Since 2016, more than two dozen senior executives have left Elon Musk’s electric vehicle company, Tesla. The stream of exits begs the question: What’s it like to work for the billionaire boss?
The president and chief operating officer of another one of Musk’s companies, SpaceX, who’s worked with the iconic entrepreneur for more than a decade-and-a-half recently shared her experience.
Gwynne Shotwell says it is tough, but it’s also inspiring.
Shotwell joined SpaceX in 2002 as employee No. 7.
“I love working for Elon. I’ve been doing it for 16 years this year, actually,” Shotwell says in an TED talk in April.
“I don’t think I’m dumb enough to do something for 16 years that I don’t like doing. He’s funny and fundamentally, without him saying anything, he drives you to do your best work. He doesn’t have to say a word. You just want to do great work,” says Shotwell.
He pushes his teams to work on ambitious schedules, she says.
“There’s no question that Elon is very aggressive on his timelines, but frankly, that drives us to do things better and faster,” Shotwell says. “I think all the time and all the money in the world does not yield the best solution, and so putting that pressure on the team to move quickly is really important.”
(Indeed, Musk’s Tesla is infamous for missing production targets, most recently for its Model 3 cars. In an April interview with Gayle King, host of “CBS This Morning,” Musk took responsibility: “I need to figure out how to be better…. And then we can be better at meeting goals,” he said.)
“First of all, when Elon says something, you have to pause and not immediately blurt out, ‘Well, that’s impossible,’ or, ‘There’s no way we’re going to do that. I don’t know how.’ So you zip it, and you think about it, and you find ways to get that done,” says Shotwell.
She has also had to get used to the idea is will never be easy going at SpaceX.
“I always felt like my job was to take these ideas and kind of turn them into company goals, make them achievable, and kind of roll the company over from this steep slope, get it comfortable,” says Shotwell.
“And I noticed every time I felt like we were there, we were rolling over, people were getting comfortable, Elon would throw something out there, and all of a sudden, we’re not comfortable and we’re climbing that steep slope again,” she explains.
“But then once I realized that that’s his job, and my job is to get the company close to comfortable so he can push again and put us back on that slope, then I started liking my job a lot more, instead of always being frustrated,” she says.
Now, Shotwell has been known to dream even bigger than her boss.
Musk has publicly articulated his vision for building rockets to get to Mars. Shotwell, however, says she wants to go even further.
“I also have to say, this is the first step in us moving to other solar systems and potentially other galaxies, and I think this is the only time I ever out-vision Elon, because I want to meet other people in other solar systems,” says Shotwell.
“Mars is fine, but it is a fixer-upper planet. There’s work to do there to make it habitable,” she says. “I want to find people, or whatever they call themselves, in another solar system.”