A Cold Chinese Takedown Of Elon Musk

The announcement of major layoffs for Tesla China, the entrepreneur's electric car company, prompts a deeper analysis of Musk as manager.

Elon Musk (right) hands the key of a Tesla car to a customer in Shanghai on April 23, 2014
Elon Musk (right) hands the key of a Tesla car to a customer in Shanghai on April 23, 2014
Liu Junjing


BEIJING — Last weekend, Space X launched two new communications satellites under the command of Elon Musk. Meanwhile on the other side of the Pacific, Tesla China, another company founded by the famous California-based entrepreneur, was quietly going through an unprecedented round of layoffs. Unfortunately Musk doesn't seem to understand what went wrong.

The downsizing decision came from Musk himself, straightforward and decisive without any room for questioning. "The Chinese market's sales performance is not ideal. It hasn't moved towards a clear road of long-term positive cash flow," he declared as he prepared to eliminate at least 30% of Tesla China's jobs.

"Absolutely confident of himself and having absolute discretion have always been Elon Musk's style", a source close to Musk stated to me just before the firings. Obviously the arrogant "Iron man" was unmoved by any local consequences, and proceeded with the company's retrenchment.

Elon Musk's faith in himself, rather than in any God, finds its roots in his own ability to pull success out of a seemingly impossible set of events. Leading up to 2008, the Tesla Roadster sports car was falling short of being put into operation on schedule due to a cost overrun while four rocket-launching failures almost broke his substantial personal fortune as one of the co-founders of PayPal.

Just as he was getting over these adversities the financial crisis hit again. The company was cash-strapped. But once more Musk pulled himself out of the predicament with Tesla's Model S.

Such absolute confidence does not allow for any voice of doubt. Yet such a self-willed personality also led him to commit the most serious mistake, to act as the executive operator of a car company that has now set foot into an international market.

"Elon is definitely a gifted man. But his very un-orthodox way of thinking makes him unsuitable as manager of a company. First because he himself has never had any real managerial experience, let alone in an overseas market to which he is a total stranger," said another source in China who has worked with him.

It is said that Toyota and DaimlerChrysler sold their shares in Tesla Motors precisely because they do not like the company's management approach. In the meantime, in the face of a Chinese market more complex than he had imagined, Musk embodies a manager with neither wisdom nor expertise.

Elon Musk getting off a Tesla car in Shanghai on April 23, 2014 — Photo: Pei Xin/Xinhua/ZUMA

Take the cooperation plans of Tesla China with Tmall, a Chinese platform for local Chinese and international businesses to sell brand name goods to consumers, and Dalian Wanda Group, a Chinese conglomerate and operator in various industries, as examples. Last year, Tesla China's top executives first announced an upcoming limited edition of its Model S with Tmall on China's "Singles' Day" — Nov. 11, which has become a shopping spree festival. But the cooperation was halted by Musk at the last minute.

Meanwhile, when Tesla China started negotiating with Wanda Cinemas, the largest movie theater operator in China and Asia, about building charging stations the plan was also vetoed by Musk because he suspected that Wanda was just trying to bask in the sunlight of Tesla.

No longer a start-up

"As a matter of fact, Tmall and Wanda are both much better known than Tesla in China. Musk doesn’t understand the Chinese market nor does he know how to manage," a Tesla China insider lamented to me.

Elon Musk just can't understand why last April when he made his first trip to China he was feted as a business hero, while less than one year later he is treated with such coldness. He seems to be behaving like a child. In the face of his beloved and suddenly broken toy he doesn't know how to repair it, so his next act is probably just to throw it irritably on the floor.

This is of course best reflected in his crude decision to make huge layoffs in order to maintain the firm's cash flow.

"As a power player and technology-based CEO, Musk’s success relies to a large extent on the company’s technological breakthrough, not on management and operation," argues Zhao Ning, an automotive industry analyst. "But it’s a very dangerous situation for Tesla which already has been through the start-up phase."

Far away back in the United States, Musk seems to have no idea what happened to the carmaker’s Chinese market. He simply believes that making cars is far less difficult than making rockets, and therefore he will eventually overcome the challenges in China as well. What he forgets is that compared to the relatively closed rocket-making market, car manufacturing is an industry with a high market density and fierce competition.

Even more important, the leaders of this sector possess experience and vision in operating internationally. An article about Musk aroused quite a bit of buzz in my circle of friends lately. The article stated that the electric carmaker is convinced that one should look at problems using the First Principle of physics “so that one can differentiate what one should do and what is just following other’s footsteps.”

The question is that, when you are not in your own area of expertise, how do you determine whether your foot is stepping out in the right direction?

In my opinion, though excellent in physics, it’s time Musk polishes up his economics and management skills.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
food / travel

The True Horrors Behind 7 Haunted Locations Around The World

With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.

Inside Poveglia Island's abandoned asylum

Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson

When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.

And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.

Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan

photo of  ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola,

The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan

Dai He/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire

According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.

In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.

The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.

Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.

photo of rocks and trees in Gettysburg

View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA


Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!

The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.

Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.

Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain

photo of sunset of old Belchite

Old Belchite, Spain

Belchite Town Council

Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…

That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.

Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.

If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.

Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan

photo of Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) i

Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Chris Bradley/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire

The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.

The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.

Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."

Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.

Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden

a photo of The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden


After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.

Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia

a photo of ort Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Flickr/Eli Duke

During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.

Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.

Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy

a photo of Poveglia Island, Italy

Poveglia Island, Italy

Mirco Toniolo/ROPI via ZUMA Press

Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).

During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.

In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.

Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!