Monday, April 22, 2024

Unpopular opinion, Elon Musk is not a great businessman

On 28 August,  Elon Musk presented a live demo to show the progress of his company “Neuralink”, there were high expectations when the company started in 2017 with Musk projecting bits of his vision for the company like permanently curing spinal injuries, predicting triggers of anxiety and depression, a a possible cure to Parkinson’s disease and whatnot. Elon likes subtle messages, he had once famously tweeted that AI scares him; for the demo of Neuralink he chose something on the lines of an Orwellian dystopia.  They put a coin-sized chip inside a pig’s brain and it relayed signals through its 1024 channels in real-time. To a layman watching this live, there were sharp beep sounds every time they brought food near the pig’s snout. Not the futuristic technology a lot of us were expecting, the neuroscience academia especially was quick to call him out. Collecting brain data is not new; neuroscientists have been doing it for a long time. The bigger question was what do you do with all the data, do you have any insights? A tweet that comes close to summing up the sentiment of the academia is “this is solid engineering but mediocre neuroscience”. As you must have expected Musk rebuked within a few hours saying academia overweight the value of ideas and bring down anybody trying to bring ideas to fruition.  He was obviously backed by his reverent loyal fans, one sarcastically said if Musk had waited for a peer to peer review it would probably have taken him two decades to put the first Tesla on road.

Overpromising has always been The Achilles heel of Musk. It is not just about the grand promises of Neuralink. Tesla had once proclaimed that there will be a million fully autonomous vehicles on the road by 2020, the deadline has now been pushed to 2028, and if you believe my pessimistic prediction it is going to stretch further.  The difference between science fiction writers and Elon Musk is that Musk can present his idea to investors, get a billion dollar valuation and put a talented team to work on his futuristic ideas while our writer is happy sipping tea at his quaint English country house.  We all know that kid from school who was good everything, tell him he can’t do something and he will go to any length to prove him wrong. Musk is exactly that, just he is not a kid anymore.  He has his hands in too many things at once, and believes he can do it all.

As Uncle Ben says to Peter Parker in Spiderman “With great power come great responsibilities”, same is true for Musk but he is oblivious of the responsibilities he has as a CEO towards his shareholders.  With all his out of the box thinking and his superhuman work ethic he still is the CEO of  Tesla and SpaceX and is the board member of many other companies he has founded, and what matters at the end of the day is will his companies survive? Will his shareholders reap the benefits they had vetted when investing.  A company needs a leader who is humble and dependable, Musk seemingly lacks both qualities. Most of his companies are in terrible debt with no chance of being profitable in the near future. What they need is a leader with a clear vision and realistic market sense to mark the future path, but what they have got is an overworked CEO dabbling and micromanaging multiple companies who has a no holds barred rule for criticism.  Tweet something negative about the overlord Musk you will surely be attacked by his army of fans, and if you get enough retweets you might even get a personal reply from Musk. His Twitter account is a loose cannon, one that can give some stiff competition to Donal Trump. In 2018 he tweeted he is in talks with a Saudi Arabian investor to take his company private, stock prices jumped but the deal never happened, the Securities and Exchange Commission fined him  $20 million dollars. He pulled off a similar antic this year when he tweeted that the stock prices of Tesla were too high, this in turn knocked off $14 billion dollars of the net worth of Tesla overnight. Also, there is no point talking about the 100 hour week scandal, employees getting fired because they asked for a vacation because his ardent followers would say nobody changes the world by working 40 hours a week.

 All in all, I don’t discredit him. He is an excellent inventor, maybe one in a million or even a billion but when his companies come crashing down his charisma will not pay the bills of the people who would be affected.  His boyish attitude of “I don’t care about what you think” and his brazen outspokenness are not the ideal qualities of a CEO. He lacks the poise and humility to lead such high stake companies. His attitude is reflexive rather than being reflective. He had himself said in an interview that he is impulsive and didn’t want to be the CEO of Tesla. Even though somewhere inside he knows he might not be the ideal person to lead these companies, he doesn’t stay true to himself.  He might be a great inventor but he is just not a great leader.

Jyotirmoy Gupta
Jyotirmoy Gupta
Jyotirmoy Gupta is a student of photography in Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia.
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