Elon Musk Is the New ‘Technoking of Tesla’
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Elon Musk Is the New ‘Technoking of Tesla’

The chief executive will retain his role while changing his title at the electric-vehicle maker

By Matt Grossman
Tue, Mar 16, 2021 8:16amGrey Clock 3 min

Tesla Inc. said Chief Executive Elon Musk has changed his title at the company to “Technoking of Tesla,” extending an irreverent streak in the 49-year-old’s leadership of the electric-vehicle maker.

The company also said Chief Financial Officer Zach Kirkhorn will have the title of “Master of Coin.” Both Mr Musk and Mr Kirkhorn will maintain their respective positions as CEO and financial chief, according to a regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Monday.

The company didn’t explain the meaning of the titles and didn’t respond to an inquiry. Mr Kirkhorn’s new title might carry echoes of Tesla’s ambitions around cryptocurrency. Earlier this year, Tesla said that it had invested $1.5 billion in bitcoin and that it aims to start accepting bitcoin as payment from car buyers.

Over the weekend, bitcoin crossed $60,000 for the first time Saturday before falling back. A steady stream of institutional demand has been credited with driving much of bitcoin’s rally since the start of 2020, when it traded near $7,000.

Other companies have also embraced bitcoin in recent months. Square Inc., which shares bitcoin advocate Jack Dorsey as its CEO with Twitter Inc., acquired about $50 million worth for its corporate treasury in October. Bank of New York Mellon Corp. said it would start treating bitcoin like any other financial asset, and Mastercard Inc. said it would integrate bitcoin into its payments network this year.

Most job titles for corporate leaders conform to a narrow set of variations, but some Silicon Valley companies have previously used fanciful language to describe workers’ roles. For years, some companies have used terms such as “guru,” “jedi” or “ninja” to colour job descriptions that involve expertise or mental agility. Other colourful titles to emerge include chief happiness officer, chief futurist and chief digital evangelist.

Tesla disclosed the title changes amid signs of a bumpier road ahead than in 2020. Rivals are showing early signs of eating into its market-share lead in electric-vehicle sales. The company briefly shut down some of its car production at its lone U.S. plant last month due to parts shortages. Tesla also has said it expects lower Model S sedan and Model X sport-utility vehicle output this quarter as it introduces updated versions of the vehicles, though it is increasing output of its Model Y compact sport-utility vehicle in China.

Shares in Tesla soared more than 700% last year, then fell more than 25% earlier this month and are little changed for the year. The company last year achieved record car deliveries, posted its first full-year of profit and landed a spot on the S&P 500 index.

Mr Musk’s new title could be intended to reflect Tesla’s view that it is the source of technology disruption over the long term, Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives wrote in a research memo, pointing to the company’s autonomous-driving work and its strides in battery technology.

Mr Musk’s role as Tesla’s public face hasn’t kept him from pulling cheeky provocations. Breaking away from the mould of big-company CEOs who make carefully worded public statements, Mr Musk often posts Twitter messages with freewheeling thoughts about subjects ranging from Tesla’s share price to science-fiction topics and online memes.

Tweeting has gotten Mr Musk in trouble with regulators. In 2018 he announced on Twitter that he was considering plans to take the auto maker private, a claim later deemed misleading by the SEC after it became clear he didn’t have funding finalized for such a move.

He denied wrongdoing but eventually settled with a deal that included him giving up his position as chairman of Tesla and agreeing to have any of his Twitter messages relating to the auto maker’s business reviewed before publishing them.

Mr Musk’s ownership stake in the company helped him surpass Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos as the world’s richest man this year.

Also, Tesla on Monday named Jerome Guillen, who has run the company’s automotive business, as its president of Heavy Trucking. He oversaw the truck project in a previous role and, before joining Tesla in 2010, worked on trucks at Daimler AG.

The appointment comes as the car maker ramps up activity around its delayed semitrailer truck.

Tesla over the weekend tweeted a video of the electric cab driving on a test track. Mr Musk has said the supply of sufficient batteries has been holding back the truck. “If we were to make the Semi like right now, which we could easily go into production with the Semi, but we would not have enough cells for it right now,” Mr Musk said on the company’s latest earnings call in January.



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The Loneliness of the American Worker

More meetings and faceless chats. Fewer work friends. How the modern workday is fueling an epidemic of isolation.

By TE-PING CHEN
Wed, May 29, 2024 6 min

More Americans are profoundly lonely, and the way they work—more digitally linked but less personally connected—is deepening that sense of isolation.

Nick Skarda , 29 years old, works two jobs in logistics and office administration in San Diego to keep up with his bills. After a couple of years at the logistics job, he has one friend there. He says hi to co-workers at his office job but doesn’t really know any.

“I feel sort of an emptiness or lack of belonging,” he says. Juggling two jobs leaves Skarda exhausted, with little energy or time to grab drinks with co-workers . “It makes it harder to go in and give it your all if you don’t feel like anyone is there rooting for you,” he adds.

Employers and researchers are just beginning to understand how workplace shifts over the past four years are contributing to what the U.S. surgeon general declared a loneliness health epidemic last year. The alienation affects remote and in-person workers alike. Among 1-800-Flowers.com ’s 5,000 hybrid and fully on-site employees, for instance, the most popular community chat group offered by a company mental-health provider is simply called “Loneliness.”

Consider these phenomena of modern work:

It is a marked shift from even a decade ago, when bonds fostered at work helped compensate for declining participation in church , community groups and other social institutions. As the American workday becomes more faceless and scheduled , the number of U.S. adults who call themselves lonely has climbed to 58% from 46% in 2018, according to a recent Cigna poll of 10,000 Americans.

The faceless workday

The disconnection is driving up staff turnover and worker absences, making it a business issue for more employers, executives and researchers say. Cigna, the health-insurance company, estimates that loneliness is costing companies $154 billion a year in absenteeism alone.

“Work is social, it’s a lot more than a paycheck,” says James McCann , founder and chairman of 1-800-Flowers.com.

Earlier this year, 1-800-Flowers.com moved from three days in the office to four to boost a sense of connectivity among workers. It has also begun tapping workers across teams to serve as designated hosts during lunchtime, encouraging people to sit with colleagues they don’t know in common areas and chat, and suggesting conversation topics.

While today’s workers have more ways to connect than ever, “there are only so many memes and jokes you can send over Slack,” says Maëlle Gavet , chief executive of Techstars, a pre-seed fund that has invested in 4,100 startups. “We tend to have more and more people with back-to-back calendars, more meetings and less connections.”

Gavet says that is especially the case for hybrid workers on in-office days, which they tend to use to dash from one meeting to the next.

Paradoxically, meetings can make people feel lonelier—and even more so if the meetings are virtual, behavioural researchers say. A 2023 survey by employee experience and analytics company Perceptyx found people who described themselves as “very lonely” tended to have heavier meeting loads than less-lonely staffers. More than 40% of those people spent more than half their work hours in meetings.

In Cincinnati, Kelly Roehm says she came to chafe at the meetings—sometimes as many as 12—consuming her day after joining a consulting company in 2021. She would often feel her eyes glazing over as she multitasked on other screens.

“It’s like you’re a zombie, there but not there,” says Roehm, who lived 10 minutes from the office but worked mostly remotely because she says few colleagues typically came in. It is a more common setup as companies distribute teams across more locations: At Microsoft , 27% of the company’s teams all worked in the same location last year, compared with 61% in 2019.

She compares that experience with her time more than a decade ago at a company now owned by AstraZeneca . There, she enjoyed lots of social outlets at work: a Weight Watchers group and a lunchtime crochet club.

“Now if I were to think about asking, ‘Hey, do you want to participate in something like this,’ it would just sound weird,” says Roehm, who left this year to focus on her own career-consulting business. “There wasn’t that emotional attachment that made it difficult to say, it’s time to move on.”

The power of small talk

Office chitchat, sometimes an unwanted distraction, seems to provide more benefits than many people realise, says Jessica Methot , an associate professor at Rutgers University who studies social ties at work.

In a study of 100 employees at different workplaces, Methot and fellow researchers surveyed participants at points throughout the day. They found those who had engaged in small talk reported less stress and more positivity toward co-workers.

Even exchanging pleasantries with a co-worker you barely know can help, says Sarah Wright , an associate professor at New Zealand’s University of Canterbury who studies worker loneliness.

“We used to think loneliness has to be overcome by developing meaningful relationships and having that degree of intimacy,” Wright says. “More and more, though, we’re seeing it’s these day-to-day weak ties and frequency of [interactions] with people that matters.”

Such interactions are substantially harder to replicate in a virtual environment. “The default now is, I have to schedule time with you, even if it’s five minutes, instead of just picking up the phone,” says Katie Tyson , president of Hive Brands, an online food retailer founded in 2020 as a fully remote company.

The frictions add up, she says. Last fall, the company added an office in New York where employees voluntarily gather a couple of times a week to foster more cohesion.

Coming to the office, even on a hybrid basis, tends to yield a roughly 20% to 30% boost in serendipitous connections, according to Syndezo, which analysed survey data and email and messaging traffic from more than two dozen large companies.

Yet there are diminishing returns to time in person, says Philip Arkcoll , founder of Worklytics, which analyses workforce data for Fortune 500 companies. Coming in once a month provides a significant boost in ties; two or three times a month adds a little more, Worklytics data show. Once or twice a week results in a smaller increase, though, and working in-person four or five days a week makes almost no difference.

A business priority

Ernst & Young has asked managers to use the first five minutes of team calls to engage in conversation “as real human beings,” says Frank Giampietro , whose title, chief well-being officer for the Americas, was created in 2021 to help support employees during the pandemic.

The professional-services firm is also training employees to spot and reach out to co-workers struggling with issues such as isolation. To date, more than 1,600 employees have taken the training.

One challenge is that American workers have sacrificed connection for productivity, says Julie Rice , co-founder of fitness chain SoulCycle. These days, with more business contacts preferring video calls, she finds breakfast meetings and coffee dates on her calendar have been replaced with Zoom. Though efficient, such video calls are less likely to yield conversations that can turn into useful professional connections or lasting friendships, she says.

Julie Rice says that her work schedule, once packed with coffees and in-person meetups, is now an avalanche of Zooms. PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER GREGORY-RIVERA FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“Even people I’m meeting with here in New York, we’ll just Zoom,” she says.

Last year, Rice co-founded Peoplehood, a company that runs “gathers” to improve connectivity and relationship skills, and employers are signing up. One, a beauty-services business with hundreds of field employees who never see each other, asked Peoplehood to host a series of gatherings for workers to meet and share job advice. Another, a marketing company with far-flung employees, requested help after surveys showed staff wanted to feel more connected.

“Whatever relationships we had pre-Covid have sort of run out of gas,” Rice says.

Good luck prodding employees to socialise, though. Nearly all the 150-odd staff at the Pleasanton, Calif., headquarters of Shaklee, the nutrition-supplements company, used to attend annual Earth Day gatherings, which involved community service, lunch and breaking early for the day, says Jonathan Ramot , the company’s North American human-resources director. Office happy hours, bowling outings and “mix and mingles” were also robustly attended.

Now that the workforce has gone remote, last year’s Earth Day event attracted 20 staffers, even though most workers live nearby.

“We have a lot of people asking for in-person events, but when we plan them, they don’t show up,” Ramot says. “Then they complain they’re lonely.”

This past April, Shaklee instead held a mandatory get-together with the chief executive, who had relocated to Florida during the pandemic and was in town. About 100 employees gathered at a brewery for food, drinks and conversation—and no speeches from the bosses.

There was a buzz in the air, Ramot says, as staff hugged and delighted in seeing each other, some for the first time. “People were saying, I miss this,” he says.

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