Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) might easily be considered as a young, upstart electric car maker, but the company is actually being led by the car industry’s most tenured CEO today. In what could only be described as a twist of fate and a stroke of irony, Elon Musk has become the longest-serving CEO in today’s auto segment, having taken Tesla’s chief executive seat back in 2008.
Musk emerged as the car industry’s longest-serving CEO in May, when then-Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche, who had been serving as the German automaker’s chief executive since 2006, announced his retirement after 13 years on the job. And Zetsche was not the only one. The Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance also saw notable turnovers in the group’s CEO positions this year.
Back in January, Renault attracted headlines following veteran CEO Carlos Ghosn’s resignation over his alleged connection with a high-profile financial scandal. Last month, Mitsubishi, which maintains a notable presence in markets such as Southeast Asia, also announced the departure of its CEO, Osamu Masuko, who has been leading the company for the last five years. Even South Korean automaker Hyundai, which produces the practical and well-received Kona EV, saw some turnover in its executive positions earlier this year, with Chung Eui-sun being dubbed as co-CEO with Lee Won-hee, who also took over the chief executive post this year.
Following is a list of car company CEOs as well as their tenure as chief executive of their respective companies (H/T to Benzinga).
- Tesla: Elon Musk in 2008
- Toyota: Akio Toyoda, 2009
- General Motors (GM): Mary Barra, 2014
- Peugeot: Carlos Tavares, 2014
- Honda: Takahiro Hachigo, 2015
- BMW: Harald Krüger, 2015 (though he has recently confirmed that he will be stepping down as BMW’s CEO)
- Ford: Jim Hackett, 2017
- Nissan: Hiroto Saikawa, 2017
- Mazda: Akira Marumoto, 2018
- Volkswagen: Herbert Diess, 2018
- Fiat Chrysler: Michael Manley, 2018
- Suzuki: Toshihiro Suzuki, 2018
- Daimler: Ola Kaellenius, 2019
- Renault: Thierry Bolloré, 2019
- Mitsubishi: Takao Kato, 2019
Tesla gets a bad reputation at times for allegedly being a car company that cannot retain talent. Yet, together with Elon Musk, several of the electric car maker’s key executives have been with Tesla for long periods of time. Among these are CTO JB Straubel and Chief Designer Franz von Holzhausen, as well as President of Automotive Jerome Guillen, who joined Tesla back in 2010, before the first Model S rolled off the line. Other executives that recently rose through the ranks, such as CFO Zach Kirkhorn, have also been with the company since the days of the original Tesla Roadster.
It is evident from Tesla’s growing pains that Elon Musk is still learning the ropes as the company’s chief executive. This became evident during Tesla’s Model 3 production ramp, a “bet the company” strategy that Musk describes as one of the most arduous points in his career. These experiences ultimately give Musk a certain advantage over his fellow CEOs in the auto market, as it allows him to have a clear vision of Tesla’s strengths and weaknesses. This, in turn, enables him to roll out strategies that benefit the company in the long-term. An excellent example of this is Gigafactory 1 in Nevada, a substantial investment that was once deemed a folly by critics, but is turning out to be an act of remarkable foresight today.
Musk is recognized for being a disruptive visionary, and he really is. Nevertheless, it should be noted that the Tesla and SpaceX CEO also deserves some credit for being a leader that sticks with a company through every up and down. Part of this is likely due to the fact that he sincerely fights for Tesla and its mission of accelerating the advent of sustainable energy. Ultimately, this could very well be a big difference-maker for Tesla’s chances of survival and potential success.