When the cat is out, the mice dance, as the saying goes; apparently that goes for the aerospace titan as well.
The acquisition of Twitter by Elon Musk caused a real earthquake in the digital world. Since that acquisition, the billionaire has launched a major project aimed at profoundly transforming the network and is leading the charge on the front lines (see our article). Meanwhile, the other businesses he runs operate with relative autonomy. Unheard of under the leadership of this curious, omnipresent leader… and on the SpaceX side, some employees are asking for more.
As a reminder, Musk occupies a very unusual position at this level of the industry. In addition to the social network, he is also CEO of two industrial titans that dominate their respective niches: Tesla for electric vehicles and SpaceX for aerospace.
Inevitably, it’s a particularly heavy triple hat to wear, even for a madman in this category. Running such a business is a full-time job that requires a large investment. However, the bluebird seems to take up most of the time for a few months.
In general, this situation is not very reassuring for a company of this size, where the slightest lack of leadership – even temporary – can have significant consequences. Bill Nelson, the administrator of NASA, also expressed his concern. he had asked Gwyneth Shotwell, president and number two of the firm, if this change in priority does not interfere with the joint plans of the two institutions (see this Insider article). She was comforting; and in hindsight, it looks like she was right. Because on SpaceX’s side, the opposite seems to be happening. And if Bloomberg is to be believed, this is no coincidence.
Sometimes complicated management methods
Indeed, many employees at Musk’s companies have spoken out about his rather unusual methods. he is a boss ultra-invested, for better or for worse. SpaceX owes a significant part of its success to this trend towards total innovation, it is indisputable; but this constant pressure on all fronts also had adverse effects.
It is common knowledge that he imposes extremely ambitious – even irrational – goals, changes in direction and deadlines on his teams. In addition, he is known for having an opinion about everything and arbitrarily interfering in the work of his teams, and not necessarily in a very relevant way.
One example: on Joe Rogan’s podcast, he confirmed that he asked the engineers to sharpen the Starship. An objectively less efficient form that was chosen… in reference to a famous scene from The Dictator, the irreverent comedy from Sacha Baron Cohen!
— DogeDesigner (@cb_doge) July 15, 2022
Bloomberg cites another particularly revealing case provided by an employee on condition of anonymity. On a Friday night, Musk called the entire team working on the Crew Dragon (a capsule designed to take astronauts into orbit) for an emergency meeting on Saturday morning.
But when they got there, there was no trace of the CEO. When he finally arrived after a considerable delay, he allegedly told the team that a delay in the next vehicle launch would be unacceptable and that everyone should work twice as hard… before leaving as quickly as he had arrived. . According to Bloomberg, this brief interview would go down very badly with some employees, who want to focus on the security aspect.
Gwyneth Shotwell, the Stone of SpaceX
However, with Musk’s new digital crusade, it is Shotwell who manages the company’s day-to-day. And since then, this sometimes nauseating dynamic seems to have evolved. She is widely considered a trustworthy and pragmatic leader. And above all, she works with far more conventional methods than the head of the firm. Nothing to do with Musk, who sometimes has a hard time delegating. There was no way she could exceed her prerogatives by inviting herself onto a production line to demand arbitrary changes at the last minute, as the CEO was wont to do.
Also, she doesn’t share his taste for media getaways; it provides impeccable service delivery and has never been at the center of the slightest controversy. Professionalism highly valued by employees, who are not always comfortable with the image conveyed by the troublesome boss.
SpaceX: employees denounce “embarrassing” behavior by Elon Musk
According to Bloomberg, this is therefore a real breath of fresh air. Obviously, these are mostly isolated testimonials that are not not necessarily representative of the point of view of the whole company. However, if we take into account this feedback and the previous confessions of some employees, the work environment seems to be much healthier currently with the world leader in aerospace.
New year, new Elon Musk?
But knowing Musk, that parenthesis could be short-lived. The billionaire is currently looking for someone “crazy enough” to succeed him as CEO of Twitter. He announced after a search on the platform (see our article). Once he finds someone to take up the mantle, it’s a safe bet he’ll focus on SpaceX again.
This is all the more likely because in 2023 the company has a very busy schedule that includes some of Musk’s most anticipated deadlines. We can mention the baptism in orbit of Starship, the revolutionary vehicle that aims to profoundly transform this entire industry. In addition, SpaceX will further increase the pace of its operations. Musk hopes to pass the Falcon 9’s 100-launch mark in 2023, shattering a four-decade Soviet record in the process. The company should also move forward with the development of the HLS, the machine that will allow the Artemis III astronauts to land on the Moon in a few years. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
With such important deadlines, it would be very surprising if the sulphurous leader was not ubiquitous. In absolute terms, this is not bad news; he may have his faults, Musk remains a key pilot who played a key role in SpaceX’s immense success. And even if they sometimes suffer from this immense pressure, it seems that the vast majority of employees don’t want to see you go.
Let’s just hope he can dilute his wine. Perhaps this episode encourages him to rely more on the very competent people he knows how to surround himself with. Shotwell, in particular, proved himself fully capable of assuming the operational leadership of the company. Hopefully, Musk will learn lessons that will benefit employee well-being without compromising SpaceX’s success.