Earlier this year, Tesla Inc. (TSLA) shareholders approved a new 10-year compensation plan for CEO Elon Musk that would pay him handsomely. Several billion dollars worth of handsome.
However, in order for the maximum compensation to be paid out, Tesla and Musk have to hit a number of lofty milestones. One requirement? That Musk is still there.
However, he doesn't need to be serving as CEO in order to still make his money. That's brought on speculation about how much longer Musk may serve as CEO of Tesla. In 2014, Musk said he would continue to serve as CEO for the next four to five years and after that "it's TBD." That would put him in 2018 or 2019. Before that, he wanted to at least introduce the Model 3 as CEO, which he has done.
So we may be closer to TBD than some investors realize.
Earlier this month, a CBS interview aired where Musk said he's been sleeping at the Tesla factory on an uncomfortable couch and that he's been quite stressed. Who can blame the guy, though? No one can fault him for lack of effort.
Should Musk Stay as Tesla CEO?
As I look at Tesla, I see a company that manufactures amazing products. The Powerwall is excellent, the Model S is gorgeous and if the company can make effective solar shingles, it's groundbreaking.
But I also see a struggling business.
Tesla's financials are a mess, it burns a lot of cash and its bottom line is constantly negative. The management team is a revolving door of sorts. I mean, just last month we saw Susan Repo, Tesla's treasurer and VP of finance, along with Eric Branderiz, the chief accounting officer and corporate controller, both leave the company.
Jon McNeill, president of global sales and service, left in February along with two senior managers and one senior director leaving in January. Those are just the notable departures for this year.
Is Musk capable of running a company? Absolutely. Let's not forget that this guy started Zip2 and sold it for $340 million back in 1999. His X.com company was merged with another to eventually form PayPal Holdings Inc. (PYPL) before selling to eBay Inc. (EBAY) . Musk then founded SpaceX (which was just valued at $25 billion), co-founded Tesla and was an important investor in getting SolarCity up and running before it went public.
So clearly Musk can go from Point A to, let's call it Point T. But what investors want to see is whether he can successfully navigate the company to Point Z.
That's where investors could start wondering whether there should be a switch or not. I'm not saying Musk should be out at Tesla, either. While a solidified C-suite could add some much-needed management stability and clean up the balance sheet, Musk is the driver behind the stock.
He gets investors excited, he keeps investors in the stock and he's the man with the vision. If he wasn't there, Tesla wouldn't succeed. Still, though, it's worth wondering if both he and Tesla would be better off with him serving a separate role (perhaps executive chairman and chief development/design/product officer).
On paper, it makes sense: Someone new to right the ship and take over some of the roles that Musk is trying to juggle in conjunction with the Model 3 rollout. Musk can still concentrate on new products -- the Model Y, semi truck, Roadster and other projects from SolarCity -- while another figure runs the rest of the company.
Don't forget, Musk also has SpaceX to run, so freeing up a few responsibilities at Tesla would take some weight off his shoulders. Worth mentioning is that the company would need someone with discipline, but also one that would gel well with Musk. If Tesla can find the right person to lead to the company, while leaving Musk in a power position as well, it could be a win-win-win for the company, Musk and shareholders.