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Tesla investors have demanded an apology from CEO Elon Musk after he lashed out at a British cave diver who rescued children in Thailand.
Musk’s posts on Twitter sparked backlash from shareholders and Silicon Valley analysts, who called his behavior immature and an impediment to the car company’s success.
The embattled CEO came under fire over the weekend after he baselessly called the diver, Vernon Unsworth, a “pedo” on Twitter and doubled down on the insult before eventually deleting the posts. Musk had flown to Thailand and offered to assist in the rescue mission of twelve boys and their coach from a flooded cave by providing a submarine, but leaders of the operation declined his help.
Unsworth, who was instrumental in the successful rescue, later said Musk’s effort was a “PR stunt”, prompting the Silicon Valley billionaire to say he would make a video proving his “mini-sub” would have worked, adding: “Sorry pedo guy, you really did ask for it.” The diver, who was still at the cave site assisting with clean-up, told the Guardian he was “astonished and very angry” and considering legal action.
Musk and Tesla have gone silent since he deleted the tweets, ignoring repeated requests for comment since Sunday. Some shareholders, however, are speaking up.
James Anderson, a partner at Baillie Gifford, Tesla’s fourth-largest shareholder, told the Guardian in an email on Tuesday that the company saw “the end of carbon as essential” but, was “frustrated that the real steps towards this are being overshadowed and undermined by this saga”.
Anderson said he agreed with some of Musk’s past remarks calling out critical analysts, “but this is different. We are in contact with the company and we are hopeful that it is being taken with due seriousness.” He said he would like to see “peace, quiet and execution” at the electric car company.
Musk has faced increasing scrutiny in recent months over his bizarre tirades on Twitter and his aggressive attacks on journalists, regulators and other critics. The scandals come amid continuing complaints about workplace safety and a struggle to meet production goals.
If Musk’s behavior did not change, “it could have a dramatic negative impact on the company”, said Gene Munster, head of research at Loup Ventures, a venture capital firm. “It has to start with an apology.”
In addition to losing the confidence of investors, Munster said, “the irony here is that their brand is word of mouth.” The scandals “could negatively impact demand and access to capital”.
Loup Ventures published an open letter to Musk on behalf of investors, saying the comments to Unsworth “crossed the line” and calling for an apology.
“Over the last 6 months, there have been too many examples of concerning behavior that is shaking investor confidence,” the letter said.
Jing Zhao, who recently filed a shareholder proposal to remove Musk as chairman of the Tesla board and install an independent director, said the CEO was being unprofessional and that it was “not his business” to travel to Thailand and try to directly solve the rescue challenges.
Zhao said he believed Musk originally had “good intentions”, but that “humanitarian rescues ... are professional tasks so we should trust others with local community connections.
“He should focus on his profession,” Zhao said, adding that if Musk wanted to help these kinds of causes, he should have a separate charity organization.
Zhao also said that this scandal offered further evidence that the company needed an independent chair: “He is not mature enough.”
Tesla’s board members did not respond to requests for comment.
Solar Shed, a British renewable-energy installer, said it would “no longer promote” Tesla-branded products and called on other solar firms to do the same, the Washington Post reported Monday. The company’s managing director tweeted:“All it takes is a public apology Mr Musk and i will reverse our decision.”
Julia Carrie Wong contributed reporting