Even if Elon Musk may seem impossible to separate from Tesla,the company offered the first real taste of what it might look like without its billionaire CEO.
Tesla held a regularly scheduled conference call to discuss its quarterly financial results, but — as he’d previously teased — Musk did not attend. His absence took what’s normally a venue for his rants and ramblings, dismissals of Wall Street, and attacks on the press and turned it into a coherent (if scripted) presentation of the company’s recent progress.
There were fewer sideshows and a more measured tone, though the executives who spoke in Musk’s place still made some contradictions. If Musk were to leave his post atop the company, it’s likely that Tesla would look and sound a lot like how the company was presented on Wednesday night’s call.
Musk has talked about stepping down from Tesla for a few years, especially after the Model 3 and Model Y helped the company find some financial stability. Perhaps most notably, in July, Musk testified in court that he had “tried hard not to be the CEO at Tesla, but I had to or it would die.”
Facing all that pressure, an admittedly sleep-deprived Musk often used the quarterly earnings call to blow off steam. In late 2017, he yelled “shame” at journalists and their editors for writing about the company’s layoffs. In early 2018, he cut off Wall Street analysts for asking “boring, bonehead” questions and started the practice of fielding inquiries from retail shareholders. Three months after that, he apologized to those same analysts. In April 2020, he said that the shelter-in-place orders meant to stop the spread of COVID-19 were “fascist.”
There was none of that Wednesday night. Taking Musk’s place was Tesla’s chief financial officer Zachary Kirkhorn, along with vice presidents Lars Moravy and Drew Baglino. The trio bounded through pre-submitted questions from shareholders as well as live ones from the bankers. When asked about the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s investigations into Autopilot, they gave diplomatic answers about how they “embrace the scrutiny of [Tesla’s] products,” and preached cooperation.
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