Elon Musk says he is having the most “painful year of my career”

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Elon speaks in Austin, Texas, on March 10, 2018.

Photo by FilmMagic/FilmMagic for HBO

Elon Musk is one of the most famous people in the business world and serves as the CEO of two multibillion dollar companies at the same time. And that adds up to a lot of stress, as Musk made clear in an interview withThe New York Times.

“This past has been the most difficult and painful year of my career,” Musk told theTimes. “It was excruciating.”

Over the last couple of weeks, Musk has faced growing criticism for an unorthodox tweet claiming that he had “funding secured” to take Tesla private. It was just the latest in a series of controversies that has taken an emotional toll on Musk.

During Tesla's May earnings call, Musk berated stock analysts for asking him “boring, bonehead questions” and questions that are “so dry.” He apologized for the outburst in his August earnings call, saying he had been under a lot of stress. During a question-and-answer session with shareholders in June, Musk sometimes seemed close to tears.

Last month, Musk led a team of SpaceX engineers who constructed a miniature “submarine” to help extricate teens trapped in a Thailand cave. However, Thai officials ultimately said the submarine wasn't needed. Musk then got into a high-profile argument with Vernon Unsworth, a key member of the team who rescued the teens. Musk baselessly referred to Unsworth as a “pedo guy.”

Looming over all of this has been Tesla's struggles to ramp up production of its relatively affordable Model 3 sedan. Musk had originally set a goal of producing 5,000 units per week by the end of 2017, but he was forced to push this self-imposed deadline back to the end of the second quarter of 2018.

Tesla just barely squeaked past the finish line. Its workers put in long hours to produce 5,031 cars in the final week of June. But the struggle to ramp up Model 3 production took a serious personal toll.

Musk “turned 47 on June 28, and he said he spent the full 24 hours of his birthday at work,” theTimesreports.

Musk said that two days later, he nearly missed his brother's wedding. He flew directly to the ceremony from Tesla's factory, then flew back to Tesla's headquarters immediately afterward.

“I was not on weed”

In his interview with theTimes, Musk detailed the sequence of events that led to his now-infamous “funding secured” tweet.

“Musk woke up at home with his girlfriend, the musician known as Grimes, and had an early workout,” theTimessays. “Then he got in a Tesla Model S and drove himself to the airport. En route, Mr. Musk typed his fateful message.”

Musk's $420 buyout price led some people to wonder if the number was a reference to marijuana. But Musk says he wasn't stoned at the time of the tweet. “I was not on weed, to be clear,” Musk said. “Weed is not helpful for productivity.”

Musk told theTimesthat he didn't believe Tesla's board was upset about the way he announced the going-private proposal. “I definitely did not get calls from irate directors,” he said.

But other sources told theTimesa different story. Musk's buyout tweets “have angered some board members,” theTimesreports. “Some board members have recently told Mr. Musk that he should lay off Twitter and focus on making cars and launching rockets.”

Musk and his board are also not on the same page about whether Musk needs a deputy to take over some of the day-to-day aspects of running Tesla, according to theTimes.

Musk said that “to the best of my knowledge,” there is “no active search right now” for a chief operating officer. However, theTimesreports, “people familiar with the matter said a search is underway, and one person said it had intensified in the wake of Mr. Musk's tweets.”

Musk continues to have an unhealthy obsession with short sellers of Tesla's stock. He told theTimesthat he is expecting “at least a few months of extreme torture from the short-sellers, who are desperately pushing a narrative that will possibly result in Tesla's destruction.”

It's unclear how a short-driven narrative could destroy Tesla. Ultimately, Tesla's success or failure will be determined by whether Tesla can produce cars for less than customers pay for them—and whether customers are satisfied with the cars. If Tesla executes well, no amount of bad press—short-seller driven or otherwise—should pose a significant threat to the company.

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