Elon Musk is a busy billionaire who you might imagine has a lot of people working for him to keep all of his various projects afloat, but Business Insider brought up an anecdote from a biography of Musk today about how he once fired his long-time assistant for asking for a raise. (Update: Elon Musk has denied the biography’s account on Twitter.)
Look, obviously being the super rich guy behind some of the most influential American companies in recent history is going to make you feel important and probably turn into kind of a jerk. But this anecdote is almost something else, so here it is, as summarized by Business Insider from Musk’s biography, Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, by author Ashlee Vance:
According to Vance, the assistant, Mary Beth Brown, asked Musk for a significant raise after she’d been working with him for 12 years. In response, Musk told Brown to take two weeks off, during which he would assume her responsibilities and see whether she was critical to his success.
When Brown returned, Musk told her he didn’t need her anymore.
Musk also told Vance that he offered Brown another position at the company but that she never returned to the office after that.
Now, of course, this is just an anecdote in a biography, so the telling of what happened may not be exactly as it actually happened. Does it sound like this is something Musk would do? Yeah. Does anyone think Musk can actually operate without an assistant? You probably shouldn’t.
But! After some brief digging to see if I could find something else, I found a Quora posting from the verified profile of Justine Musk, ex-wife of Elon, that practically doubles down on Mary Beth Brown’s story, as well as how insane it is to have any sort of relationship with Elon Musk:
Mary Beth Brown started working for Elon soon after we moved to LA twelve or thirteen years ago (Elon and I were still married then). MB was an exceptional and devoted employee of Elon’s and lovely to deal with on a personal level. She gave her life to the job — and to our family — and the news of her departure was a shock to me.
Apparently (according, I believe, to Ashlee Vance, who wrote the book on Elon), MB asked for a raise. E told her that if she was truly critical to SpaceX, it should not be able to operate in her absence (or something to that effect). He suggested a 3-week experiment to test this hypothesis/her worth. This reminds me of something similar he once said to me, many years ago, after I came back from a week’s visit with my family in Canada — that his life had operated quite smoothly in my absence. He was letting me know that I was an incompetent house manager. (He was not wrong.) So of the different stories I have heard behind MB’s departure from SpaceX, this is the one that resonates with me. (Although you would *never* use the word ‘incompetent’ in association with MB!)
Wherever MB is and whatever she is doing, I hope her life is fabulous. She and I have not always been on the same side, but I have — and will always have — tremendous respect for that remarkable woman.
So, Elon Musk likes to tell everyone in his life how much he doesn’t need them. What a sick son of a bitch. And hey! You’re a fucking billionaire! Pay your assistant what they deserve, in both money and respect! And maybe respect your wife a little more! What an insane little world Elon seems to place himself in.
I’m also kind of bothered by how Business Insider framed its post around how you, the person with a bad boss, should avoid getting fired for asking for a pay raise that you valued yourself at. But that’s Business Insider, and the advice was just to basically reevaluate what’s wrong about yourself instead of what’s wrong with your boss.
Update, 7:50 p.m. August 11: Musk has denied the anecdote’s account of his actions in a series of tweets: