Back in 2018, Elon Musk and Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) proposed a compensation plan that was just about as insane as the vehicles that the company produces. Dubbed as one of the most radical CEO payment plans in corporate history, it required Musk to hit a series of market cap and operational targets before he is compensated. If he succeeds, he is paid heartily, making him one of the wealthiest persons in the world by net worth. If he fails, he gets nothing.
“If all that happens over the next ten years is that Tesla’s value grows by 80 or 90%, then my amount of compensation would be zero,” Elon Musk said, describing his payment plan to The New York Times.
A dozen Market cap targets were set, each $50 billion more than the next, starting at $100 billion and so on. Revenue and adjusted profit goals were also established. For each tranche that is achieved, Elon Musk would have the option to purchase about 1% of Tesla stock at $70 per share. Considering that Tesla’s market cap only stood at $59 billion then, the ambitious compensation plan was dubbed as laughably impossible by critics.
“Mr. Musk’s critics — and there are many — are likely to contend that the new compensation plan is just the company’s latest publicity stunt. He has been called a modern-day P.T. Barnum who has created the illusion of success while consistently missing production estimates. The company continues to lose money; at one point last year, it was losing almost a half-million dollars an hour… Jim Chanos, a short-seller who has bet against Tesla’s shares — and has thus far been on the losing side of that trade — has contended that Tesla is worthless,” the NYT wrote then.
That was just over three years ago.
In a securities filing last Friday, Tesla noted that Elon Musk had achieved 6 of his 12 operating targets, and two more were probable soon. A good number of these targets reflected an adjusted version of earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization. Two others represented revenue targets. As noted in a report from The Wall Street Journal, Tesla had also reached 11 of Elon Musk’s 12 market cap targets.
This is incredibly impressive considering that Musk’s 10-year performance award is only in its third year. The long-term plan was designed for a 10-year period, and even Musk, in a statement to the NYT, spoke of a decade-long timeframe when he described his performance award. “I actually see the potential for Tesla to become a trillion-dollar company within a 10-year period,” he said.
While his net worth will radically increase due to his Tesla performance award, Musk could not simply sell his shares and disappear. Under the terms of his payment arrangement, even once his TSLA shares vest, Musk would have to hold them for an additional five years before he is even allowed to sell them. And as per Elon Musk’s previous statements, this is something that he does not intend to do.
Musk’s 10-year Tesla performance award is arguably one of the most shareholder-friendly executive payment plans in the market. Other companies typically install outsize packages that often come at the expense of shareholders because executives are compensated even if they underperform. Tesla’s all-or-nothing plan for Elon Musk, on the other hand, greatly benefits shareholders as their holdings will increase in value as Tesla hits its market cap goals. This is great for long-term shareholders who hold the stock, as well as Tesla employees, as they receive TSLA shares when they are employed by the company.
At the end of December, Elon Musk owned about 22.4% of TSLA’s outstanding shares, up from 20.8% a year earlier. Tesla also has a market cap of $683.42 billion as of Friday’s close.
Disclaimer: I am long TSLA.
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