Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Musk makes U-turn and decides to keep Tesla public

Remarkable turnaround by chief of electric car maker marks end of a saga that has drawn much unwelcome attention

Tesla CEO has reversed his plan to take the company private after weeks of controversy. Reuters
Tesla CEO has reversed his plan to take the company private after weeks of controversy. Reuters

Elon Musk scrapped his plan to take Tesla private, a remarkable reversal more than two weeks after blindsiding employees and investors with the idea in a bombshell tweet.

In a blog post published late Friday, Tesla’s chairman, CEO and largest shareholder said he had met with the board and “let them know that I believe the better path is for Tesla to remain public. The Board indicated that they agree.”

The about-face ends speculation about how Mr Musk would raise money to take Tesla private, but it’s unlikely to ward off scrutiny of the maverick CEO’s actions. His August 7 tweet that he wanted to take the electric-car maker private at $420 a share and had “funding secured” sent the shares soaring before it became apparent he didn’t have financing lined up.

The episode led to a subpoena from the Securities and Exchange Commission, according to a person familiar with the matter. Mr Musk’s behaviour, including a tearful media interview that touched on his lack of sleep, has led to calls for Tesla to hire a chief operating officer to help reduce stress on the CEO. Mr Musk, who also runs the rocket-launching company SpaceX and a tunnel-drilling outfit called the Boring Co, is busy trying to ramp up Tesla’s production of the Model 3 saloon and make the company profitable in the second half of the year.

In an August 13 blog post, Mr Musk indicated that he believed based on conversations with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund that he had financial support to go private. In his blog post Friday, Mr Musk reiterated his “belief that there is more than enough funding to take Tesla private” but said a transaction would be distracting and take too long.

“Given the feedback I’ve received, it’s apparent that most of Tesla’s existing shareholders believe we are better off as a public company,” wrote Mr Musk. “Although the majority of shareholders I spoke to said they would remain with Tesla if we went private, the sentiment, in a nutshell, was ‘please don’t do this.’”

He declined to comment further Friday on how he arrived at his decision. He was active on Twitter late Friday, sharing updates about SpaceX and a Hyperloop pod competition.

In a separate statement, the board confirmed the decision and announced its intention to dissolve a committee of independent directors formed to review Mr Musk’s proposal.

“We fully support Elon as he continues to lead the company moving forward,” the independent board members said.

Mr Musk had hired both Goldman Sachs Group and Morgan Stanley, the top two merger advisers in the US, to advise him personally in his bid to take the company off of the public market, according to people familiar with the arrangements. Both banks have been lead underwriters on most of the company’s stock and convertible debt offerings.

“Only Elon wanted to go private,” said Ross Gerber, chief executive of fund manager Gerber Kawasaki and an ardent Tesla supporter, in a tweet. “No other shareholders wanted to. We’re all holding our shares either way.”


Read more:

Blow by blow: Tesla's go-private roller coaster

Business Extra Podcast: Musk's tweets put Tesla in the spotlight

Struggling Musk could do worse than have Apple's Tim Cook lend a hand


ARK Investment Management, which holds about 0.2 per cent of Tesla’s shares according to data compiled by Bloomberg, had implored Mr Musk in an open letter this week to keep Tesla public. Going private would deprive investors of the chance to participate in its rising value, chief investment officer Cathie Wood said.

“My guess is that the large institutional investors said to Elon ‘this all sounds a little half-baked’,” Stephen Diamond, an associate professor of law at Santa Clara University who specialises in corporate governance, said late Friday. “The board called his bluff. The clock was ticking on the class period of all of these shareholder lawsuits. Hiring Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley gave Mr Musk cover, but they had to cut off the damage and end the charade.”