One of Tesla Inc.’s biggest bulls is offering Elon Musk some advice: Cool it. Gene Munster, a managing partner at venture capital firm Loup Ventures, wrote an open letter to Tesla’s chief executive officer Tuesday to tell Musk that his conduct the last six month has been concerning and is shaking investor confidence.
“Your behavior is fueling an unhelpful perception of your leadership — thin-skinned and short-tempered,” Munster wrote. He cited Musk’s outburst at analysts on Tesla’s first-quarter earnings call; his ongoing frustration with short sellers and the media; a June email exchange with a former employee, whom Musk had accused of being a saboteur; and tweets in which the CEO called a cave explorer who helped rescue a dozen boys in Thailand last week a pedophile.
A longtime technology analyst known for his calls on Apple Inc., Munster couched his criticisms with some commendation. He said Musk’s record as a visionary is “unprecedented” and praised him for “building a culture of walking through walls and inspiring a workforce to a level I have not seen in over 20 years of covering tech.”
Munster wrote the letter at the urging of investors who are supportive of Tesla and believe in Musk, he said in a Bloomberg Television interview. “He has a great opportunity but he is jeopardizing the opportunity,” Munster said of the CEO.
‘Crossed the Line’
Tesla shares fell Monday after Musk, 47, attacked a volunteer who played a key role in organizing the rescue of a Thai youth soccer team. British diver Vern Unsworth had dismissed the “kid-size submarine” Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. built to try to help as impractical and called it a “PR stunt” in an interview with CNN.
Musk’s tweets referring to Unsworth “crossed the line,” Munster wrote to the CEO. “I suspect you would agree given you deleted the string from Twitter, but it will take more than that to regain investor confidence.” Tesla’s stock rebounded Tuesday, climbing 4.1 percent to close at $322.69.
Munster, who has said Tesla’s Model 3 sedan has the potential to change the world like Apple’s iPhone did, echoed counsel that one of the electric-car maker’s top shareholders gave to Musk last week. James Anderson, a partner and portfolio manager at Baillie Gifford & Co., called for “peace and execution” and urged Musk to focus on the company’s core tasks.
Call for Apology
“The road to regaining investor confidence is well traveled,” Munster said. “It starts with an apology. Then, focus your message on your progress toward achieving Tesla’s mission.”
Musk also should consider taking a “sabbatical” from Twitter and ignore the investors betting against Tesla, Munster said. During the Bloomberg TV interview, he said consumers form their opinions about the company based on the CEO’s tweets, since Tesla eschews traditional advertising.
“I’m not optimistic that we’re going to get an apology,” Munster said on Bloomberg TV. “But I do think he’s going to slow down, and I am willing to bet that his behavior on Twitter is going to change going forward.”