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A company with more than 45,000 employees is undoubtedly going to have a bit of employee turnover. However, the number of executive-level employees jumping ship at Tesla has to be cause for concern.
Tesla has lost three vice presidents in recent weeks. And that’s on top of dozens of high-level departures in the past two years.
The most recent is Steve MacManus, vice president of interior and exterior engineering, who had been at Tesla for four years. MacManus has more than 20 years of engineering experience at European automakers.
Jan Oehmicke, Tesla’s vice president of Europe, also left the company this week.
Peter Hochholdinger, vice president of production, reportedly left Tesla a week earlier to join EV startup Lucid Motors. Hochholdinger was on the Tesla team for three years.
The timing of the departures can’t be great. Tesla has a daunting production production schedule ahead, including the planned opening of new manufacturing plants, rumored redesigns of its flagship Model S and Model X vehicles, continued ramp of the popular Model 3, beginning production on the Model Y crossover, Tesla Semi and next-gen Roadster, and the debut of a Tesla pickup that has been billed as one of the wildest designs the market has ever seen.
It’s a lot. And it’s not like Tesla has been coasting. When the CEO describes the production efforts as a living hell, it’s understandable that employees may be dusting off their resumes.
Below is a list of notable departures at Tesla in 2018 and 2019:
January 2018 – Jason Mendez, director of manufacturing engineering
January 2018 – Will McColl, manager of equipment engineering
February 2018 – Jon McNeill, president of global sales and services
March 2018 – Eric Branderiz, chief accounting officer
March 2018 – Susan Repo, corporate treasurer and vice president of finance
April 2018 – Jim Keller, head of Autopilot hardware engineering
April 2018 – Georg Ell, director of Western Europe operations
May 2018 – Matthew Schwall, director of field performance engineering
July 2018 – Ganesh Srivats, vice president overseeing retail, delivery, and marketing
September 2018 – Sarah O’Brien, vice president of communications
September 2018 – Gabrielle Toledano, chief people officer
September 2018 – Dave Morton, chief accounting officer
September 2018 – Liam O’Connor, vice president of global supply management
September 2018 – Antoin Abou-Haydar, senior director of production and quality
October 2018 – Justin McAnear, vice president of worldwide finance and operations
November 2018 – Phil Rothenberg, vice president in the legal department
November 2018 – Jeff Jones, head of global security
November 2018 – Dan Kim, senior director of global sales, marketing, and delivery
December 2018 – Aaron Chew, director of investor relations
January 2019 – Todd Maron, general counsel
January 2019 – Charles Mwangi , senior director of engineering
February 2019 – Cindy Nicola, vice president of global recruiting
February 2019 – Dane Butswinkas, general counsel
March 2019 – Deepak Ahuja, CFO
March 2019 – Praveen Arichandran, director of growth
April 2019 – Karl Wagner, senior director of global security
May 2019 – Dave Arnold, senior director of global communications
June 2019 – Felicia Mayo, vice president of human resources and head of diversity
June 2019 – Peter Hochholdinger, vice president of production
June 2019 – Steve MacManus, vice president of interior & exterior engineering
The departures at Tesla are not isolated to a specific unit of the company. Engineering, sales, service, human resources, and legal have all been impacted. And Tesla’s challenges are not isolated to engineering and manufacturing. The sales model and pricing strategy has been going through changes, the company has faced a number of legal challenges including dozens of lawsuits and investigations, and HR is certainly battling to retain and attract talent in an increasingly competitive market.
A series of headlines about high-level departures also has to sting for public relations. Tesla tries to control a narrative that things are not just OK, but soon to be amazing. The company makes a habit of teasing shiny new objects that continue to fuel hype, but it’s often tough to get a good read on the level of dysfunction occurring at Tesla. An exception was Musk’s comments in an interview with Axios where he admitted that the car company came “within single-digit weeks” of death this year as it struggled to meet production targets for the Model 3.
The public relations problem has to impact both investors’ view of the company, as well as prospective employees. They’re likely trapped between the notion that Tesla is pushing innovation, but also pushing their top talent to exhaustion. Tesla currently needs to scale a global team with the best and brightest and the optics of fleeing talent is a problem. Not to mention the fact that the company has axed jobs to cut costs – a 9% headcount reduction throughout the company in June 2018 and another reduction of 7% in January.
Overall, morale seems low inside the walls at Tesla.
A Reuters report on data from jobs website Glassdoor found that Tesla’s overall company rating “fell to 3.2 out of 5.0 stars based on reviews written in the first quarter from a high of 3.6 in 2017.” Reuters also found that Glassdoor ratings for culture and values, career opportunities, senior leadership and six-month positive business outlook all fell. “Only ‘work-life balance’ and ‘compensation and benefits’ remained static. No metrics improved,” the report found.
The good news is that Tesla’s second quarter 2019 production and delivery report showed record global deliveries. From April to June, Tesla produced a total of 87,048 vehicles, delivering approximately 95,200 in the U.S. and other territories. You have to wonder if the automaker is about to hit its stride for manufacturing.
Or maybe the company’s aggressive pipeline that ranges from semi trucks to supercars signals the possibility for another “production hell,” which has certainly been hell on employee retention.