The outcome of the SEC investigation into Elon Musk’s wayward tweet on taking Tesla private could turn out to be either very good, or very bad.
The requirement by the SEC that Musk and Tesla each pay $20m in fines is trivial for both. The instruction to hire an independent chairman to oversee Musk is the crucial condition.
Tech company founders have often found themselves in need of outside experience to lead once their enterprises reach a certain size . Those who can make the product, seldom have the characteristics or experience to morph into successful managers of much larger enterprises.
The best example of this working well was Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin to hire Eric Schmidt to front up their rapidly growing company in 1998. It was the persistence of their VC backers which led them to find Schmidt eventually and the arrangement worked like a dream.
However, there are several reasons why a similar successful outcome may be harder for Musk to pull off, and these are two of the major ones:
The SEC has given Tesla 45 days for Musk to resign the chairman’s role, not a lot of time for such a tricky and sensitive search, especially so since it is unlikely Musk has spent any time thinking about what wants or needs from such a relationship.
Musk has a towering self-belief which seems to cover just about every walk of life – extra-terrestrial colonisation, combatting climate change, rescuing children from flooded underground tunnels. It is perhaps unlikely that he recognises the possible benefits which would accrue from a wiser corporate head, experienced in the ways of public companies.
It would be very good for the world if a Schmidt-like outcome occurred. Whether it can or not remains to be seen.