Why CEOs Tread Lightly When Dealing with Elon Musk

Engaging in Verbal Fisticuffs

Elon Musk has made a name for himself by engaging in public battles with fellow business leaders and politicians. From calling Joe Biden a “damp sock puppet in human form” to poking fun at Bill Gates’ weight, Musk seldom holds back. He has even challenged Mark Zuckerberg to a cage fight on social media. However, when it comes to others responding in kind, restraint seems to be the order of the day.

The DealBook Summit Episode

A recent example of this phenomenon was observed during November’s DealBook Summit. Musk took the stage for an interview where he didn’t hold back, telling advertisers leaving his platform to “go… themselves.” Yet, hours before his appearance, top executives like JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon and Disney CEO Bob Iger were asked about their opinions of Musk. While they acknowledged his brilliance and contributions, they carefully tiptoed around any criticisms, highlighting the fine line they have to tread.

Why the Silence?

So, why do influential figures hold their tongues when it comes to Elon Musk? One reason appears to be the intimidation factor. Musk’s massive online platform, especially after acquiring Twitter (now X), gives him a megaphone to call out anyone he chooses. No one wants to become a target of Musk’s nicknames or face the wrath of his passionate fan base.

Moreover, speaking negatively about Musk rarely seems worth the risk. Powerful individuals must carefully consider whether criticizing him is worth making themselves a potential target. Musk’s financial status and his resilience in the face of adversity make him a unique and formidable figure to contend with.

Musk Plays by His Own Rules

Musk’s unrivaled combination of wealth, life experience, and a distinct way of navigating the world sets him apart from the norm. He seems to live by different rules, making him difficult to challenge directly.

Decorum and Reputational Damage

Another reason business leaders hesitate to confront Musk publicly is a matter of decorum. It’s uncommon for one executive to criticize another on the record, as it can come across as petty or spiteful. This is especially true for CEOs of publicly traded companies like Iger or Dimon, who need to maintain a positive public image.

Musk: The Unpredictable Troll

Despite the challenges, Musk’s unpredictable behavior often provokes a reaction. His recent endorsement of an antisemitic conspiracy theory and hosting Alex Jones on his platform demonstrate his penchant for controversy. This unpredictable nature keeps interviewers intrigued, always eager to see if they can elicit an honest sound bite about Musk.

In the end, it seems that Elon Musk’s unique position and online presence make him a force to be reckoned with, one that most are hesitant to openly confront. So, don’t be surprised if the questions about Musk continue to roll in, as interviewers hope to capture that elusive candid response from fellow business leaders.