Apparently, Elon Musk doesn’t want to be CEO of any company.
Or so he claimed in testimony at a trial Wednesday challenging his giant compensation package at Tesla. Musk, who is the CEO of multiple companies, including most recently, Twitter, was answering questions from lawyers representing Tesla when he made the offhand comment.
“I frankly don’t want to be the CEO of any company,” he said.
“I frankly don’t want to be the CEO of any company”
The trial, which kicked off Monday, is focused on whether Tesla’s board acted appropriately when it approved a pay package for Musk that is now worth about $52 billion at recent share prices and whether Musk had any undue influence over that decision.
But Musk’s testimony also stretched into topics including his titles, how he spends his time, and most importantly, whether he was drunk when he crowned himself “technoking” of Tesla in 2021. (He said he was sober, but his lilt suggested otherwise.)
He explained why he chafes at the title of CEO at his various companies, noting that he does not view his role as a traditional chief executive.
“At SpaceX, it’s really that I’m responsible for the engineering of the rockets and Tesla for the technology in the car that makes it successful,” he said. “So, CEO is often viewed as somewhat of a business-focused role, but in reality, my role is much more that of an engineer developing technology and making sure that we develop breakthrough technologies and that we have a team of incredible engineers who can achieve those goals.”
“My role is much more that of an engineer developing technology”
He also reiterated that he does not intend on staying CEO of Twitter forever. Musk took over the company two weeks ago and, since then, has laid off half the staff, launched and retracted multiple new product ideas, and overseen the retreat of several established advertisers.
“I expect to reduce my time at Twitter and find somebody else to run Twitter over time,” he said. (Musk had previously disclosed to investors that he only expected to serve as Twitter’s CEO temporarily.)
Musk is even thinking about eventually stepping down as CEO of Tesla, according to James Murdoch, the former Tesla board member. Murdoch testified later in the day that Musk has specifically brought up who he wants to succeed him as CEO of Tesla — but was not asked by lawyers for the plaintiffs to name that person. In his pre-trial deposition, Murdoch said that Musk had not brought up a specific successor, but in the intervening time had done so.
Musk is even thinking about eventually stepping down as CEO of Tesla, according to James Murdoch.
Asked how he spent his time in 2017 while the pay package was coming together, Musk said he was splitting his time between Tesla and SpaceX, with less time spent on his tunneling and brain chip ventures — though, at the end of the year, he spent almost all of his time at Tesla, which was in the middle of its so-called “production hell” of the Model 3.
Investors have expressed concern over Musk’s ability to multitask and whether the billionaire is taking on too much to legitimately run as many companies as he does. Musk testified that he spends the majority of his time “wherever the crisis is.”
This is not to say that Musk isn’t thinking about the distant future as well. Asked about the Tesla Roadster that is currently traveling through space, Musk called it an “art piece that will last millions of years.”
Tesla Roadster in space is “an art piece that will last millions of years,” Musk said.
Asked to address the combative stance he has taken with regulators, particularly the Securities and Exchange Commission, Musk doubled down. “In general, I think the mission of the SEC is good but the question is whether that mission is being executed well,” he replied. “In some cases, I think it is not. The SEC fails to investigate things that they should and places far too much attention on thing that are not relevant.”
Musk then brought up the “recent FTX thing,” in which the cryptocurrency exchange declared bankruptcy. “Why was there no attention given to FTX?” Musk asked. “Investors lost billions. Yet the SEC continues to hound me despite shareholders being greatly rewarded. This makes no sense.”
He also reiterated that no one approves his tweets before he posts them, despite a 2018 settlement with the SEC establishing oversight over his public communications after his failed attempt to take Tesla private. Since then, he has gone to court to invalidate the consent decree, arguing he was coerced into signing the deal.
“The consent decree was made under duress,” Musk said in court today. “An agreement made under duress, is not valid, as a foundation of law.”
Musk was also asked about an insulting tweet he sent in July 2020, in which he wrote, “SEC, three letter acronym, middle word is Elon’s.” Under oath, Musk said he meant for it to stand for “Save Elon’s Company” but that it was misinterpreted.
Update November 16th, 4:07PM ET: Updated to include testimony from James Murdoch.