In spite of tremendous obstacles, Elon Musk has succeeded where others have doubted him.
According to USA Today*, “Musk, 45, has twice defied odds and pundits, once by scaling rocket company SpaceX in the face of government-funded global competition and again by growing Tesla while shunning input from Detroit.” That said, Musk is not a one-man-show. There must be more to his success than meets the eye.
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So how does Musk do all this? “You could make an argument that Elon is too ambitious, but he’s got a way of having a powerful impact on converging trends,” says Brook Porter, Green Global Fund partner with Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, a venture capital firm. Part of Musk’s massive influence is his ability to lead by example and push his team as hard as he pushes himself.
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One example of this would be the groundbreaking Tesla Model 3. Dan Niles, co-founder of AlphaOne Capital Partners points to the Model 3 as an object of global desire: “Whether Musk hits 500,000 cars a year doesn’t really matter if he has first mover advantage and produces a car that, much like the iPhone, has people saying, ‘That one, that’s the car that I want.’” The game-changing Model 3 highlights the talented team behind Musk at Tesla.
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And if Musk’s work ethic is representative of the Tesla team as a whole, it’s clear investors believe: “So far, investors’ faith in his vision has propelled Tesla (TSLA) stock up 750% to $227 from four years ago… How the South African-born entrepreneur, whose wealth is estimated at $12 billion, has vaulted his companies out of this earthly muck has been part intellect, part perseverance. Ex-employees say he’s a workaholic with exacting standards for his team, a man who keeps a sleeping bag at the end of Tesla’s production line.”
Furthermore, Musk strives for audacious goals yet they’re always grounded in critical thinking. “Elon is amazing at unblocking mental, physical and financial boundaries,” says Ali Javidan, who worked for years without vacations as head of vehicle prototyping at Tesla from 2008 to 2012, and now is developing an electric vehicle for a stealth startup. “He doesn’t come up with ideas in the shower. He’s all about calculations, data and de-risking. It will all get done.”
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Of Tesla’s speed bumps, Javidan says they are merely the byproduct of Musk’s penchant for pushing his teams to meet aggressive deadlines, then walking those back when necessary. “Tesla, SpaceX, SolarCity, they’re all simply subsidiaries of Elon Inc.,” he says. “Elon’s got great teams in place, and his job, like Neo in The Matrix, is to see through and around corners.” Former Tesla director of finance Ryan Popple, now CEO of electric bus maker Proterra says, “He’s the master of getting more out of people than they think they can deliver.”
“There is always tension between the visionary and the day-to-day, but that’s what causes things to happen as you figure out how the world is going to be,” says Ian Wright, who started Tesla along with Martin Eberhard in 2003. “It’s really hard to imagine how Elon does it all. He’s human like everyone else,” said Wright, who left Tesla after a year and now heads electric engine company WrightSpeed. But he adds: “It hasn’t been smart to bet against him.”