Musk taps busi­ness fixer to steer Tesla past re­cent drama

The Palm Beach Post - - BUSINESS - By Dana Hull Bloomberg

Out­side the walls of Tesla Inc., Jerome Guillen is hardly a house­hold name.

But to some die-hard cus­tomers who bought Tesla’s ear­li­est Model S sedans, a fixer is get­ting the pro­mo­tion he de­serves — and Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer Elon Musk is get­ting the help he des­per­ately needs.

Musk re­cently an­nounced that Guillen, the brains be­hind the Model 3 as­sem­bly line — built, against all odds, un­der a tent out­side Tesla’s car fac­tory — had been el­e­vated to the new po­si­tion of au­to­mo­tive pres­i­dent. The cob­bled-to­gether as­sem­bly line was in­stru­men­tal to the com­pany’s fi­nally de­liv­er­ing on a pro­duc­tion tar­get this sum­mer. Yet that feat faded from the head­lines largely due to Musk’s ques­tion­able antics: Al­most a month to the day af­ter pub­licly start­ing a short-lived ef­fort to take Tesla pri­vate, Musk smoked pot with a co­me­dian on a live-streamed pod­cast.

In Guillen, 46, Tesla has pro­moted a skilled mul­ti­tasker who has proven ca­pa­ble of op­er­at­ing at the break­neck speed his abra­sive boss de­mands. Some in­vestors have called for the car­maker to find a “Musk whis­perer” along the lines of Gwynne Shotwell — the chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer who helps Musk run Space Ex­plo­ration Tech­nolo­gies Corp. — so that the CEO can nav­i­gate his way back from a dra­matic pe­riod that has raised ques­tions about his well-be­ing.

“Jerome is great,” Musk wrote in an email to Bloomberg News, weeks be­fore he an­nounced the pro­mo­tion. “He has made a huge dif­fer­ence to Tesla many times over.”

Tesla could use a dif­fer­ence-maker to re­bound from a chaotic pe­riod that has sent its stock tum­bling, end­ing one day re­cently at its low­est close since April 2. Guillen’s pro­mo­tion was an­nounced along with a se­ries of other per­son­nel moves af­ter Tesla’s shares were bat­tered by the fall­out from Musk’s tok­ing and the ex­o­dus of two more ma­jor ex­ec­u­tives. Chief Ac­count­ing Of­fi­cer Dave Mor­ton gave no­tice that he was re­sign­ing less than a month into the job; the com­pany also lost its head of hu­man re­sources, Gabrielle Toledano.

Guillen joined Tesla in the fall of 2010 as pro­gram di­rec­tor for the Model S, the Tesla’s break­through elec­tric ve­hi­cle that laid the ground­work for the cross­over Model X and the more mass-mar­ket Model 3 that fol­lowed. For some early cus­tomers who bought the Model S, Guillen be­came their go-to as the com­pany strug­gled with grow­ing pains.

Tesla lacked suf­fi­cient sales and ser­vice cen­ters, mean­ing the com­pany was de­liv­er­ing brand-new elec­tric cars directly to peo­ple’s homes. It was a process that worked well for the first few hun­dred de­liv­er­ies in Cal­i­for­nia, but it be­came a huge lo­gis­ti­cal headache once cus­tomers in re­mote pock­ets of the coun­try were left wait­ing. Musk had Guillen add sales, ser­vice and de­liv­er­ies to his port­fo­lio.

Andrew Wolfe of Los Gatos, Cal­i­for­nia, bought a Model S in the fall of 2012 and met Guillen at a meet­ing of Tesla own­ers in Fre­mont, where the com­pany has its fac­tory. Wolfe be­gan reg­u­larly email­ing Guillen, send­ing sug­ges­tions such as where in Sil­i­con Val­ley the car­maker should con­sider open­ing ad­di­tional ser­vice cen­ters. He also aired frus­tra­tions with is­sues such as the lack of a Tesla loaner ve­hi­cle.

Wolfe still has the emails in which Guillen re­sponded with po­lite ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the feed­back.

“Jerome has been around for a long time and is clearly trusted by Elon,” Wolfe said in a phone in­ter­view. “He has a his­tory of be­ing the guy they send in to deal with stuff go­ing wrong.”

For­mer Tesla em­ployee Neil Joseph, who led the Model S de­liv­ery pro­gram, re­ported to Guillen and sat at the desk im­me­di­ately to the left of him for roughly a year­long pe­riod end­ing in 2013. Joseph re­calls that Guillen typ­i­cally ar­rived at the of­fice by 6 a.m. and worked late into the evening.

“What rocked my mind ev­ery sin­gle day for that year I sat next to him was his abil­ity to mul­ti­task,” Joseph said in a phone in­ter­view. “He would be on a We­bex call, he’d be work­ing on th­ese de­tailed spread­sheets, he’d be send­ing emails, and it would all be ex­tremely pre­cise.”

Af­ter hold­ing early-day calls with Tesla’s ser­vice, de­liv­ery and sales teams, Guillen would fol­low up through­out the day on their progress, check­ing on what help was needed.

“The spread­sheets would be­come data that he would pass up to Elon ev­ery night,” Joseph said.

Tesla has strug­gled with ex­ec­u­tive turnover for years, thanks to Musk’s de­mand­ing style and a pace of work con­sid­ered hec­tic even by Sil­i­con Val­ley stan­dards. Guillen took a sev­eral-months-long leave of absence from the com­pany in 2015 but re­turned in 2016 to lead the com­pany’s Semi truck pro­gram. Shortly af­ter Guillen’s re­turn, Musk lauded his track record at Daim­ler AG’s truck divi­sion, where he over­saw de­vel­op­ment of the Cas­ca­dia heavy-duty semi­trailer:

“Jerome is driv­ing Tesla Semi & do­ing a great job with his team. At Daim­ler, he led their most suc­cess­ful semi truck pro­gram ever.”

When Tesla first un­veiled the Semi at a late-night party in Novem­ber 2017, Guillen briefly spoke on stage be­fore Musk rolled in with the trucks and stole the show with the un­ex­pected next-gen­er­a­tion Road­ster. Tesla has said the Semi will be­gin pro­duc­tion in 2019, but he has yet to an­nounce where it will be pro­duced.

“Elon rec­og­nizes that he can’t do ev­ery­thing him­self,” Gene Mun­ster, a man­ag­ing part­ner at ven­ture cap­i­tal firm Loup Ven­tures, said by phone. “Pro­mot­ing Jerome is a small step in what is a much big­ger prob­lem, which is re­tain­ing ex­ist­ing tal­ent and re­cruit­ing new tal­ent.”

Tesla’s board has been on the look­out for se­nior tal­ent but not ac­tively search­ing for a chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer, a per­son fa­mil­iar with the board’s think­ing told Bloomberg News in Au­gust. Though Guillen is not a COO, auto op­er­a­tions re­main the bulk of Tesla’s busi­ness, mean­ing his new role will loom large.

“It’s no se­cret that Musk has been over­stressed and over­worked, by his own ad­mis­sion, and cer­tainly his er­ratic be­hav­ior as of late would seem to re­flect that,” Ed Kim, an an­a­lyst at car-con­sult­ing firm Auto-Pa­cific, said in an email.

“Guillen, as an eight-year vet­eran of Tesla, knows the com­pany’s op­er­a­tions in­side and out and should be more than able to oversee the com­pany’s day to day ac­tiv­i­ties. This should give Musk more band­width,” Kim added, as well as time to “re­group him­self.”

JEROME ADAMSTEIN/ LOS ANGELES TIMES

Tesla CEOElon Musk, pic­tured, has pro­moted Jerome Guillen, a skilled mul­ti­tasker who has proven ca­pa­ble of op­er­at­ing at the break­neck speed his abra­sive boss de­mands, to the new po­si­tion of au­to­mo­tive pres­i­dent. In­vestors are hop­ing that Guillen can pro­vide Musk with the help that he needs.

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