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Dope, Booze, Vitriol & Fraud: Tesla's Car Crash Week

Iain Morris

Tesla's car crash of a week has turned into a full-on highway pile-up.

Just hours after one of the automotive company's shareholders sued boss Elon Musk, alleging securities fraud, its chief accounting officer, David Morton, was revealed to have quit. Unhappiness about the pace of work and level of public attention were cited as factors in a Reuters report. (See Tesla Shareholder Sues CEO Musk for Securities Fraud.)

Twitter, one of Musk's favorite communications tools, was abuzz overnight with messages about his appearance on a live web show and podcast with comedian Joe Rogan. Musk was shown smoking marijuana, now a legal habit in the state of California, and knocking back whiskey -- public behavior that would not usually be condoned in a responsible professional, let alone one of the world's most high-profile CEOs.

Fueling conjecture that Musk is having some kind of breakdown were other reports about his renewed attack on Vernon Unsworth, one of the divers who in July rescued boys trapped in a flooded Thai cave. After Unsworth criticized Musk's plans for a submersible to be used in the cave rescue, Musk branded him a "pedo" (which was taken to mean pedophile) on Twitter. Musk subsequently appeared to regret his outburst, deleting the offensive tweet. But he was this week said to have called Unsworth a "child rapist" during an exchange with Buzzfeed reporter Ryan Mac.

And yes, there's more. Bloomberg is carrying a report that Gaby Toledano, Tesla's "chief people officer" (Tesla presumably thinks it is more humanizing than chief HR or personnel officer) is set to leave just a year after joining the business.

Unsurprisingly, Tesla's share price has taken a battering. At the time of writing, it was down about 7% on the Nasdaq, at $261.73, and has lost about 18.3% of its value this year.

For all the latest news from the wireless networking and services sector, check out our dedicated Mobile content channel here on Light Reading.

Is it something about hi-tech car companies? The equally boorish Travis Kalanick was forced to quit his job as CEO of Uber after a string of controversies, including reports of a macho culture within Uber and claims of sexual harassment by female employees. Cars often bring out the worst kind of behavior on the roads. It seems they might do it in the corridors of business power, too. (See Uber Investor Sues to Kick Kalanick Off Board.)

Notwithstanding his reputation as a visionary, many of Tesla's investors must be hoping Musk will do the decent thing, and follow Kalanick's example. Anyone concerned about Musk's mental health, and ability to manage so many other ventures (of which SpaceX, his space exploration company, is the biggest), may feel the same way.

To everyone else, bar Vernon Unsworth, the Musk spectacle has become as entertaining as some of Quentin Tarantino's best work. Where else in the business world can you find a CEO who puffs dope (publicly) like a Sixties stoner, tweets with the narcissism and spitefulness of Donald Trump and dreams up inventions that are the stuff of Hollywood movies? Musk's antics might attract disapproval, but they have given the technology world one of its most colorful individuals this century. The uncertainty is whether they might eventually be his undoing.

— Iain Morris, International Editor, Light Reading

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9/7/2018 | 6:52:43 PM
Re: public attention?
If Albert Einstein were alive today, all the press would cover is his affair with his cousin and poor choice of haircuts. What is it with the press facination with CEOs? Elon Musk has to be one of the most effective CEOs at bringing real benefit to humanity, and all he gets for it is grief in the press.
9/7/2018 | 2:05:52 PM
public attention?
quit due to "level of public attention"...really? What did this guy think he was getting into when he joined as an officer of a public company with a known controversial CEO?
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