The entrepreneurial icon has gone on the record about his personal problems and his unwillingness, or perhaps helplessness, to solve them.
5 min read
In the pantheon of entrepreneurial tales of success, Elon Musk is ranked with Edison and Ford, but the billionaire is unhappy with the price he’s paid for his pedestal. In an interview with The New York Times that is candid to the point of vulnerability, Musk was repeatedly at the verge of tears describing a self-enslavement he admits is unhealthy but which he has no intention of altering.
The interview comes in the wake of Musk’s bombshell tweet on Aug. 7, in which he offhandedly said he had “funding secured” to buy back shares of Tesla for $420 and take the publicly-traded company private. The unvetted tweet, issued when markets were open, sent Tesla shares soaring but also triggered an investigation by the Securities Exchange Commission and has raised pointed questions about whether Musk’s judgment is poor or maybe impaired.
Here are seven takeaways from Musk’s interview with The Times.
1. Musk’s friends are worried about him and so is he.
“This past year has been the most difficult and painful year of my career,” Musk told The Times, which described him as struggling to maintain composure. “It was excruciating.”
Musk said he has been working 120 hours per week and has not taken a full week off since 2001, when he had malaria. When asked if working himself to chronic exhaustion is costing him health, Musk replied, “It’s not been great, actually. I’ve had friends come by who are really concerned.”
Related: Why Elon Musk Should Take a Vacation
2. Musk and his board of directors wish he could sleep.
The Times reported that unidentified members of the Tesla board fear Musk’s use of Ambien, the popular prescription medication for relief from insomnia, is backfiring by prompting late night Twitter outbursts instead of slumber. Musk said “It is often a choice of no sleep or Ambien.”
Insomnia is one of a long list of side effects of Ambien, which includes aggression, depression, anxiety, “emotional blunting” and more.
3. Are you really successful if you work your entire birthday and barely attend your brother’s wedding?
Musk didn’t just go to the office when he turned 47 on June 28. He worked every hour of the 24 on his birthday. “All night — no friends, nothing,” he told The Times, which described him as “struggling to get the words out.”
Two days later he flew directly from the Gigafactory in Nevada to Catalonia, Spain, for the wedding of his brother, Kimbal. Musk arrived two hours before the ceremony and left immediately afterward for meetings at Tesla headquarters.
4. Musk is optimistic about Tesla but pessimistic about his own happiness.
“I thought the worst of it was over — I thought it was,” Musk told The Times, apparently referring to his personal life. “The worst is over from a Tesla operational standpoint.” He continued: “But from a personal pain standpoint, the worst is yet to come.”
5. It’s bad for your leadership brand when you have to tell people you weren’t high.
For many years, “420” has been fond counterculture shorthand for marijuana so, perhaps inevitably in this time of rapid marijuana legalization, some of the scrutiny on Musk’s tweet about taking Tesla private focused on his choice of price: $420 per share. Musk said he merely, and in his cosmic view prudently, rounded up a dollar from $419 when setting a 20 percent premium on the current share price.
Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 7, 2018
“It seemed like better karma at $420 than at $419,” he said in the interview. “But I was not on weed, to be clear. Weed is not helpful for productivity. There’s a reason for the word ‘stoned.’ You just sit there like a stone on weed.”
6. Musk refuses to recognize consequences of the $420 tweet.
Musk’s tweet about taking Tesla private has had manifest consequences, beginning that day when the NASDAQ had to suspend trading of Tesla shares, a subpoena from the SEC soon after (the company has already hired a pricey law firm to defend itself) and continuing on to the already mentioned speculation of whether Musk was stoned at the time and the exasperation of his board of directions.
All of that seems lost on Musk. He blandly admitted he didn’t regret the tweet that roiled Tesla stock with continuing aftershocks for the company. “Why would I?” he non-answered when asked by The Times.
7. Musk just can’t delegate but seems to really wish he could.
Musk is both chairman and chief executive of Tesla, which seems to a lot of people like one job too many. Musk told The Times he was not giving up either job — to say nothing of leading SpaceX, The Boring Company and his many ad hoc ventures — but he was openly open to suggestions.
“If you have anyone who can do a better job, please let me know,” he said. “They can have the job. Is there someone who can do the job better? They can have the reins right now.”