Tesla CEO Elon Musk trusts few people. According to the New York Times, there are just six - "the six musketeers," as the newspaper recently called it. His confidants are similar in type: Anyone who wants to move up into Musk's close circle has to give up a lot for him - or have known Musk for a very long time.
In the meantime, however, the circle seems to be expanding. According to the Reuters agency, the dazzling billionaire installed Tom Zhu, his previous boss in China, as second man at Tesla. A key position in the group, as Musk could possibly retire soon from the CEO post - Zhu would then be the logical successor. In this respect, Musk can no longer give a greater leap of faith.
But who is the man Musk trusts so much? Not much is known about the 45-year-old. Zhu also rarely gives interviews, which is typical for Tesla employees. It is known that Zhu was born in China and has both Chinese and New Zealand citizenship. He received his bachelor's degree in computer science from Auckland University of Technology in 2004 and has held an MBA from Duke's Fuqua School of Business in North Carolina since 2010.
After graduating, he was hired as a project manager at Kaibo Engineering, which oversaw Chinese construction projects in Africa. During a project in Sudan, he met Cal Lankton, who was then responsible for setting up the charging stations at Tesla. According to "Kalkine Media", it was later Lankton who brought Zhu to Tesla in 2014 as a project manager. Zhu was initially responsible for setting up the charging stations in China, but quickly had a stellar career. At the end of 2014, he managed the entire China business after his predecessor Veronica Wu had to leave due to poor sales figures.
Zhu is considered calm and extremely hardworking. He is said to have a similar work ethic as Musk and spends part of the night in the office. According to Kalkine Media, he should neither be vain nor live in luxury. He prefers Tesla fleece jackets and has lived in a government-subsidized apartment just 10 minutes from Shanghai's Gigafacotory.
On these counts, he's quite similar to the controversial Musk, who says he doesn't have his own home and sleeps where he works. It doesn't have to be healthy, and it doesn't guarantee success either. But at first glance, Zhu has come a long way: under him, for example, traffic restrictions for Tesla cars in major Chinese cities have fallen. Tesla also released an adapter under him that can be used to adapt the cars to the Chinese charging standard. In the first year alone, he tripled sales in China.
Sales figures continued to grow in the years to come. Most recently, Tesla sold almost 700,000 vehicles in China - also thanks to its own gigafactory in Shanghai, which was opened in 2018 under Zhu. A year later, he was promoted to Global Vice President, and thus into Tesla's premier league. Now the next jump to number two behind Musk was successful. In this position he will apparently oversee the US assembly plants and be responsible for sales in North America and Europe. It is unclear whether the Gigafactory in Grünheide in Brandenburg is also part of this.
For many US media outlets, the rise was only logical given that Zhu has been increasingly used as a fire extinguisher for fires Musk started in recent years. Recently, for example, Zhu and his team were sent to the US state of Texas to fix production problems there. His new responsibilities are now specifically tailored to relieve Musk, who wants to focus on new products and design. This is also a hope of Tesla shareholders, who strongly criticize Musk for caring too much about Twitter. They call for a refocusing on the electric car manufacturer, whose share price has plummeted in the past year.
Product launches, such as the Model 2, the Cybertruck or a revised version of the Model 3, have been delayed for a long time. Tesla's reputation as an avant-garde electric car manufacturer has also been badly damaged. The European and Asian competition has caught up significantly in recent months and threatens to overtake the e-car pioneer - if they haven't already. The task for Zhu is all the greater to get Tesla back on track.
This article first appeared here on Capital.de.