CAREER-VIEW MIRROR - biographies of colleagues in the automotive and mobility industries.

Side Mirror: Tesla Paradigms

September 25, 2023 Andy Follows Episode 135
CAREER-VIEW MIRROR - biographies of colleagues in the automotive and mobility industries.
Side Mirror: Tesla Paradigms
Show Notes Transcript

I’ve talked about getting out of my comfort zone before in these Side Mirrors and moving from BMW to Tesla was a clear example of doing this. I was immersed for two years in an organisation that was finding its feet in the UK and Europe.

In this episode I want to share some of the behaviours that I observed in play during my time at Tesla and I want to let you in on some of the paradigms that I strongly suspect led to those behaviours.

I'll share some of my observations, I'll illustrate them with stories taken from earlier interviews with Tesla friends and former colleagues and at the end I'll give you my interpretation of the paradigms that played a part in Tesla achieving what many considered to be impossible.

When it comes to companies, we talk about culture, we talk about purpose, we talk about mission and we talk about values. We don't talk as much about paradigms.

I'd like this episode to serve to illustrate how paradigms work in real life. I'd like to get you thinking about how instilling a shared set of paradigms allows individuals across an organisation to behave consistently and cohesively at pace when making countless decisions with low levels of experience and with above average autonomy.

Links to other Tesla related episodes:

Annie Wechter
Leopold Visser
David Bowles
Peter Jackson
Brett Mangel
Ross Forder
Ashley Harris
Stefan Dekker
Jonathan Whitby
Elisa Viaud
Nick Gicinto

Thank you to our sponsors: 

ASKE Consulting




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Episode recorded on 21 September 2023.

Ed Eppley:

I am sitting in lovely Siesta Key Florida.

Sherene Redelinghuys:

I'm coming from Bangkok in Thailand,

Daniel von Treeck:

Prague in the Czech Republic,

Osman Abdelmoneim:

Cairo in Egypt,

Holger Drott:

Auckland, New Zealand,

Shannon Faulkner:

London, England.

Andy Follows:

Welcome to Career-view Mirror, the automotive podcast that goes behind the scenes with key players in the industry looking back over their careers so far, sharing insights to help you with your own. I’m your host, Andy Follows. Hello, listeners, and welcome to this Side Mirror episode of Career-view Mirror. If you're a regular listener, thank you and welcome back. You'll be aware that most of our episodes feature interviews with people with a link to the automotive industry who kindly share their life and career journeys with us. We celebrate their careers, listen to their stories, and learn from their experiences. From time to time we also publish these Side Mirror episodes which introduce concepts and tools that feature in our signature Towards Fulfilling Performance development programme. Please feel free to share any of our episodes with people you lead, parent or mentor. For more details of our Towards Fulfilling Performance programme, you can contact us at You'll find that email address in the show notes to this episode. I joined Tesla at the very beginning of 2015 after spending 18 years with BMW. In 2014, I was enjoying success at BMW, my career prospects were the best they'd ever been. I had a great boss and our one to one checkpoints frequently included conversations about which larger market I might be given responsibility for next, I was being well looked after we had a wonderful lifestyle living on international assignment in New Zealand. My family were thriving and happy. But by that stage of my career, my purpose was becoming increasingly clear to me. I knew that my longer term plan was to start my own business related to my purpose, what I now refer to as enabling Fulfilling Performance. I felt that doing my own thing was ultimately inevitable. The alternative was to continue on an already enviable trajectory until I eventually find myself at some point regretting not having been true to myself, and pining for what might have been. Whilst the writing seemed to be on the wall, I wasn't ready to make that jump immediately. I knew it would mean leaving the comfort of BMW and the colleagues and friends there. And I needed help to do that. I decided that the next time an interesting opportunity came my way, I'd pay it more attention. When I was offered the opportunity to join Tesla back in the UK, I saw it as a way to break away and I took it. This would be my last corporate role before setting up my business. I was fascinated with the innovation that was happening at Tesla. In conversation with the CFO at the time, Deepak Ahuja, I said, “I can see the disruption coming and I'd rather be part of it than on the receiving end.” I've talked about getting out of my comfort zone before in these Side Mirrors and moving from BMW to Tesla was a clear example of doing this. I was immersed for two years in an organisation that was finding its feet in the UK in Europe. We talk about having a ringside seat for a major event. I was lucky enough to be in the ring, contributing my own capability to the Tesla mission whilst experiencing the formative years of what would, a handful of years later, become the world's most valuable car company. The contrast between the world I'd left behind and the one I found myself in was huge. The behaviours and characteristics that stood out to me were the ones that marked the biggest contrast from what I was used to. Those behaviours were the result of a set of underlying paradigms instilled in us all by virtue of the culture. If you spend any amount of time talking with me or listening to these podcasts, you're going to hear me mentioned certain key words and phrases. One of these words is paradigm. And I devoted a whole side mirror Episode Episode 120, to The Power of Paradigms. In this episode, I want to share some of the behaviours that I observed in play during my time at Tesla. And I want to let you in on some of the paradigms that I strongly suspect led to those behaviours, we can't see paradigms, we can see how people behave. And if like me we're keen students of paradigms, we can make assumptions about the paradigm sitting behind their thoughts and actions. And if we listen carefully, we might pick up on things people say that reveal or at least hint at their underlying paradigms. I'll share some of my observations. I'll illustrate them with stories taken from earlier interviews with Tesla friends and former colleagues. And at the end, I'll give you my interpretation of the paradigms that played a part in Tesla achieving what many consider to be impossible. When it comes to companies. We talk about culture, we talk about purpose, we talk about mission, and we talk about values. We don't talk as much about paradigms. I'd like this episode to serve to illustrate how paradigms work in real life. I'd like to get you thinking about how instilling a shared set of paradigms allows individuals across an organisation to behave consistently and cohesively at pace when making countless decisions with low levels of experience and with above average autonomy. Let me take a moment to tell you about our sponsor. This episode is brought to you by ASKE Consulting who are experts in executive search resourcing solutions and talent management across all sectors of the automotive industry in the UK and Europe. I've known them for almost 20 years and I can think of no more fitting sponsor for Career-view Mirror. They're the business we go to at Aquilae when we're looking for talent for our clients and for projects that we're working on. ASKE was founded by Andrew McMillan, whose own automotive career includes board level positions with car brands and leasing companies. All ASKE Consultants have extensive client side experience, which means they bring valuable insight and perspective for both their employer and candidate customers. My earliest experience of working with Andrew was back in 2004, when he helped me hire regional managers from my leasing Sales Team at Alphabet. More recently, when Aquilae was helping a US client to establish a car subscription business, ASKE Consulting was alongside us helping us to develop our people strategy and to identify and bring onboard suitable talent. Clients we've referred to ASKE have had an equally positive experience. Andrew and the team at ASKE are genuinely interested in the long term outcomes for you and the people they place with you. They even offer the reassurance of a two year performance guarantee, which means they have skin in the game when working with you. If you're keen to secure the most talented and high potential people to accelerate your business and gain competitive advantage, do get in touch with them and let them know I sent you. You can email Andrew and the team at or check out their website for more details and more client feedback at ASKE is spelt A S K E You'll find these contact details in the show notes for this episode. Okay, let's get back to our episode. As I was getting to know my way around Tesla in the UK, I paid a visit to one of our stores at the Bluewater Shopping Centre in Kent. I was greeted by someone whose face was familiar. I said hello, you're Andrew, aren't you? Did I meet you a couple of days ago in the Weybridge store. I thought you worked there. He smiled and said yes, I did. I was asked to come and work here instead. For our majority international listeners Bluewater’s 80 kilometres or 50 miles from Weybridge on the other side of the M25 which is the motorway that circles London and is better known for its abilities as a carpark than a road. I said how long are you here for? He said I don't know, they just asked me to pack a bag and come. What struck me about this was not just the level of flexibility that he demonstrated, but the total absence of negativity or hardship that he saw in accommodating this request. If anything I'd say that he exuded pride at having been given this opportunity to step up and make this contribution. Over the two years I spent there I witness multiple similar occurrences of people putting the organization's interests or more accurately the interests of the mission ahead of their own. In my interviews with former Tesla colleagues, they all share stories that reveal the levels of commitment and discretionary effort that prevailed during those formative years, and may still be common now. Here’s Annie Wechter talking about an even bigger move that she'd made to Europe from San Francisco.

Annie Wechter:

So I think the formative years in your in your 20s were that was an amazing time to be part of the global team of Tesla. I mean, we worked together in of course the UK and the Netherlands. I moved I took that job, which was relocated from San Francisco to Amsterdam. Having never touched foot in Europe in my life. I think my passport had four stamps in it. I had been to Mexico, I'd been to Brazil once I'd been to Canada, that was it. And and when I was offered the job I said okay, well, when would I start and they said is two weeks, okay? Enough notice? And I was like, Yeah, okay, let me just tell my family, family and pack my bag.

Andy Follows:

In Annie's case, she'd applied for the job. But still two weeks notice to move herself by herself to another continent that she'd never visited before shows her level of commitment. Tesla's mission is to accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy. I didn't need to look that up. I left seven years ago, but I know it we all knew it. People didn't need to be informed of the mission during the onboarding process or to be reminded of it during strategy workshops. People learned about the mission before they joined and decided that was a company they wanted to be part of that was a mission they wanted to be on. They put down whatever they were doing and started working out how to join this company. Here's Ross Forder, telling his story of how he cut short his international adventures in Asia Pacific to join Tesla. Given how wonderful that was, how much you're enjoying it, how much you're getting out of it, what brought it to an end,

Ross Forder:

Tesla brought it to an end I think to segue into this, so mentioned about seeing who killed the electric car, we had this paradigm shift was frustrated. Again, there's no transparency was it was frustrated a several aspects of the automotive industry at the time having held this technology back. And also just thinking, Where are the electric cars? You know, we're talking 2012 Now, come on, guys were promised this stuff. When I was a kid watching sci fi movies, with Sylvester Stallone, they all had electric cars, where are they, there was a follow up movie to Who Killed the Electric Car called Revenge of the electric car. This was 2011. So this is now when I'm out there, sort of seeing this follow up and in the follow up is Tesla with the Tesla original roadster. And the whole premise is Hey, guys, the electric cars back, then they're not going to stop them this time. And so that was incredibly exciting to me, having had this sort of pent up annoyance, and frustration, the powers that be that held us back initially. And now seeing a solution to this. This was a huge spark, again, to me, like personal training and massive spark. And I thought, wow, this is cool. It wasn't quite enough to grip me fully at the time because I think it was there all sort of the Tesla Roadster was very cool, and ended up actually being fortunate enough to own one of those later on in life, a phenomenal car for what it was at the time. But it was still very sort of start up. You know, it wasn't like a long way to go before they had something that was gonna be accepted by the masses. So I'm still travelling, I've now realised that Tesla exists, that they solve a huge problem that I'd seen in my life that was very frustrating to sort of see. And so I'm thinking ethically, this is a good thing. And then I see a Tesla video of Elon Musk launching the superchargers in 2012. And this is the Model S is out now. So see the Model S and the supercharger version one technology launch video in 2012. And I take one look at that, and I immediately go, that's the future. That is the future right there. That is how we're all going to be driving cars at this company is gonna be the largest automotive manufacturer by the end of this decade. And in my head, it was as certain as day is tonight. That was it. And so, I've now like super so now so overnight after seeing this video now Tesla's biggest fan, you know, and it's just so excited. You know, this is like a sci fi movie. For me. This is this is it. This is the future. And no one knows about Tesla, I'm talking to my friends who've never even heard about it sounds wild, you know, the overwhelming majority of them think this is absolutely crazy. And sort of two poignant things then happened. I was still travelling, two things happened, I came back to England, because my visa ran out in Australia. So tail between my legs, I didn't want to leave at the time. But my visa run out. And I ultimately came back came back to winning and I still still wanted to travel. So booked a trip to China, and had a got a Chinese visa, I still want to travel. But was was now super excited about Tesla. I go to a gathering of my friends. And I ended up telling the entire room. This was like, you know, almost like a small party about Tesla. And everyone was just in complete silence about what I was saying about this company, how exciting it was where it was going. And you could hear a pin drop apart from me just rambling on about how exciting the company was. And my friend who was a recruiter at the time said, You need to get a job with these guys. Got it? And that's the first time I thought that's the first time even I don't know why I thought that I was like, you're probably right. I probably should, you know, look what we've just done to this room. Everyone's on their phones googling Tesla, like this? And how are you talking about it? Why have you not thought about getting a job and as it probably right, but I've had this trip to China booked, but I booked it via California. Because of my trips out there in early when I mentioned that I had been going out there actually subsequently and develop friends out in California as well. I'm going to go to China via LA, I go to LA This is 2013 test what less Adobe been out for maybe one year max. And I go to Laguna Beach where my friends are. And of course the beauty beach and Newport Beach were an absolute hub for Tesla more than less drivers apart from the Bay Area where Tesla was. So now I'm seeing on the road Tesla's in Newport Beach and Laguna Beach in 2013. And I'm just like, mind blown, this is it. And so I've had this experience my recruiter friends, like you need to get a job for them with seeing them on the road. And ultimately, I was like, this is complete lightbulb moment. What was I thinking? Not living in England again, or London? What was I thinking being prepared not to work for big corporation ever again, I need to now go and get a job with these guys. I need to cancel this trip to China, pick up the phone and speak to recruitment. And I need to weasel my way in and get myself a job at Tesla. And this is at a time in 2013 where they hadn't watched the one lesson to the UK yet. And I picked up the phone to recruitment at basically started hassling them for an interview.

Andy Follows:

And Ross was not the only one who believed so fervently in Tesla's mission. I found myself surrounded by a group of Highly engaged mostly young people who saw themselves on a common mission to accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy. To put it more colloquially, we were saving the planet and the levels of discretionary effort. Those instances of people going above and beyond the call of duty were frequent and remarkable. That was when I truly experienced for myself how powerful it can be for people to have a common purpose that's bigger than themselves. And bigger even than the organisation that they're employed by. ASHLEY HARRIS shares his experience taking care of Tesla's earliest adopters in the UK, and the Tesla end of quarter experience.

Ashley Harris:

The workforce was still really small. So we would all help out to do everything in anything that was needed. And so if the store were short staffed, and we work in the store for a day or two, or vice versa, or marketing off, whatever needed to happen, we will all chip in to make it happen. And I remember when we got our first sort of delivery location in UK, which is still there to this day in west drayton office. And when we first moved in, there's now at least when I left us three buildings that was just one building originally, and we moved in there. It was nothing. It was this empty shell. It was an old BMW dealership. And it's nothing now and we've had one or two electric sockets, how are everything and so we've got extension leads on extension to help a safety ever arrived, it was been a nightmare. And there was no fridges and nothing, we just everyone just kind of accepted that this is what it was, we'll make do with it. And now I'm sat on the floor emailing customers, we had one mobile phone for the holiday with no landline. So we had one mobile phone that all of us would use to contact customers and pass the phone and I'll use it for the next 20 minutes to call my like next 20 customers and then I'll pass it to you. And most people wouldn't want to do that on a day to day business. It was scrapping, I guess that's the claim is worth it tested. Scrapping just got stuck in and just accepted it and over time, then that just got built up and we improve the office and everything got kind of caught up with that. And then it was focused on end of quarter. And for people that haven't experienced an end of quarter tests or it's Carnage is just deliver as many cars as you physically can before midnight on the last day of the quarter. And so you know, for the kind of two to three weeks leading up to that is periods of time where we'll be picking up my colleagues at four o'clock in the morning, we get to the office at five, we then work from five right through to 11 o'clock at night, we'd have breakfast, lunch and dinner in the office and then do the same thing again for three weeks straight sacrifice a huge amount of personal time. And you know that looking back is kind of negative, I guess it isn't negative of my kind of five years of tests of it. The amount of sort of personal time has sacrificed and, and lost with family and friends, I guess is the detriment of all of that. But at the time. Not gonna say it wasn't in my mind. It makes me sound really sort of selfish and self centred. But at a very steady wife who wanted me to work hard and do well in the job because she could see I enjoyed it. And everybody was the same everybody just focused on making that as successful as possible without sort of real much attention or caring for the outside world, I guess.

Andy Follows:

Ash touches on the sacrifices that people knowingly and willingly made because they cared enough about the mission, and that meant their sacrifices seemed worthwhile. We've heard how Annie had two weeks to prepare for her first international assignment, how Ross dropped what he was doing and did everything he could to get hired. And now ash and his colleagues would work 16 hour days for weeks at a time at the end of every quarter. If those extracts aroused your curiosity, I can recommend listening to their episodes in full. Along with those of my other Tesla friends and former colleagues. We'll put links to all the Tesla related interviews in the show notes to this episode, I sort of leave you with my interpretation of just a few of the paradigms that along with the powerful purpose compelling mission and shared values influence the 1000s of daily decisions and actions being taken across the business, often by a relatively inexperienced, but highly motivated, creative and committed team members. I'm going to read them out as a list with a slight pause between each during that pause. I invite you to imagine how you might behave if you firmly held each of these paradigms yourself. Here guess we can do pretty much anything better than it's been done before. If we do it ourselves. Lots of things are done for no good reason than they've always been done that way. The way it's done now is most likely not the best way. The competition is slight. We are awesome. We always push the boundaries. You most likely get away with breaking the rules a few times before it gets really serious. Our solution is the best solution until we think of a new one, which will then be the new best solution. Our mission is fundamentally worthwhile. We are saving the planet. We need to progress this today. Our future is not guaranteed. Almost everyone is against us and wants to see us fail. We need to succeed before the money runs out. We're all in this together, and everyone is working incredibly hard. I'll stop there, you get the idea, I'm sure acknowledge there are some similarities. Almost duplications between items in this list is not exhaustive. I saw people doing stuff in a way that stood out to me, most likely because it differed from what I was used to experiencing, I could see how they were getting results. And I work backwards to try and identify the paradigms that were enabling these behaviours and results. There's no official list of paradigms against which you can check these can it be verified? No. Is it scientific? No. But do you think it could help you if you truly adopted these paradigms, in the way that humans have the capacity to fervently embrace the most outlandish range of beliefs? Listen again. And imagine viewing life through the lens of these paradigms. How urgently you might act, how decisive you might be how open to new ideas, how capable to pivot how unfettered by legacy, how dismissive of old ways of working how unhampered by bureaucracy, how unburdened by hierarchy, how outward looking, how keen to improve processes, how creative, how innovative, how chaotic, I'll give you that, and how successful your life might be. You've been listening to Career-view Mirror with me, Andy follows I hope that you've enjoyed this episode and found it helpful if you're in a mature business with all the structures and systems and controls and risk management paradigms that have enabled it to grow and be successful and endure perhaps over many decades. I can imagine you not considering this particularly helpful or relevant. As I discussed in episode three with Leopold Visser, starting from a blank sheet of paper is so much easier. But it's also so much harder. You have to start from where you are, of course, which elements could you incorporate into your world? What paradigms could you seek to instil across your business to increase your agility and help you remain a business that will endure in the face of increasing new competition? If you enjoy listening to our episodes, please, could you do me a huge favour and share them with someone you lead parent or mentor or a friend do you think will also appreciate them? Thanks to our sponsors for this episode, ask consulting and Aquilae. And thank you to the Career-view Mirror team without whom we wouldn't be able to share I guess life and career stories. And above all, thank you to you for listening.

Osman Abdelmoneim:

No matter how hard you try, no matter how hard working you are, you're never going to be able to do it on your own. It's just not possible.

Paul Harris:

You know, at the end of the day, you're steering your own destiny. So if it's not happening for you, and you're seeing what you want out there, then go out there and connect.

Rupert Pontin:

Don't rely on others. You you have to do it yourself. You have to take control. If you've got an idea if you've got a thought about something that might be successful, if you've got a passion to do something yourself, but you just haven't quite got do it.

Tom Stepanchak:

Take a risk. Take a chance stick your neck out what's the worst that can happen? You fall down okay, you pick yourself up and try again.