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Morning Coffee: The ‘agony and ecstasy’ of working for Elon Musk. ‘Backbiting’ at Goldman

Despite all the negative headlines surrounding Elon Musk, the next-generation of engineering talent is still lining up to work for the man. More than 13,000 students recently rated Tesla as the fourth most prestigious internship, behind only Google, Apple and Microsoft. That’s up two spots from a year ago – before the infamous tweet, the $20 million SEC fine and various reports of engineers putting in marathon weeks of work to meet seemingly impractical deadlines. So why are they so enamored?

A fascinating and exhaustive new article from Wired delves deeper into the reasoning and provides plenty of anecdotes that suggest working for Tesla means you’re in an “abusive relationship” with Elon, according to one former executive.

Perhaps the most startling story is of a young engineer who was “ecstatic” about working at Tesla’s battery manufacturing plant in Nevada, despite working 13-hour days, seven days a week. At 10pm on a Saturday, a frustrated Musk called over the engineer to help with a module that wasn’t performing properly. “Did you do this”? Musk reportedly asked. The flustered engineer responded that he didn’t know exactly what he was referring to. “You’re a f*****g idiot!” Musk shouted back. “Get the f**k out and don’t come back!” Less than a minute after meeting him, and without Musk even learning his name, the engineer was fired, according to the report.

One anonymous manager told Wired that he had a name for the outbursts: “rage firings.” The same manager would dissuade his reports from getting too close to Musk, lest they face a similar situation. Sources told Wired that he would openly deride, insult and even bully employees, sometimes demoting them on the spot. “Everyone came to work each day wondering if that was going to be their last day,” a former executive told the website. Another said he was told by others to hunch down in meetings because Musk appeared to prefer sitting higher than everyone else. There are probably a dozen other anecdotes that are worth reading, but they all paint a similar picture of an emotional and combustive CEO, far worse than any we've come across in finance, who kept employees on an extreme edge.

That all said, the most fascinating part of the piece seems to answer the question around why employees are so enamored with Tesla and with Musk in light of all that they know. The majority of people who were interviewed, including some who were fired, see Musk as a visionary and believe deeply in the greater good that he promises to deliver. They breathe, drink and eat the mission statement. “Tesla is the only company positioned to make this world a better place, to really improve the world right now,” one fired employee told Wired. “And Tesla is Elon. How can you be bitter about humanity’s best hope?” (A Tesla spokesperson told Wired that some of the stories were misleading and lack context).

Elsewhere, the 1MDB bribery scandal has left former higher-ups at Goldman Sachs shaking their head. Nearly a dozen former partners told Bloomberg that they are disturbed that the firm allegedly missed or ignored red flags surrounding the deal, calling the scandal the biggest threat to the firm’s reputation since the financial crisis. That takeaway is underscored by the fact that two former partners actually went on record with Bloomberg to criticize Goldman – something that rarely, if ever, happens.

The bank too was somewhat out of character with a sharp response, noting that former CEO Lloyd Blankfein received a standing ovation last week at a lunch with corporate executives. “That public affirmation from our long-standing clients is more meaningful than backbiting and second-guessing from former employees,” a Goldman spokesperson told Bloomberg.


A female BNP banker is suing the firm for discrimination over claims that her former male boss called her a “princess” behind her back. Regis Pecheux, the bank’s head of corporate sales for central and eastern EMEA, said in court on Thursday that he used the term “jokingly” and that he “did not consider it belittling at the time.” (Bloomberg)

Amazon is only set to hire around 700 employees in New York’s Long Island City next year, a fraction of the 25,000 it plans to add by 2028. It will take roughly two years before the company can even break ground on its new headquarters. The anticipated explosion of news jobs will be more of an extended trickle for the foreseeable future. (WSJ)

U.S. politicians have called on the Senate Banking Committee to launch a “thorough, detailed bipartisan committee investigation” into Deutsche Bank. The firm’s German offices were raided by police in November as part of an offshore tax-evasion and money-laundering case. (WSJ)

Hedge fund veteran Philippe Jabre is closing the three funds that he personally managed after “an especially challenging” year. Meanwhile, New York-based River Birch Capital, co-founded by former Lehman Brothers President Bart McDade, is also closing. More than 170 hedge funds were liquidated in the third quarter alone. (Bloomberg)

BlackRock is building a technology platform for Microsoft that will allow the software company’s employees access to financial planning tools and guaranteed retirement income through their workplace saving plans. BlackRock may be the world’s largest asset manager, but it is clearly now focusing on technology as a key revenue generator. Who would have ever thought it would be BlackRock that’s selling software to Microsoft? (WSJ)

Swiss investment company GAM plans to cut roughly 10% of its workforce next year following outflows that were prompted by a scandal over a star money manager. (Bloomberg)

Morgan Stanley is shuttering its equities and FX sales and trading desks in Moscow. Some of the 40 employees will move to London. Others will be let go. (Bloomberg)

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AUTHORBeecher Tuttle US Editor

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