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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Tesla chief Elon Musk reveals physical and emotional toll in the past year

Billionaire says no one saw or reviewed his tweet about taking the firm private

Mr Musk detailed in a wide-ranging interview with the New York Times how meeting Tesla's production targets had resulted in sleepless nights. AP
Mr Musk detailed in a wide-ranging interview with the New York Times how meeting Tesla's production targets had resulted in sleepless nights. AP

Elon Musk said no one saw or reviewed his tweet about the plan to take the electric-car maker private before he posted it.

Mr Musk, Tesla’s chief executive and chairman, typed the tweet as he drove himself to the airport on August 7, the New York Times newspaper reported during an hour-long interview with the billionaire. The tweet said: “Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured.”

The tweet set off a firestorm and caused the stock to jump, with the remark about funding also exposing Mr Musk to legal risk. Almost a week later, the chief executive said the basis for that statement was conversations with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, which first expressed interest in helping take the company private in early 2017. Tesla’s board has since clarified that it hasn’t received a formal proposal from Mr Musk, nor has it concluded whether going private would be advisable or feasible.

One funding possibility being considered for the potential privatisation is for Musk’s rocket company SpaceX to help bankroll the deal and take a stake in Tesla, the New York Times said, citing people familiar with the matter.

Efforts are also under way to recruit an executive to take some pressure off Musk, the newspaper said, citing people briefed on the search. A couple of years ago, Tesla approached Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg about the job, Mr Musk told the newspaper, but added that no active search is taking place currently “to the best of my knowledge.”

In the interview, Mr Musk revealed the physical and emotional toll of the past year as he sacrificed family milestones in the race to meet Tesla production targets. He told the newspaper that friends are concerned about his well-being and, the New York Times said, he choked up several times during the interview.

Some company directors have expressed concern about Mr Musk’s workload, as well as his use of the sedative Ambien, the paper said. Rather than put him to sleep, the drug has sometimes led Musk to spend his nights on Twitter, worrying some board members, the newspaper said, citing a person familiar with the board’s thinking.

Mr Musk told the newspaper that sometimes he has to choose between no sleep or Ambien.

Meanwhile, Tesla has come under even more scrutiny after an employee fired from Tesla’s Nevada battery factory filed a whistleblower complaint with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, accusing the company of spying on employees and failing to act after learning that a Mexican cartel may be dealing drugs inside the plant, his attorney said on Thursday.

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A former member of Tesla's internal investigations team, Karl Hansen, filed a tips, complaints and referrals form to the SEC about the Gigafactory on August 9, Mr Hansen's attorney Stuart Meissner said in a news release. Whistleblowers can receive 10 per cent to 30 per cent of penalties the SEC collects.

Tesla said it took the allegations that Mr Hansen brought to the electric car maker seriously and investigated.

"Some of his claims are outright false. Others could not be corroborated," Tesla said in the statement.

The SEC declined comment.