? His Tesla management

Usually the cars are the stars.

But this week, Elon Musk went out of his way to highlight Tesla Inc.’s

TSLA 3.61%

management team — even as Wall Street was eager for an update on work to develop a new, low-cost electric car.

Mr. Musk took the stage Wednesday and was flanked by 16 executives, in an apparent attempt to reassure shareholders worried that the automaker’s chief executive has been distracted in recent months by the purchase of Twitter Inc.

The unspoken message: Tesla is more than just Elon Musk.

His team spent nearly four hours Wednesday during Tesla’s investor day detailing how they work behind the scenes on cost cutting, vertical integration, software development and battery manufacturing. This work, they said, lays the foundation for the company’s next generation of vehicles and plans to increase deliveries to 20 million annually from 1.3 million last year.

“We obviously have significant bench strength here,” Musk said, noting the crowded display of executives around him. “Maybe we have too many people on stage.”

The presentation came as investors have been debating how Tesla, the world’s most valuable carmaker, should be rated: more as a lower-value traditional car company or as a high-growth technology company with a higher market value?


What do you think the future holds for Tesla under Elon Musk’s leadership? Join the conversation below.

Its value has fluctuated dramatically in recent months amid concerns on Wall Street about Mr. Musk’s Twitter drama and the company’s ability to continue the incredible growth it has seen since the introduction of the Model 3 compact car in 2017.

“I’m sure he … was trying to show that Tesla is more than just Elon Musk given the market’s view that the Twitter transaction was a major distraction and potentially damaging to Tesla,” said Brenda Vingiello, chief investment officer for Sand Hill Global Advisors LLC , which owns Tesla stock.

While on stage, Mr. Musk, dressed in a black T-shirt, did not take a single question about Twitter, where he has been cutting costs and trying to restructure the historically loss-making social media company that he bought in a $44 billion deal in the end of October.

Some investors have lobbied Mr. Musk to step back from Twitter, where he is also chief executive, while others have asked about succession planning at Tesla. He has responded to critics by saying that he attends all the car company’s important meetings and that Tesla performed at a high level. Tesla reported a record profit for last year. He and Tesla did not respond to requests for comment.

Tom Zhu, Tesla’s longtime China chief, at Investor Day on Wednesday.



Mr. Musk’s showmanship has been at the heart of so many Tesla events over the years. He is considered by many investors to be extremely important because he is seen as having the vision and drive, and there has also been a fair amount of turnover in the management ranks.

Some deputies have played sidekick roles, such as when his chief design officer Franz von Holzhausen threw a metal bullet through a glass window on the Cybertruck that Mr. Musk tried to promote as unbreakable in 2019. On Wednesday, Mr. von Holzhausen spoke about evolving Tesla’s design process, with focus on ways to improve efficiency. He avoided throwing anything.

Investors, analysts and the media have long watched carefully who Mr. Musk presented to the public. Then-vice president of technology Drew Baglino’s embarrassing appearance on stage at Tesla’s 2019 annual shareholder meeting with co-founder JB Straubel sparked talk among close watchers that Mr. Straubel might be leaving the company.

Mr. Straubel quit a few weeks later, and Mr. Baglino assumed his role as head of all powertrain efforts. He is one of the few named officers in regulatory filings.

On Wednesday, Mr. Baglino took a starring role, including sharing the stage with Mr. Musk as he discussed the company’s broader goal of replacing fossil fuels with electricity.

Many of the executives on stage Wednesday would have been unknown to ordinary investors, their voices unidentified on quarterly earnings calls and their titles not listed on the company’s website, having spent years at Tesla far from the limelight.

Twitter has been in turmoil since Elon Musk took over. To get a sense of what goes on behind the scenes, The Wall Street Journal spoke with former Tesla and SpaceX employees to better understand how Musk runs companies. Illustration: Ryan Trefes

“We’ve never brought our executive team out and asked them to talk about the things they’re working on,” CFO Zach Kirkhorn said.

Tesla’s longtime China chief, Tom Zhu, dressed in a black “Gigafactory” T-shirt, debuted in his new role as the executive who oversees part of the company’s operations: global manufacturing, sales and services. Mr Musk even pointed to him during an analyst question about tense US-China relations, saying: “Hey Tom … don’t sweat it too hard.”

Among the fresh faces: Brandon Ehrhart, Tesla’s new general counsel, who appeared and briefly told investors: “We have an active and engaged board and management team. We have met you and today is the culmination of that, he said. “We heard you.”

During previous trying times, Mr. Musk has pushed his employees to the forefront—albeit to a lesser degree. For example, amid an executive exodus and concerns that Mr. Musk was overtaxed in 2018, the company released a memo detailing recently promoted or hired executives.

In 2019, when the company faced criticism over the development of driverless cars, Tesla organized a so-called Autonomy Day for analysts that included appearances from several key subject-specific leaders: the then director of artificial intelligence, Tesla’s chip architect, and a technical vice president.

During the company’s 2020 Battery Day, Messrs. Musk and Baglino laid out Tesla’s battery strategy and teased the $25,000 car that investors hoped to learn more about on Wednesday. They ended the day by bringing on stage eight members of their team. But those people spoke little.

Recently, Mr. Musk has tried to promote his team, mostly at recruiting-focused events like Tesla’s AI Days in 2021 and 2022.

After several hours on Wednesday, Mr. Musk opened the floor to questions from investors and analysts gathered at the automaker’s headquarters in Austin, Texas, and promised to answer almost all inquiries dealing with “long-term value creation.”

But Mr. Musk ultimately declined to discuss one thing that is on investors’ minds: when the cheaper vehicle, referenced throughout the day, might actually be revealed. In the end, it seems many people wanted to learn more about Tesla’s next cars. The share fell almost 6 percent the next day.

Write to Tim Higgins at tim.higgins@wsj.com

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