Michael Dell’s Lesson for Elon Musk: Going Private Isn’t a Cure-All
Elon Musk seems to be taking a cue from Michael Dell in his desire to take Tesla Inc. private. But if Musk thinks removing his money-losing company from public markets will solve all of his problems, he hasn’t learned Dell’s lesson.
The similarities are clear: Like Dell, Musk is the founder and chief executive officer of a struggling publicly traded company. He has had to contend with a high degree of public scrutiny, analysts who are critical of his strategy, and expectant investors willing to bail out after a bad quarter. In 2013, Michael Dell also retreated from those outside forces by taking his company private in a leveraged buyout, saying that he wanted greater freedom to make the decisions needed for a turnaround amid a shrinking personal-computer market.
Now, five years later, the PC mogul has found that being private has its own limitations, and he’s currently pushing to once again list the overhauled Dell Technologies Inc. publicly.
Musk shocked investors Tuesday with a 61-character tweet that said he was considering taking Tesla private. He subsequently blasted out that his company “will be way smoother & less disruptive as a private company,” a status that would end “negative propaganda” from short-sellers, who are betting the stock will fall. Those naysayers have reason to bet against him — the carmaker has lost money on an operating basis every year since going public and has burned through billions of dollars amid the struggle to iron out production issues with its Model 3 sedan. Tesla already has more than $10 billion in debt.