Everything about Elon Musk is larger than life these days, so it’s fitting that the new compensation package for Tesla’s visionary billionaire leader is equally audacious. It may also help should the company move to raise more funds this year to pay for Musk’s ever-expanding list of aspirations.
The package locks up Musk as either CEO or executive chairman and chief product officer for 10 years, with the sole compensation consisting of stock options that would be granted only if the company meets a series of performance goals. Among the most ambitious of them: Tesla’s market capitalization would have to ultimately swell to $650 billion, or about 11 times its current $59.4 billion level. Over the next decade, revenue from Tesla’s electric vehicles, batteries and solar panels has to reach an annual $175 billion, more than 10 times the likely level in 2017. There are no production volume goals, as was the case with his previous 2012 long-term compensation plan, though pre-tax earnings excluding certain items have to reach $14 billion to receive the maximum benefit.
Should all of that happen, Musk would be compensated with stock options equal to 1% of Tesla’s current outstanding shares, delivered over 12 tranches. It would expand his wealth by tens of billions of dollars, from Forbes’ estimate of $21 billion currently. The plan needs approval from Tesla shareholders, though given the faith so many of them place in Musk’s leadership, that seems likely to be a formality.
Certainly, if all the targets are met, it will be a remarkable accomplishment and worthy of remarkable compensation. A review of the package by The New York Times called it the “boldest pay plan in corporate history.” Not to be outdone, Musk himself told the paper: “I actually see the potential for Tesla to become a trillion-dollar company within a 10-year period.”
When Musk’s previous compensation plan was approved in 2012, the goals for the young company looked similarly audacious. At the time, it was not a foregone conclusion that the company that was just beginning to roll out its Model S sedan would be able to grow its market cap at the time from just over $3 billion by annual $4 billion increments. In fact, that happened even faster than anticipated, with its value swelling to nearly $60 billion. And of the targets Musk was to achieve in the original comp plan, including launching the Model X crossover and Model 3 sedan and aggregate production of 300,000 vehicles, at least nine of 10 have been met, according to the company.
So what’s the significance of this announcement right now, particularly given that Musk has given no indications that he’s considering stepping away from Tesla? Certainly, the news that he’s staying put, even in the event that he opts to relinquish CEO duties to a handpicked successor, will cheer his remarkably loyal owners and long-term investors. It also helps the company compete for talent, particularly as the role of technology companies in the area of next-generation transportation expands.
“The timing precedes what we expect to be an unprecedented era in the battle for capital and human talent,” Adam Jonas, an equity analyst for Morgan Stanley, said in a research note about the compensation plan.
“For much of Tesla’s history as a public company, the company has all but monopolized the OEM investment debate for Auto 2.0,” Jonas said. “Over the next 12 months, we anticipate that Tesla’s scarcity value amongst entities vying for supremacy in the new ecosystem will be challenged.”
And much like Musk’s over-the-top Tesla Semi and Roadster debuts late last year, turning attention to hopes for the future and away from current challenges – namely the struggle to achieve high-volume production of Tesla’s first (almost) mass-market car, the Model 3 – the sky-high performance goals keep the excitement for the brand very high. That’s important right now as soon-to-be-announced financial results for 2017’s fourth quarter, much like Tesla’s production results this month, may hold less to cheer about.
And if, as some analysts expect, Tesla issues new debt or stock for the ongoing expansion of its vehicle and manufacturing operations, development of new cars and trucks, an ever-larger global network of electric charging and vehicle maintenance facilities, it helps to have the brand’s symbol staying put.
Barclays equity analyst Brian Johnson estimated this month that Tesla will likely raise a further $2.5 billion this year, though probably not until the second half when, presumably, Model 3 production headaches are resolved or on their way to being solved.
Ultimately, the compensation package shows that eight years into its life as a public company that has become iconic, if not profitable, Tesla has no shortage of astonishing aspirations. And, of course, that the person who embodies, sets and guides those aspirations is sticking around for many years to come. – Written by ,