Tesla Motors Is Revving Its Engine For Success
By: Michael Witham
The Hollywood stories of Facebook and Instagram rapidly ascending to billion dollar companies is typically what’s associated with startups. We think of college students in their dorm rooms working manically to build the next big thing. The Social Network did a good job of crystallizing the myth and cementing it as the startup status quo. But it’s false. Those two companies are extreme outliers. A more realistic startup evolution is Tesla Motors.
Tesla Motors was founded in 2003 and initially funded by Elon Musk. Joining Musk was a group of fearless Silicon Valley engineers who set out to prove that electric vehicles could be awesome. It’s been a grueling 10 years, not a Hollywood tale of rapid success.
Just last quarter they experienced their first profitable quarter.
The automobile industry is one of the most competitive. The industry has done a great job of protecting their market position by making the barrier to entry extremely high.
Closely tied to the automobile industry is oil. Another industry titan who likes to maintain the way things are going. When the oil and auto industry team up to defend a position, it would take a courageous, arguably an idiot, to want to play with these boys.
Very few people would have the audacity to invite themselves to this party.
There were times when Musk was ready to throw in the towel. The 2008 financial crisis was an uppercut to Tesla. Tesla was five years old and Musk was weeks away from folding the company and abandoning his dream. Years of work and tens of millions of dollars of his own money was at risk.
If this would have been Musk’s first attempt at entrepreneurial success, the story would end here. Having the resiliency and resources to continue came from previous successes:
1. Musk’s career began in 1995 after dropping out of his PhD program in Applied Physics and Materials Science at Stanford and founding a software company named Zip2. At the height of the dot com bubble, Musk and his brother sold the company for over $300 million in cash. Homerun.
2. After selling Zip2, Musk founded another company called X.com. One year later and after acquiring Confinity, the companies merged and became Paypal Inc. In late 2002, Ebay paid $1.5 billion for Paypal. At the time, Musk owned over 11% of the shares. Homerun.
After hitting two home runs in seven years, Musk had the capital and resources to attack the oil and auto industry. But the goal wasn’t to bring an electric car to market.
The goal was to move clean energy and humanity forward.
After Musk sold his first two companies, he found himself with a tremendous amount of wealth. He didn’t retire or go buy an exotic island in the Pacific to live on, he immediately went back to work.
A year before founding Tesla, Musk decided to start another company. He decided to try something no one had ever thought possible; a commercial space business. Why not?
SpaceX was founded with over $100M of Musks personal money and what seemed to be a delusional dream in 2002. Space X is the first and only commercial entity to successfully carry a payload to the International Space Station, an accomplishment previously only held by countries. The next step for SpaceX is to put humans on Mars.
In parallel to SpaceX was Tesla Motors. With another large personal investment, Musk took his acumen and decided to implement a technology that’s existed since the days of Nikola Tesla.
Running a vehicle solely on electricity is not novel. Electric motors powerful enough for high performance vehicles have been around for decades. The novel part is one man standing up to the oil and auto industry.
Without people like Musk rebelling against the status quo and pushing things forward, things don’t change. The incumbent ideas and ways will persist indefinitely, unless there’s intervention. Tesla Motors is a symbol for progression. The progression of clean energy and the longevity of humanity.
Tesla’s first car was the Roadster. A flashy high performance sports car powered only an electric motor. The car accelerates from 0-60 mph in 3.7 seconds!
The Model S came out a few years later and has been pushing the company forward. The luxury sedan looks like a Jaguar with a facelift and in 4.2 seconds goes from 0-60 mph. The entire car is made up of less than 25 parts. No oil changes, no gas. The only maintenance is on brakes and tires.
In 2014, Tesla will release their Model X. An affordable SUV that will share the same performance as the Model S, but spacious enough for the entire family.
Five years after the 2008 financial crisis, Tesla is valued over $12 billion dollars and rising.
New products are in the pipeline and partnerships with Mercedes and Toyota have secured the company in the industry. The Little Engine Who Could story has crossed over into reality. When one takes a step back, it’s hard not to look in awe at what Tesla has been able to do in 10 years.
If you were propositioned with an idea to enter into an industry protected by auto and oil interests, with a technology people have tried to do (electric autos) and failed over and over again, you tell that person they were nuts. And going to fail.
Until it happened.
Which it has, Elon Musk and Tesla Motors are doing the seemingly impossible. They are disrupting an industry thought to be untouchable by new entrants. It’s been driven by the vision of an Internet entrepreneur turned protector of humanity’s survival, with an unwillingness to allow status quo to define the trajectory of the future.
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.