As Top Executives Leave Tesla, Elon Musk Is Left With 29 Direct Reports

The tech news site The Information has obtained an internal–and very revealing–organizational chart of Tesla leadership. According to the chart, it appears CEO Elon Musk currently has 29 people reporting to him directly. 

Imagine a gathering of your own direct reports. Not your entire team or your entire company, just the people who have no other boss between you and them. How many of them would there be? Whatever the number, I’m betting it’s a lot lower than 29. According to The Information, Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors, has only 12 direct reports. Ford CEO James Hackett has only nine.

Asked for a comment, Musk told The Information that an org chart pulled off the site earlier this month was “rife with errors.” Beyond that, he did not comment on the people reporting to him, except to say that it is “high by most standards.”

Even for Musk, 29 is an unusually high number of reports, and results in part from the recent turmoil at Tesla. What with the SEC investigation and lawsuit caused by an ill-considered tweet that is forcing Musk to step down for three years as Tesla chair (while remaining CEO), an anguished and sleep-deprived interview with The New York Times, and the struggle it took for the company to finally meet its Model 3 production target, you could be forgiven for failing to notice that in the middle of it all, the company had to lay off 9 percent of its employees

It would be easier still not to notice the departure of upper executives this summer and fall–particularly since the company is oddly closed-mouthed about all its executives other than Musk. Tesla does not provide an external organizational chart or even much information about its executive team. The only information about management anywhere on the Tesla website lists only three executives, Musk as chairman, product architect, and CEO, JB Straubel as CTO, and Deepak Ahuja as CFO.

According to Bloomberg, since early June, many many key executives have departed Tesla. These include Doug Field, SVP of engineering, Dave Morton, chief accounting officer, Gabrielle Toledano, chief people officer, and Sarah O’Brien, vice president of communications. Bloomberg reported that five more senior executives besides these have left as well, and The Information reporter Amir Efrati noted the the internal org chart “helped to confirm” that Gil Passin, head of manufacturing for years, was also gone from the company. And, The Information reported, Matt Casebolt, in charge of body and door development and a direct report of Doug Field’s was recently removed from the internal org chart, suggesting that he too has moved on. (Tesla would not comment to The Information on whether Casebolt is still an employee and so far has not responded at all to a request for comment from Inc.com.)

Thus, The Information estimates, about a dozen executives are reporting to Musk because their immediate boss left the company and has not yet been replaced. Presumably–although really, who knows?–the company will fill those executive positions at some point and Musk will go back to a more “normal” estimated 18 direct reports. 

Musk has said he wants Tesla to be a flatter organization, and indeed flat organizational structures are a popular concept and can confer competitive advantage for many reasons, including that you save a lot of money on manager salaries. But Tesla’s lack of transparency about its leadership team other than Musk is pretty weird. One insider told The Information that Tesla’s management team has few meetings and its members are rarely all in the same place. If true, that’s weird as well. Meantime Musk is known for often communicating directly with employees who would be far below him in the hierarchy if there was one. It all points to something we all already know about Musk: He’s bad at delegating.

He needs to get better. Executives who don’t feel their CEO trusts them to handle the people and projects directly assigned to them are likelier to quit. So are executives whose bosses hog the limelight and leave them in the shadows. We may be seeing both these dynamics in action at Tesla. 

Musk could do himself and his company a huge favor by bringing some of his executive team more into the public eye, and trusting them to oversee their own areas. Better yet, he could finally get a little sleep.