Mon, Mar 06, 2017 - Page 15 News List

‘Stretched to the limit’ Tesla losing staff


Tesla Inc is losing key personnel as it races to bring the Model 3 — its most critical electric sedan yet — to market later this year.

Tesla chief financial officer Jason Wheeler’s impending departure, announced just 15 months after he joined Tesla from Google, is to be the latest in a raft of largely under-the-radar exits.

Former executives, who spoke on the condition they not be identified, cited a range of reasons for their exits over the past year, including long hours in the rush to high-volume production, mission creep and a tense culture that reflects their visionary, but indefatigable chief executive officer Elon Musk.

“Tesla looks like a company that is getting stretched to the limit,” said Dave Sullivan, an analyst at industry researcher AutoPacific Inc. “The pressure of getting out the Model 3 is getting to everybody, from the people on the factory floor to the people at the top.”

A Tesla spokesman in an e-mailed statement called attracting and retaining talent “one of our biggest assets” and said the company’s attrition rate was below average among technology companies.

Long hours and job-hopping are routine at tech companies in California’s Silicon Valley and Palo Alto-based Tesla continues to make high-profile hires.

Even so, analysts have flagged the departures as a risk to what is to be Tesla’s most challenging execution year in its short history.

Musk plans to introduce the Model 3, which is starting battery production at the Gigafactory and is to integrate SolarCity, a recent acquisition.

Like many companies, Tesla noted among risk factors in its just-filed annual report that it needs to attract and retain skilled workers.

However, this year it added a new phrase to the boilerplate, saying the efforts are needed “especially to support our expansion plans and ramp to high-volume manufacture of vehicles.”

Wheeler, whose departure was first announced on last week’s quarterly earnings call, said he wants to pursue work in public policy and praised what he called the “A-team” at Tesla.

Deepak Ahuja, the chief financial officer who led Tesla from the brink of bankruptcy through its 2010 initial public offering and retired in 2015, is to return next month for a second tour of duty.

Bloomberg News compiled a list of more than two dozen management departures over the past year that include vice presidents of finance, communications, regulatory affairs, production, manufacturing, products and programs.

Tesla lost Mark Lipscomb, vice president of human resources and Satish Jeyachandran, its director of hardware engineering.

Tesla is generally opaque about its leadership beyond Musk and chief technical officer J.B. Straubel, with no list of executives or vice presidents on its Web site, its investor relations page or in the annual report the company filed this week with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

Among Tesla’s senior leadership team, three quarters have more than three years of tenure, 60 percent have been with the company at least six years and 20 percent have worked there a decade, according to the spokesman.

About 60 percent of those who have had a leadership position at Tesla over its 14-year existence are still with the company, Tesla said.

None of the former managers Bloomberg News reached agreed to speak on the record.

When Tesla announced in January that it hired Chris Lattner from Apple Inc as vice president of Autopilot software, it did not mention that Sterling Anderson, the executive who ran the entire Autopilot program and reported directly to Musk, departed in December last year.

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