Toxic Mask

This week's trend presents excerpts from the Wired article about Ilona Mask “Dr. Elon & Mr. Musk: Life Inside Tesla's Production Hell ” of 12/13/2018.
The article itself is large and useful to read.

The young Tesla engineer was thrilled. Or rather, delighted. It was Saturday October 2017, and he worked at Gigafactory, the huge Tesla battery factory in Nevada. During the previous year, he lived working 13 hours a day, seven days a week. This was his first real job. And now a colleague found him to say that Ilon Musk - Ilon Musk! - needed his personal help.

Last year, Musk made a bold statement: his company, which was known - even already fetish - with its luxurious electric cars, will soon begin production of a new sedan, which is planned to sell for only $ 35,000, which will make it affordable for the entire middle class. It was expected that Tesla Model 3 will change the automotive industry, proving that the emission-free production car is not only feasible, but also profitable. If successful, the car will help end mankind’s dependence on fossil fuels, slow climate change, and show that ingenuity and ambition can accomplish almost everything. However, a year after this announcement, work on the machine was behind schedule. There were problems in the production of batteries, assembly parts, the development of assembly lines. The goal of Tesla was to make 5,000 cars a week, but recently the company produced about three cars a day. Many in the Gigafactory — not to mention Tesla’s headquarters in Palo Alto and the Fremont, California assembly plant — worked for many months trying to succeed.

Musk spent the weekend in the Gigafactory, trying to figure out why the assembly machines did not work, why the parts did not assemble, why the software crashed. Mask demanded that his factories be as automated as possible. But among the consequences of this extreme robotization were delays and faults. Tesla spent over $ 1 billion building the Gigafactory, and almost everything did not go as planned.

At about 10 pm on Saturday, an angry Mask inspected one of the mechanized modules of the production line, trying to figure out what was wrong when a young, anxious engineer was invited to help him.

“Hey, buddy, this is not working!” Mask shouted at the engineer, according to someone who heard the conversation. "You did it?"

The engineer was taken aback. He had never met Musk before. Mask did not even know the name of the engineer. The young man did not know what exactly Musk was asking him or why he sounded so angry.

“You mean, programmed a robot?” Said the engineer. “Or

did you design it?” “What the hell did that do?” (“Did you fucking do this?”), Musk asked him.

“I'm not sure what you mean?” The engineer replied apologetically.

“You fucking idiot!” (“You're a fucking idiot!”) - Musk shouted back. “Get out and don't come back!” (“Get the fuck out and don't come back!”)

The young engineer climbed over the low protective barrier and left. He was confused by what just happened. The whole conversation lasted less than a minute. A few moments later, his manager came to say that he was fired by Musk, according to two people who knew about the situation. The engineer was in shock. He worked so hard. He should have received feedback from his manager next week, and heard only positive reviews about himself. Instead, two days later, he signed a letter of resignation.


On Wednesday morning, a few weeks later, Musk returned to the Gigafactory on his private jet. Tesla started to fire hundreds of other employees for productivity reasons - more than 700 people were eventually fired. Musk had to talk to the factory workers to inspire them to make their way through what Musk predicted would be a “production hell”. Gigafabrika needed widespread fixes; there was no way the factory would produce 5000 batteries a week anytime soon.

When he arrived, Musk began to pace the factory. He went down the pipeline, reddened and nervous, interrogating the workers he met, telling them that to work at Tesla you need to be an excellent employee, and now they all fail; that they were not smart enough to work on tasks; that they endangered the company - all this according to someone who was watching him.

Employees knew about such violence. Sometimes Musk expelled people, in other cases he simply intimidated them. One manager had a name for these outbreaks — the firing of fierce Ilon — and he forbade subordinates to come too close to the Mask table at the factory because of fears that a chance meeting, an unexpected answer to the wrong question, could jeopardize their career.

After Mask patrolled the factory floor for some time, the leaders dragged him into a conference room. “I think we can fix this,” said one of his top lieutenants, John McNeil, according to the person who heard the conversation. McNeil tried to calm down Musk and repeated the adage he had once heard: no man thinks of a good idea when a tiger is chasing him. At that moment, Musk was a tiger. (A McNeill spokesman said he did not want to comment on this.)

Mask had other problems. “What is that smell?” He asked. Everyone was silent. They knew that Musk was so sensitive to smells that the candidates for the job were told not to use cologne or perfume before meeting him. They saw how he was upset because of such small trifles, watched him attack the leaders because of their incompetence and inability.
One person explained that there are vats with liquid silicone nearby. When heated, it sometimes smelled like burning plastic.

“These couples can kill people,” said Musk. They were going to kill him.

The group returned to solving the problems of the Gigafactory. In the end, it's time for Mask to give a speech. He left the room and went out onto the improvised stage. Model 3 has always been difficult, he told the workers. But it turned out to be even harder than anyone expected. He thanked the staff for their work, and then warned them that there was more to come. Tesla had to have high standards to succeed. It was not a company from 9 to 5. People have already worked a lot; now Musk meant that they needed to work more. He was in turn at ease, awkward and tense. Model 3 was the company's decision, he said. Everyone had to work harder and smarter.

Then Musk left the stage. The remaining executives fled to the conference room to continue working on the Gigafactory problem list. Mask, according to one of the participants, left - to the next task.

On the day Mask spoke at the Gigafactory in 2017, he was both a despot and a savior. There were loud statements, burning interrogations and concentrated concentration on doing things that no one else has achieved. His speech pumped some and inspired others. “In fact, it was a fairly typical environment,” one of the leaders told me. "So it was until I left."

Musk said that almost everything is possible, which does not violate the laws of physics. We are going to build a car that assembles a car, he said in the room. But they had to move fast. According to him, a fully automated plant is an investment in the future of Tesla, which will help the company compete in the coming decades. Over the next several weeks, executives continued to argue with Musk. And, according to former managers, there was a disturbing trend: if someone expressed fears or objections, Musk sometimes put the person’s manager aside and ordered him to be reassigned to another job, or dismissed altogether, or no longer invited to meetings. Some executives began to exclude skeptics from self-preservation. "If you are the type of people who can push you back, you will be denied because the vice-presidents do not want someone to drive Ilona out of themselves, ”one former executive told me about the Mask. "People were afraid that someone would ask something."

Mask himself will later estimate that Tesla spends up to $ 100 million a week when thousands of employees tried to build the Musk dreadnought. One former employee remembered hearing about a colleague who was eating breakfast at the table when he was called. His banana turned brown, and the milk in a bowl of cereal formed a film before his office colleagues realized that he was fired and put things in order. Musk “would say:“ I have to dismiss someone today, ”and I would say:“ No, don't, ”and he would say:“ No, no, I just do. I have to fire someone, ”one former senior manager told me. (A Tesla spokesman contested this, but added that Musk is making "difficult but necessary decisions.") Musk, in arousal, broke the phone at one meeting. During another, he noticed that the head was missing, and called him. The man’s wife recently gave birth, and he explained that he was resting when she was recovering. Mask was angry. At a minimum, you should be on phone calls, Musk told the man. Having a child does not prevent you from talking on the phone. (A Tesla spokesman said that although Musk "was once upset that a particular manager did not call an important conference call a few days after the birth of his child," the company will not punish an employee for taking leave for child care.)

“Everyone came to work every day, wondering if this would be their last day,” another former manager told me. The previous employee remembered Musk saying that Tesla's goal was to save the world. “He would be really emotional,” this person told me, “and therefore he sometimes seemed callous,” because does one person’s feelings compare with the fate of billions? Ilona is very worried about humanity, but he doesn’t really care about individuals. ” (A Tesla spokesman said Musk "is very concerned about individuals.)


It was wonderful. But, as everyone knows, after this point, everything became even more strange in some way. When the Thai boys football team was trapped in a flooded cave in June, Musk offered to build a submarine. To save them. But after his help was partially rejected, he tweeted the accusation that one of the rescuers was a pedophile. (There is no evidence that this claim is true, and the rescuer filed a defamation lawsuit, which is still pending.)


Many of those with whom I spoke, agreed that Tesla and Musk are currently inseparable. That is why they are so confused by his behavior and so disappointed that his strengths are accompanied by such curious flaws. Several years ago, two Tesla workers drank in a hotel bar opposite the Fremont factory when Musk entered. He was alone, with the exception of the bodyguard. They asked Musk if he wanted to join their table. Mask sat down, and after a few unpleasant moments he began talking about the series he liked, such cartoons as South Park and Family Guy. Everyone ordered expensive whiskey and began to retell their favorite episodes from The Simpsons. It was fun. They laughed a lot. It was not normal, yes. But it was not scary or bad, as it often happened in a factory. They could be anyone just ordinary friends. Then, a few hours later, Musk paid the bill and went away, returning to his chaotic, mad, tiger-like life.

By Charles Duhigg

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