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No one gets out of here alive
Imagine if something happened to Elon Musk. Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
What happens to Twitter if something happens to Elon Musk?
Before we dive into this question, let me point out that I truly hope nothing happens to Musk. May he live a long and happy life; may we all, for that matter.
But last month, a Tesla shareholder named Karen Róbertsdóttir in Reykjavik proposed a resolution for investors—where Musk, of course, is CEO—to ask Tesla's board to make a "key person" report.
If approved, it would require Tesla to offer some kind of public commentary on succession plans in case Musk were to no longer be CEO for some reason. As Róbertsdóttir wrote:
Tesla is frequently cited as a prominent example of a company that has so-called key-person risk, due to the prominence of its CEO and the lack of a clear public succession plan or strategy to ameliorate the impacts of his loss.
At present, Tesla shareholders can have little confidence that said risk has been at all ameliorated.
(Total tangent: I love Icelandic names. OK, back to our story.)
Of course, Musk isn't just CEO of Tesla. He's also CEO of SpaceX and Twitter (and heavily involved with the Boring Company, Neuralink, and OpenAI).
He's 51 years old, and I'm not aware that he has any health problems to speak of, but in the immortal words of Jim Morrison of The Doors (who died one week before Musk was born, as it happens):
"No one gets out of here alive."
Among tech and entrepreneurial investor icons of the past few decades, Musk stands out for not having recognized that brutal truth, by publicly and preternaturally planning who would take over if and when the time comes. A few examples:
Steve Jobs and Tim Cook
Jobs was much younger than Musk is now when he had his first scare with pancreatic cancer, and almost exactly Musk's age when he gave his famous speech at Stanford University in which he opined that: "Death is very likely the single best invention of life."
That belief and realization likely had something to do with how carefully Jobs looked for a successor, and why he was able, just months before his eventual death, to issue a one-sentence suggestion to Apple's board:
“I strongly recommend that we execute our succession plan and name Tim Cook as CEO of Apple.”
At age 92, Buffett continues as CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, and the fact that his right-hand man, Charlie Munger, is even older (99), made succession planning a bit more obvious.
Buffett has already revealed his eventual successor: Greg Abel, currently CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Energy and vice-chairman of non-insurance operations of Berkshire Hathaway.
Likely Musk's greatest current rival, Bezos put a succession plan in place at Amazon and executed it, creating the super-position of "executive chairman" for himself, while stepping aside for Andy Jassy.
As for Musk, however, I can't find much on the subject.
The most recent comment I can find from him was a bit of a dark joke, in which he said he expected he might "die under mysterious circumstances," after Russia's space chief Dmitry Rogozin threatened him for supplying Starlink internet services in parts in Ukraine.
Anyway, you don't have to look far to find companies that have run into massive issues because they failed to prepare adequately for leadership succession. It's an entirely different industry, but I’ve spilled a lot of digital ink over the years about what happened at Subway restaurants.
In short, when co-founder and CEO Fred DeLuca died, his widow inherited his 50 percent stake in the company. Then, she reportedly couldn't find common ground for years with DeLuca’s cofounder, the other 50 percent stakeholder.
There was no way to break a tie, and so Subway became whatever you think of it today.
Unlike a sandwich restaurant, of course, Twitter and SpaceX have millions of non-equity stakeholders who are figuratively invested in their success, even without money in the game. In the case of Twitter, Musk himself has called it "a common digital town square."
But who has the clout at SpaceX and Twitter even to ask questions about succession?
Who would become CEO of either company if something happened to Musk? For that matter, without a Twitter board of directors, who would inherit Musk's shares and make that decision?
As intriguing an entrepreneur as Musk is, I haven't yet seen anything to suggest he's actually figured out how to overcome mortality.
That means that as there is for all of us, there's a brutal truth out there waiting for him someday. The time to plan for it might well be now.
7 other things worth knowing today
The U.S. military shot down an unidentified object over Lake Huron Sunday ... the fourth flying object in less than two weeks to be downed over North American airspace. After a Chinese surveillance balloon was downed this month, the U.S. military is now looking at a wider range of radar data as it monitors North American airspace. ... It remains unclear if the military is now spotting objects that have been present but not noticed, or if there are new aerial objects that were not present before. (NBC News)
An anonymous donor, reportedly a Pakistani person living in the U.S. walked into the Turkish Embassy in Washington and gave $30 million to aid victims of the devastating earthquake. (Yahoo News)
The Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl 38 to 35 over the Philadelphia Eagles. Also, how the Super Bowl grew from sports event, to America's biggest party, to a week long and very expensive immersive "experience." (ESPN, Reuters)
Utah’s Republican Governor suggested Friday that California residents who are looking to join the recent population exodus into states like Utah should stay in California: "We would love for people to stay in California instead of coming as refugees to Utah, so we’re always trying to figure that out." (Fox News)
An Irish man moved to a remote village and cut contact with loved ones. He reappeared months later 137 pounds lighter and says he's broken a decades-long cycle of weight loss and gain. (Insider)
Overwhelmed by mess? Try the '5 Things Method' to get it all under control. (Lifehacker)
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates: ChatGPT 'will change our world.' Flashback: 1995, when Gates tried to explain the Internet to a highly skeptical David Letterman. (Reuters, YouTube)