There’s only one thing left to achieve after becoming a CEO: becoming a CEO again.
Tesla is an interesting car company in that it has a “first mover” advantage, getting free access to the American EV market that GM abandoned after it killed the EV1. For years now, everyone has expected that once established automakers started churning out EVs that don’t have bumpers fly off when it rains, Tesla would lose its edge. (This has only been half true so far.)
What I mean to say is that conventional wisdom says Tesla should get out while the going is good, and sell while it still has a big market advantage. For some reason, though, its big business partnerships tend to fizzle out. Toyota, Panasonic, all faded. Now we get one glimpse into what torpedoed a $60 billion deal with Apple in 2016, courtesy of the LA Times:
Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook and Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk are talking on the phone. The 2016 unveiling of the make-it-or-break-it Model 3 is coming soon, but Tesla is in serious financial trouble. Cook has an idea: Apple buys Tesla.
Musk is interested, but one condition: “I’m CEO.”
Sure, says Cook. When Apple bought Beats in 2014, it kept on the founders, Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre.
No, Musk says. Apple. Apple CEO.
“F— you” Cook says, and hangs up.
The anecdote comes from “Power Play: Tesla, Elon Musk and the Bet of the Century” by the Wall Street Journal’s Tim Higgins, and it comes secondhand. Still, it’s a remarkably Muskian interaction. Only Musk could be so self-confidant. It possesses all of the braggadocio that would propel Tesla to becoming the most valuable carmaker in the world. At the same time, it singlehandedly nukes its own success.
In the coming years, we’ll see how many of Musk’s initiatives, his double-down moments, will catch up with him. How many people will have to die at the wheel of a Tesla before Autopilot changes from a selling point to a liability, for instance?
UPDATE 1:02 EST: Elon tweeted that the quote is incorrect, and that he never even spoke with Cook:
How the quote made it into the book if Elon himself denies it remains an open question.