Musk Becomes Issue for Tesla’s Board as His Judgment Deteriorates (Update)

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Update: CNBC writes:

Tesla board members are facing shareholder scrutiny as the company struggles to contain costs while ramping up production of its Model 3 electric sedans.

Last week, a pension fund adviser called the CtW Investment Group sent a letter to Tesla shareholders urging them to vote against the re-election of three of its board members. The letter makes the argument that Tesla’s board is packed with people who lack independence from chairman and CEO Elon Musk, or lack useful automotive industry knowledge.

Elon Musk, the CEO of electric car company Tesla Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA), is an eccentric who has a habit of odd behavior in public. Much of this has been written off as the peculiar actions of a genius. However, his wild behavior on Tesla’s most recent earnings call brings into question his ability to be a responsible public company chief executive. Tesla’s board has to consider if he is fit to lead the company he founded.

Tesla reported earnings that may have been of some relief to Wall Street, at least insofar as they indicated there is a chance the company could start to make money later in 2018 if production of its modestly priced Model 3 picks up. Whether that forecast shows irresponsibility on Musk’s part is at issue. Many experts think the chance of a profit is a very long stretch. Revenue from Tesla’s car division rose 19% year over year for the quarter to $2.7 billion. Overall revenue, which includes the company’s power generation division, was $3.4 billion, up from $2.7 billion in the year-earlier period. Tesla’s net loss was $710 million, compared to a loss of $330 million a year ago. Tesla bled through about $1 billion in cash for the period, which caused anxiety about its balance sheet.

Musk might have soothed investors during the company’s conference call by explaining why cash burn would drop and why profits by year end are possible. Instead, he insulted analysts. Musk said that questions critical to investor decisions were “dry” and “They’re killing me.” Musk then turned to the obscure host of a YouTube program “HyperChange TV.” The host of the show, Galileo Russell, asked several questions and got answers.

Although Musk’s view of the company’s financials could be unrealistic, this in and of itself would not disqualify him from holding his position. His conference call behavior may.

Tesla’s board is made up of nine people, several of them prominent business people. These include media titan James Murdoch, CEO of 21st Century Fox, and famous venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson of Draper Fisher Jurvetson. Their reputations are on the line, as is their standing with shareholders. However, dislodging Musk would not be easy. He has been the face of Tesla since it started, and he owns 21.9% of the company, the largest position by far.

Leaving aside Musk’s role as founder and his unquestionable value to the company, Tesla’s board is faced with the conundrum of whether he is fit to be its chief executive officer.