Outside the walls of Tesla, Jerome Guillen is hardly a household name.
But to some diehard customers who bought Tesla's earliest Model S sedans, a fixer is getting the promotion he deserves - and chief executive officer Elon Musk is getting the 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 assembly line was instrumental to the company's finally delivering on a production target this summer. Yet that feat 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, Musk smoked pot with a comedian on a live-streamed podcast.
In Guillen, 46, Tesla has promoted a skilled multitasker who has proven capable of operating 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 Musk run Space Exploration Technologies Corp. - so that the CEO can navigate his way back from a dramatic period that has 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 has sent its stock tumbling, ending last week at its lowest close since April 2. Guillen's promotion was announced along with a series of other personnel moves Friday after Tesla's shares were battered by the fallout from Musk's toking and the exodus of two more major executives. Chief Accounting Officer Dave Morton gave notice last week that he was resigning less than a month into the job; the company also lost its head of human resources, Gabrielle Toledano.
Tesla shares rebounded Monday, rising 4.2 percent to $274.44 (roughly Rs. 19,900) at 9:37am New York time.
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Guillen joined Tesla in the fall of 2010 as program director for the Model S, the Tesla's breakthrough electric vehicle that laid the groundwork for the crossover Model X and the 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 centres, 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 it 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 such as 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."
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Former Tesla employee Neil Joseph, who led the Model S delivery program, reported to Guillen and sat at the desk immediately to the left of him for roughly a yearlong period ending in 2013. Joseph recalls that Guillen typically arrived at the office by 6am 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, checking on what help was needed. "The spreadsheets would become data that he would pass up to Elon every night," Joseph said.
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Tesla has struggled with executive turnover for years, thanks to Musk's demanding style and a pace of work considered 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 semitrailer:
"Jerome is driving Tesla Semi & doing a great job with his team. At Daimler, he led their most successful semi truck program ever."
When Tesla first unveiled the Semi at a late-night party in November 2017, Guillen briefly spoke on stage before Musk rolled in with the trucks and stole the show with the unexpected next-generation Roadster. Tesla has said the Semi will begin production in 2019, but he has yet to announce where it will be produced.
"Elon recognises that he can't do everything himself," Gene Munster, a managing partner at venture capital firm Loup Ventures, said by phone. "Promoting Jerome is a small step in what is a much bigger problem, which is retaining existing talent and recruiting new talent."
Tesla's board has been on the lookout for senior talent but not actively searching for a chief operating officer, a person familiar with the board's thinking told Bloomberg News in August. Though Guillen is not a COO, auto operations remain the bulk of Tesla's business, meaning his new role will loom large.
"It's no secret that Musk has been overstressed and overworked, by his own admission, and certainly his erratic behaviour as of late would seem to reflect that," Ed Kim, an analyst at car-consulting firm AutoPacific, said in an email.
"Guillen, as an eight-year veteran of Tesla, knows the company's operations inside and out and should be more than able to oversee the company's day to day activities. This should give Musk more bandwidth," Kim added, as well as time to "regroup himself."
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