Jerome Guillen, Tesla’s new leader and Elon Musk little-known fixer

Jerome Guillen is the brains behind Tesla’s Model 3 assembly line and a skilled multitasker.

Updated: Sep 10, 2018 15:17:52

By Dana Hull

Jerome Guillen, new automotive president for Tesla. (Bloomberg)

Outside of Tesla Inc., Jerome Guillen is hardly a household name.

But to some of the earliest, die-hard customers who bought Tesla’s first Model S sedans, a fixer is getting the promotion he deserves, and chief executive officer Elon Musk is getting help he desperately needs.

On Friday, Musk announced that Guillen, the brains behind the Model 3 assembly line built, against all odds, under a tent outside Tesla’s car factory, had been elevated to the new position of automotive president. The cobbled-together line was instrumental to the company finally delivering on a production target this summer--a feat that faded from the headlines largely due to Musk’s questionable antics. Almost a month to the day after publicly starting a short-lived effort to take Tesla private, he smoked marijuana with a comedian on a live-streamed podcast.

In Guillen, 46, Tesla has promoted a skilled multitasker who’s proven able to operate at the breakneck speed his abrasive boss demands. Some investors have called for the carmaker to find a Musk whisperer along the lines of Gwynne Shotwell--the chief operating officer who helps him run Space Exploration Technologies Corp.--so that the CEO can navigate his way back from a dramatic period that’s raised questions about his well-being.

“Jerome is great,” Musk wrote in an email to Bloomberg News, weeks before he announced the promotion. “He has made a huge difference to Tesla many times over.”

Tesla could use a difference maker to rebound from a chaotic period that’s sent its stock tumbling to end last week at the lowest closing price since April 2. The shares have plunged 31 percent since Aug. 7, the day of Musk’s initial take-private tweets.

Elon Musk, chief executive officer of Telsa Inc., is seen on a television on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., on September 7, 2018. ( Bloomberg )

Musk’s fixer

Guillen joined Tesla in the fall of 2010 as the program director for the Model S, the Tesla’s breakthrough electric vehicle that laid the groundwork for the crossover Model X and more mass market Model 3 that followed. For some early customers who bought the Model S, Guillen became their go-to as the company struggled with growing pains.

Tesla lacked sufficient sales and service centers, meaning the company was delivering brand new electric cars directly to people’s homes. It was a process that worked well for the first few hundred deliveries in California, but became a huge logistical headache once customers in remote pockets of the country were left waiting. Musk had Guillen add sales, service and deliveries to his portfolio.

Andrew Wolfe of Los Gatos, California, bought a Model S in the fall of 2012 and met Guillen at a meeting of Tesla owners in Fremont, where the company has its factory. Wolfe began regularly emailing Guillen, sending suggestions such as where in Silicon Valley the carmaker should consider opening additional service centers. He also aired frustrations with issues like the lack of a Tesla loaner vehicle.

Wolfe still has the emails in which Guillen responded with polite appreciation for the feedback.

“Jerome has been around for a long time and is clearly trusted by Elon,” Wolfe said Sunday in a phone interview. “He has a history of being the guy they send in to deal with stuff going wrong.”

Impressed Desk Mate

Former Tesla employee Neil Joseph, who lead the Model S delivery program, reported to Guillen and sat at the desk immediately to the left of him for a roughly yearlong period ending in 2013. Joseph recalls that Guillen typically arrived at the office by 6 a.m. and worked late into the evening.

“What rocked my mind every single day for that year I sat next to him was his ability to multitask,” Joseph said in a phone interview Sunday. “He would be on a Webex call, he’d be working on these detailed spreadsheets, he’d be sending emails, and it would all be extremely precise.”

After holding early-day calls with Tesla’s service, delivery, and sales teams, Guillen would follow up throughout the day on their progress and to check on what help was needed. “The spreadsheets would become data that he would pass up to Elon every night,” Joseph said.

Daimler days

Tesla has struggled with executive turnover for years, in part due to Musk being a demanding boss and the pace of work being hectic even by Silicon Valley standards. Guillen took a several-months-long leave of absence from the company in 2015 but returned in 2016 to lead the company’s Semi truck program. Shortly after Guillen’s return, Musk lauded his track record at Daimler AG’s truck division, where he oversaw development of the Cascadia heavy duty semi trailer.

First Published: Sep 10, 2018 11:49:01


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