Looks like we may have retired the Tesla Deathwatch a bit prematurely. Valleywag reports that Tesla CEO Elon Musk has launched a Nixonian “plumber” offensive aimed at eliminating leaks from the Silicon Valley startup. And boy are the employees happy about it. The plumb-and-purge strategy was launched when Tesla engineer Peng Zhou told Valleywag that the company’s cash reserves had dropped to $9M. According to the blog, Musk “hired an outside IT contractor go through the company’s email and instant messages, and then had an investigator take fingerprints off a printout discarded near a copier used to leak the email.” That investigation implicated Zhou who was asked to confess, apologize and leave the company. This was just the beginning.
The following memo was recently sent out to Tesla employees, and though it’s creepy enough in its own right, there’s more to the story. Apparently, Musk requested a Tesla IT employee to modify each copy of the memo (changing “I’m” to “I am”, etc.) in hopes of being able to identify a leaker. But because Musk kept the plumbing op close to his chest, even his executive team was unaware of the sneaky plan. Unaware of the purge, Tesla General Counsel, Craig Harding, forwarded his own copy, unwittingly revealing the plot and providing Tesla employees with a “safe” version of the memo to leak. Thus we can share the following creepiness with you without compromising any Tesla employees.
I’m a big believer in trusting employees and sharing information widely within the company, rather than confining it to a narrow set of senior execs and giving everyone else the mushroom treatment. Providing people with an understanding of what problems need to be overcome helps them align and prioritize their actions in pursuit of the greater good. It also ensures that all employees feel included and part of the same team.
This is why I’m so concerned about the continuing leaks to media. It really hurts free communication when even minor issues are leaked and blown way out of proportion. It is nutty that a company like Tesla, which is doing really well right now (how many companies can say that they’re sold out through October?) should suffer from misleading articles on blog sites that would have no credibility, but for a purported inside leak. The leaks often aren’t even accurate!
This kills trust and creates a negative atmosphere within Tesla. (ed: as opposed to convoluted plumb-and-purge operations?) It has to stop.
Today, the legal department will circulate a declaration form to all employees and contractors within the Bay Area. People will be asked to provide their word of honor and signature that they haven’t knowingly leaked any Tesla confidential information to the media. They’ll be reminded in clearly written language of the substantial liability they would incur for disclosure of confidential information in willful violation of the confidentiality agreement they signed with Tesla. If someone does not tell the full truth here, please take my word that you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Alternatively, people will be given the option of listing every leak they have made, whether published or not. If you fully disclose any leak you have done, the consequences will be precisely nothing. You will be completely forgiven and, unlike Peng, won’t be asked to publicly apologize to the company.
The actions of any one person can’t be allowed to hurt the vast majority of people at Tesla who are working incredibly hard to make a difference in the world.