The question was on the lips of Tesla shareholders: Would he stay or would he go?
Was Elon Musk truly about to depart as CEO of the electric-vehicle leader?
Musk had appointed Kirkhorn, 38, in early 2019, and according to the report, he has become the shadow chief operating officer, prompting the Journal to compare him and Musk with Apple’s Steve Jobs and Tim Cook.
Kirkhorn, the Journal reported, is admired inside Tesla because he knows how to navigate between the differing demands of his very challenging boss.
The very discreet Kirkhorn, who does not mingle with financial analysts as most of his peers do, knows how to put his boss’s vision into practice.
CFO Kirkhorn: Tesla’s Shadow COO
“While Tesla has no clear second-in-command, Mr. Kirkhorn handles many day-to-day duties in the manner of a chief operating officer, former company executives said. Tesla board members have discussed Mr. Kirkhorn as a possible successor to Mr. Musk as CEO,” the newspaper said, citing a person close to the matter.
Last November, during his testimony in a trial in Delaware over the 2018 pay package the company granted to Musk, a director, James Murdoch, said Musk had told Tesla’s board that he has identified a potential successor to the CEO role.
The revelation came after Murdoch was asked by the plaintiff’s attorney whether Musk had ever identified someone to succeed him as CEO.
“He actually has,” Murdoch responded. He added that it had happened in “the last few months,” but Murdoch didn’t specify the potential successor.
The EV maker had granted its co-founder a $56 billion compensation package. A Tesla holder, Richard Tornetta, sued Musk and the board in an effort to prove that the chief executive used his dominance to obtain the unheard-of package, which did not require him to work full-time.
Many investors are worried that Musk, the visionary and driving force behind the company, will give up his role as CEO.
“There’s some rumors that you’re thinking about stepping down as CEO. Please say it ain’t so,” Musk was asked by an investor during Tesla’s annual meeting on May 16 in Austin.
Rumors of Musk Stepping Down as CEO ‘Ain’t So’
“It ain’t so,” the tech mogul responded, ending the speculation and anxiety in the Tesla community. “I think Tesla’s going to play an important roll in AI and AGI, and I think I need to oversee that.”
AI is artificial intelligence, while AGI refers to artificial general intelligence, typically seen as technology enabling machines to function as efficiently as humans.
Musk told CNBC in an interview after the shareholder meeting: “I’m going to be devoting a lot more time to Tesla, and especially on the AI development, and product development.”
He added that: “I’ll also be allocating some more time to getting Starship to orbit.”
Starship, the world’s most powerful rocket, is the system with which Musk promises to conquer Mars.
The announcement that he would remain CEO and would devote himself to Tesla delighted investors and fans of the carmaker.
“Elon said ‘it ain’t so,’ squashing rumors that he might leave as TSLA CEO,” tweeted Gary Black, a Tesla investor. It’s “hugely positive since it’s the primary reason $TSLA has been weak the past few days. No disrespect to Zach but he’s not Elon.”
Black said that he expected a rebound in the stock.
“With @Elonmusk squashing the WSJ FUD that Elon might be leaving TSLA’s CEO role anytime soon – as we tried to warn TSLA shorts – $TSLA should resume its rebound with 2Q auto gross margins likely to trough at ~16% with indications Model Y prices are headed back up after two successive modest price increases and M-Y inventories super low,” he argued.
FUD stands for fear, uncertainty and doubt.
Musk on May 12 had tried to kill the rumor about his departure. He’d said on Twitter that he was bringing in Linda Yaccarino as new CEO of the microblogging platform to enable him “to devote more time to Tesla, which is exactly what I will be doing!”