‘Get the F*ck Out of Here & Don’t Come Back’: Has Elon Musk Always Been a ‘Toxic Boss’?

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“A toxic takeover.”

This is what Twitter’s former vice president of Global Media Katie Jacobs Stanton said of working at the company after Elon Musk’s takeover.

“In a million years, I never thought I would feel this, let alone Tweet this, but I would not recommend any person work at Twitter nor any brand advertise on Twitter given this toxic takeover,” Stanton wrote in a tweet.

She was responding to a tweet from journalist Zoe Schiffer of Platformer who had reported that Musk had given Twitter employees the choice to work for the new, “hardcore” Twitter or quit.

But this isn’t the first time that ‘toxic’ has been associated with a company run by Musk. Tales of the tech mogul’s erratic, often ‘scary’ way of working have long occupied media.

This, despite his phenomenal success and tech celebrity status. A Tesla shareholder has even accused the electric-vehicle maker’s officers and directors in a lawsuit of allowing a “toxic workplace culture” to fester at the company.

According to the complaint submitted by stockholder Solomon Chau in federal court in Austin, Texas, Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk and others who oversee the largest electric vehicle manufacturer in the world violated their fiduciary duty by fostering an environment of discrimination and harassment, placing Tesla at risk of millions of dollars in potential liability.

A report by Business Insider states that the lawsuit (filed in June) alleges that “the Company’s idealistic sheen obscures a disturbing and regressive reality for its workers,” adding a “toxic work environment has gestated internally for years.”

And according to an Insider article from February, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued Tesla in February 2022 after the regulator claimed that, after a three-year investigation, it had received hundreds of complaints from employees alleging racial discrimination.

An ex-employee who claimed that Tesla had engaged in racial harassment received a $137 million judgement against the corporation in late 2021. An insider source said Tesla elevator operator Owen Diaz claimed that while working for the electric vehicle manufacturer, coworkers told him to “go back to Africa.”

The Tesla Hell

Charles Duhigg, who was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting, in a 2018 investigative Wired report had revealed alleged shocking details of how Elon Musk worked in Tesla – even putting his most senior executives on edge.

The details – erratic decisions, firing and pursuing his vision at the cost of a sane workplace culture – seem too close to the Twitter tales that are now aplenty in media.

Even Musk’s acquisition of Twitter was a meandering, ever-confusing course. But after it finally happened earlier this month, there was a constant change in policies (Twitter blue) and reports of workers being fired (over the platform) and now mass resignations with ‘strict guidelines’ from Musk.

Even though Musk took over Twitter with his ‘love for free speech’, his vision for the company has charted a course to make it a more profitable business, as predicted by experts after Musk’s takeover.

Duhigg’s report begins with an intimidating account of a young engineer who was hired by Tesla in October 2017, soon to be fired after, despite putting in 13 hours a day, seven days a week.

Attempting to sort out production and technical glitches and malfunction at the Gigafactory, ‘an angry Musk’ fired at the engineer when he was brought over to assist him.

“Hey, buddy, this doesn’t work!” Musk shouted at the engineer, the report said, citing someone who heard the conversation. “Did you do this?”

“You mean, program the robot?” the engineer said. “Or design that tool?”

“Did you f*cking do this?” Musk asked him.

“I’m not sure what you’re referring to?” the engineer replied apologetically.

“You’re a f*cking idiot!” Musk shouted back, the report claimed. “Get the f*ck out and don’t come back!”

According to the report, two people with knowledge of the matter said that his manager arrived a short while later and informed them that he had been sacked at Musk’s direction.

The following week, he was scheduled to receive a review from his manager, and he had only been receiving good news. Instead, he signed his split papers two days later.

While recognising the genius of Musk and his vision, the report detailed accounts from company seniors on how a troubling trend emerged (according to former executives), that ‘if someone raised concerns or objections, Musk would sometimes pull the person’s manager aside and order that the offender be reassigned, or potentially terminated, or no longer invited to meetings’. This led to executives excluding skeptics ‘out of self-preservation’.

A former high-ranking CEO told Duhigg: Musk would remark, “I’ve got to fire someone today,” to which I would reply, “No, you don’t,” to which he would reply, “No, no, I do.”

Musk makes “difficult but necessary decisions,” a Tesla spokeswoman said while disputing this claim.

The particular instances seem eerily similar to an incident reported earlier this month, when Musk fired an Android developer named Eric Frohnhoefer, who claimed in a tweet that Musk’s assessment of Twitter being slow because the app performs “>1000 poorly batched RPCs just to render timelines” was incorrect.

A Twitter duel followed after which a user tagged Elon Musk and questioned whether the CEO wanted Frohnhoefer on his team. Musk replied that he was fired.

A Poster Child for Disruption

“He’s the poster child for disruption,” Benjamin Breier, the former CEO of Kindred Health Care and author of a book about unconventional corporate leadership told the Associated Press.

But despite the plethora of controversies that Musk stokes, he is able to escape unscathed from the public eye.

According to experts, Musk’s ability to recover from repercussions is the result of a complex interplay between a fierce, cultlike fandom and his transformational leadership style.

A commentary in Forbes on the same compares Musk to celebrities and the impact they carry when championing a cause or making a political statement. Musk’s comments earlier this year sent Dogecoin up 60% in just minutes, the report explained, adding that this was not the first time Musk’s remarks had a significant impact on the stock market. Musk’s tweet last year caused Tesla’s stock value to plummet by $13 billion. Soon after, Tesla shareholder Chase Gharrity filed a lawsuit alleging that Musk’s tweeting habits have “severe ramifications on the company’s ability to secure financing.”

According to Business Insider, these events have been dubbed the “Elon Musk Effect,” a term that emphasises how much influence a high-profile tech celebrity has in a world that has become tech-dependent.

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