American Consequences - February 2019

reason – and tends to get up and walk out of meetings without warning. Maybe he was following a scent. Musk is said to be so distracted by odors that no one in his orbit wears perfume or cologne. The same ex- employee described being advised by the top recruiter for Tesla and SpaceX to make sure his hair was neat, normal, not at all “funky.” A world-class engineer, the recruiter explained, had once been made to come in for a second interview with his hairdo altered: Musk had initially found the engineer’s dreadlocks so distracting that he could barely remember the man’s name. There are fewer protective layers on the inside these days to cater to his eccentricities. Several senior leaders have left: Tesla lost 13 executives to summer layoffs. And in December, Musk’s closest adviser and most stalwart defender, his general counsel and reputed best friend Todd Maron, left the company. Before joining Tesla, Maron was thrice-divorced Musk’s divorce attorney. (Two of those divorces were from the same woman.) And, as such, he defended Musk with passionate personal conviction – even in internal meetings which might have benefited from dispassionate insight.

always more cultural than practical. And, perversely, that’s why they might hold their dominance next year and beyond. Because even if the Model 3 had been ready for buyers on schedule – or if every vehicle Musk projected were on the road within three years, say – they’d still comprise a very slim fraction of the country’s automobiles, let alone the world’s. And saving the world... that was the plan along. But every promise Musk has ever made required a leap of faith. None of his save- the-world moonshot ideas has been ever much more than a dream. And yet there’s no shortage of otherwise rationally-minded men and women desperate to believe in him, even now. Today, the smart bet is against him. Still, he has plenty of powerful friends on his side: Oracle CEO Larry Ellison joined the board at the end of 2018, while old allies like Reid Hoffman and Peter Thiel have remained loyal as ever. And, more importantly for businesses that build on mystique, Musk is still cool. To the wider world of up-and-coming tech titans for instance, he remains a hero of mythic importance. Of one thing, MIT’s David Keith – a Musk skeptic, for the most part – is abundantly certain. “If Tesla came walking in today, hiring MBA students,” he says, “we would have a queue out the door, no doubt.” For better (or probably worse) in the collective imagination of the generation whose faith his dream visions depend on, the future belongs to Musk.


But as Tesla’s fluctuations this year reveal, its brand identity and its success have been emotionally driven from the start. Musk’s personal power and Tesla’s influence were

Alice Lloyd is a writer in Washington, D.C. and a Weekly Standard widow.

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