AUGUST 5, 2022
Photo: Getty Images
This is as good a definition as you’re going to get.
Like almost everything about the company, Tesla’s annual shareholder meetings are, well, different. For one, people actually attend.
Yes, I know, there are people who attend shareholder meetings for other public companies, but those people are usually there because they are paid to be there. They aren’t loud, and they don’t usually cheer when the CEO of the company takes the stage. Oh, and those meetings aren’t usually held on a gigafactory floor.
Tesla’s annual meeting, on the other hand, is. And the room is usually full of Tesla owners who also happen to own Tesla stock because it affords them the privilege of yelling questions at Elon Musk. That is, after all, the reason they came.
Yes, they get to vote on proposals, but if you’ve ever watched the livestream of one of these meetings, you don’t get the sense the people who are there came to exercise a little shareholder democracy. They are there because they’re superfans.
The highlight, obviously, is when Musk takes the stage. Every time he opens his mouth, the remarks are usually stream of consciousness–which means he could say just about anything. For example, Musk hinted that the next version of the company’s full-self-driving beta software might jump from 10.12 to 10.69, for no other reason than to make a crude joke.
Musk also detailed highlights from the past year, but before all of that, he made a point of saying something interesting. In fact, it was even the first thing he said as he took the stage:
“It’s been an amazing year. The Tesla team has done amazing work,” Musk said. “Being able to work with a super talented group of people and to create great products and manufacture those products and deliver them to people and make people happy from those products–that’s one of the best things in life.”
By all accounts, Tesla is a remarkable company. There are now more than three million Tesla electric vehicles (EVs) on the road. That’s saying a lot considering most of its competitors–at least, the ones currently shipping real cars–are counting deliveries in three or four digits.
Lucid, for example, just said it will miss its target of delivering 20,000 vehicles this year. It now expects to deliver 7,000, at most. Tesla delivered more than 200,000 last quarter alone.
I think it’s noteworthy that–before talking about the company’s accomplishments–the first thing he did was to give credit to the people who work at Tesla. There is no question the company wouldn’t be anywhere near as successful as it is without the work those employees have done, and they deserve to hear their leader acknowledge it publicly.
To be fair, Tesla has received plenty of criticism over claims of discrimination and poor treatment of employees. Musk himself has faced pushback from employees over his leadership as well as his public fight with Twitter, which he said he would buy before backing out.
If you look past all of the distractions, however, there’s a pretty powerful leadership lesson here. Every startup begins with an idealistic vision of doing something meaningful. It’s the fuel that helps young companies get traction.
Somewhere along the way, however, “one of the best things in life” turns into “let’s just figure out how to survive long enough to ship.” That’s not a criticism; building a company is really hard. Musk himself hasn’t been shy about the struggles Tesla faced, once saying that shipping the Model 3 almost bankrupted the company.
I actually think that’s why Musk made a point of pointing to his team. There’s something about climbing out of a hole that makes you appreciate the people who were climbing with you.
That’s why, despite all of the distractions, it’s worth paying attention to the lesson here. One of the best things in life, according to Musk, is to build things that make people happy with a team you love. I think that’s a pretty good definition.