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Elon Musk appears emotional as he overcomes vote to remove him as Tesla chairman

SpaceX and Tesla chief executive Elon Musk speaks at the International Astronautical Congress on Sept. 29 in Adelaide, Australia. Tesla shareholders vote on June 5 to keep Musk as both CEO and chairman. (Mark Brake/Getty Images)

Shareholders voted to maintain Elon Musk’s role as chairman of Tesla’s board during the company’s annual shareholder meeting in Mountain View, Calif., on Tuesday despite a controversial proposal to strip him of that position.

The vote of confidence is a major boon for Tesla’s embattled chief executive and founder but arrives six months into what is arguably his company’s toughest year to date.

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Moments after the vote, Musk — who appeared emotional as his voice quivered — said the company has experienced “the most excruciating hellish several months that we’ve ever had.”

“But I think we’re getting there,” he added.

In recent months, Tesla has been beset by critical production challenges involving its highly anticipated Model 3 sedan, accusations of poor worker safety and discrimination at company facilities, and headline-grabbing wrecks and investigations that have raised questions about the company’s semiautonomous technology.

Tesla’s stock is down about 7 percent year-to-date.

Tesla’s CEO lashed out at analysts and the media during a wide-ranging earnings call. (Video: Tesla via Earningscast)

The delayed rollout of the Model 3 — which has a waiting list hundreds of thousands of buyers long — has been the source of  extreme frustration inside the company and out, generating concerns among some analysts that Musk’s manufacturing pronouncements can’t be trusted.

At the shareholder meeting, Musk said Tesla is producing 3,500 Model 3’s a week and he expects that number to reach 5,000 cars per week by the end of the month. Musk said manufacturing will be Tesla’s greatest strength long-term and predicted the company would be profitable in Q3 and Q4.

“We’re confident we know how to address them and we are addressing them,” Musk said, referring to production issues plaguing the Model 3. “One of the biggest mistakes we made was trying to automate things that are super easy for a person to do, but super hard for a robot to do.”

Tuesday’s vote also determined the fate of three members of Tesla’s board of directors: Antonio Gracias, a private equity investor; Kimbal Musk, Elon Musk’s brother; and James Murdoch, the chief executive of Twenty-First Century Fox. Despite concerns that each member would be unable to help Musk focus on the many challenges Tesla faces, stockholders voted to maintain their positions on the board.

The proposal to remove Musk from his role as chairman of Tesla’s board was introduced by Jing Zhao, a shareholder who has questioned whether Musk — who leads several other companies in addition to Tesla — is spread too thin.

“Although the current leadership structure, in which the positions of Chairman and CEO are held by one person, could provide an effective leadership for Tesla at the early stage, now in this much more highly competitive and rapidly changing technology industry, it is more and more difficult to oversee Tesla’s business and senior management (especially to minimize any potential conflicts) that may result from combining the positions of CEO and Chairman,” Zhao wrote in his proposal.

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Musk’s exceptional ability to raise capital and convince investors to buy into his long-term vision is why Steve Blank — a retired Silicon Valley entrepreneur who teaches entrepreneurship at Stanford — thought it was unlikely Musk would be removed from his position on Tesla’s board.

Billionaire Elon Musk wants to dig a tunnel beneath Los Angeles to test designs for a high-speed subterranean transportation network he envisions for the city. (Video: Reuters)

Like Steve Jobs before him, Blank said, Musk excels as a visionary and innovator but struggles to implement that vision. Jobs eventually mastered both innovation and execution, and Blank thinks Musk will, too, so long as he continues to move past the creative phase of his career.

“This is no longer an innovation problem, this is an execution at scale problem — unless Tesla wants to be a niche innovator chasing profitability and sucking up cash,” Blank said. “They need to become experts at execution at scale, but that’s hard for people who in their DNA want to continually innovate.”

“It gets boring to execute,” he added. “I am a huge Elon fan. What people miss is that this is an authentic American hero and most of these heroes have in them the seeds of their own destruction.”

Correction: An earlier headline misstated the scope of the vote. This version has been corrected.

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