Tesla Inc CEO Elon Musk attends the World Artificial Intelligence Conference (WAIC) in Shanghai, China August 29, 2019.
Aly Song | Reuters
Elon Musk said in court on Wednesday that he does not want to be the CEO of any company.
He recently acquired and appointed himself as the CEO of social media giant Twitter, adding to his responsibilities as the CEO and “technoking” of electric vehicle maker Tesla, and CEO and CTO of the U.S. defense contractor SpaceX.
Musk also confirmed that the arrangement at Twitter is temporary. “I expect to reduce my time at Twitter and find somebody else to run Twitter over time,” he said.
Musk and Tesla are in the midst of a trial over the 2018 CEO pay package that the company granted him, an unparalleled compensation plan that has made Musk a centi-billionaire and the richest person on the planet.
Shareholder Richard J. Tornetta has sued Musk and Tesla alleging that the CEO compensation was excessive, and that its authorization by the Tesla board amounted to a breach of its fiduciary duty.
Musk explained during the testimony that CEO is not necessarily an apt description for the work he says he does at his companies.
He elaborated, “At SpaceX it’s really that I’m responsible for the engineering of the rockets and Tesla for the technology in the car that makes it successful. So, CEO is often viewed as somewhat of a business focused role but in reality, my role is much more that of an engineer developing technology and making sure that we develop breakthrough technologies and that we have a team of incredible engineers who can achieve those goals.”
He also said, “It’s my experience that great engineers will only work for a great engineer. That is my first duty, not that of CEO.”
Attorneys for Tornetta asked Musk about a CNBC report that he had authorized at least 50 Tesla employees, mostly Autopilot engineers, to help with his work at Twitter, now that he owns the social media company.
Musk said he only called on Tesla employees to assist him at Twitter on a “voluntary basis,” and to work “after-hours” at Twitter. He said that no Tesla board member had called him to say it is not a good idea to use Tesla resources for one of his other, privately-held companies.
The Tesla CEO specified that, “This was an after hours– just if you’re interested in evaluating, helping me evaluate Twitter engineering… that’d be nice. I think it lasted for a few days and it was over.”
When a lawyer asked if he thought it was a good idea to be using Tesla assets at Twitter, Musk responded, “I didn’t think of this as using Tesla assets.” He added, “There’s 120,000 people at the company. This is de minimis.”
With all of his business commitments, Musk explained during his testimony that Tesla has taken more time than anything in recent years.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs in the trial asked whether it was a good idea for Musk to strike a combative attitude towards regulators, and specifically asked him about prior insults he lobbed at the Securities and Exchange Commission.
“In general, I think the mission of the SEC is good but the question is whether that mission is being executed well,” he replied.
“In some cases I think it is not. The SEC fails to investigate things that they should and places far too much attention on thing that are not relevant. The recent FTX thing I think is an example of that. Why was there no attention given to FTX? Investors lost billions. Yet the SEC continues to hound me despite shareholders being greatly rewarded. This makes no sense.”
In fact, the SEC and several other regulators have reportedly launched investigations into collapsed crypto firm FTX, but it’s not clear if those investigations started prior to the firm’s sudden bankruptcy last week.
This news is developing, please check back for updates.