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What Elon Musk gained from his Tesla indecision

Not much.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, left, and Tesla CEO Elon Musk Joshua Lott / Getty

Elon Musk concluded his Shakespearean soliloquy — “to take private, or not to take private” — in the depths of a Friday evening, 17 days after he began a drama that now appears awfully self-defeating.

Tesla’s announcement at 11 pm ET last night that it would remain a public company is a deflating coda. And it confirms all of Musk’s critics’ most disparaging caricatures of the hypeman CEO: Erratic, narcissistic and, at times, pointless.

Let’s take count of what exactly Musk accomplished during the last two and a half weeks:

There are now more serious questions than ever about Musk’s judgment. No, it’s not because of his admission that he is a consistent user of Ambien. It’s because of his quick-trigger decision to announce to the world that Tesla was considering becoming a private company — without any of the usual process — and that he had “secured funding” — which he actually hadn’t — to make it happen.

If Musk had merely considered the proposal privately — and, hey, it’s a CEO’s job to consider every reasonable idea — then Musk would remain a man of hubris but still discretion. Yet his decision to mull a massive, company-altering move in public — on Twitter! — raises very real concerns that he is not thinking things through. What was his plan here?

That massive company, by the way, isn’t as massive as it was on August 7. Tesla stock spiked after Musk’s fateful tweet, to a high of $371 per share. It closed this week at under $323 per share, down 13 percent from that high. (And nowhere near Musk’s would-be takeout price of $420.) If part of Musk’s motivation — as he’s expressed repeatedly — is to burn the short-sellers who feast on Tesla’s demise, then he just handed them a pretty hearty meal.

Tesla is now being investigated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission as part of a probe to see whether he misled investors by announcing secured funding that wasn’t actually secured. Just because Musk is no longer following through on his plan to Tesla private doesn’t mean that SEC investigators are going to shelve their questioning. Proving that Musk intentionally defrauded investors is an uphill climb, but Musk has provoked unneeded federal scrutiny at a time when Tesla’s troubled core business — car production — should be where he is spending his time. Not with lawyers.

Oh, and Tesla is still a public company — just like it was on August 7.

What did he accomplish?

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