Antelope Valley Press
Musk defends SolarCity, blasts lawyer
WILMINGTON, Del. — Tesla founder Elon Musk took to a witness stand Monday to defend his company’s 2016 acquisition of a troubled company called SolarCity against a lawsuit that claims he’s to blame for a deal that was rife with conflicts of interest and never delivered the profits he’d promised.
And to the surprise of no one, the famously colorful billionaire did so in the most personally combative terms.
“I think you are a bad human being,” Musk told Randall Baron, a lawyer for shareholders who was pressing Musk to acknowledge his mistakes in helping engineer the acquisition of SolarCity, a manufacturer of solar panels.
“I have great respect for the court,” Musk later added, “but not for you, sir.’’
The long-running shareholder lawsuit asserts that Musk, who was SolarCity’s largest stakeholder and its chairman, and other Tesla directors breached their fiduciary duties in bowing to Musk’s wishes and agreeing to buy the company. In what the plaintiffs call a clear conflict of interest, SolarCity had been founded by Musk and two of his cousins, Lyndon and Peter Rive.
In the Delaware Court of Chancery on Monday, Baron sought to establish that Musk has sought to run Tesla without interference and therefore bears responsibility for any failures. The lawyer showed a video clip in which Musk said he liked running his own companies because he doesn’t want anyone to make him do what he doesn’t want to do.
As an example of what he characterized as Musk’s imperious management style, Baron mentioned that the CEO once declared himself “Technoking of Tesla’’ and gave his chief financial officer the title “master of coin’’ — a reference to HBO’s “Game of Thrones” — in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The hostility between the billionaire CEO and the plaintiffs’ lawyer dates to at least 2019 and a deposition in which Musk insulted Baron and questioned his professionalism. On Monday, Baron played clips from that deposition to try to portray Musk’s stance toward what he might regard as criticism.
Pushing back, Musk insisted that “I don’t want to be the boss of anything.”
“I prefer to spend my time on design and engineering,’’ he said.
Musk, who is well-known for rejecting skepticism of himself or his company, insisted that he welcomes criticism:
“If I’m mistaken,” he said on the witness stand, “I view critical feedback as a gift.’’
Musk said his off-beat titles and other quips simply reflect his sense of humor.
“I think I’m funny,’’ he offered.
What’s more, he said, the resulting media attention often plays to Tesla’s benefit.
“If we’re entertaining, people will write stories about us,” and the company can save on advertising.”