Elon’s “Musketeers” Will Gladly Commit to “Long Hours at High Intensity”

(p. A12) Your boss probably hasn’t demanded a loyalty pledge and almost certainly doesn’t own a rocket ship, but the person calling the shots at your company might be more like Elon Musk than you realize.

. . .

What is consistent—and alluring to some bosses—is the billionaire’s unapologetically high standard for employees. He spelled it out last week in an emailed ultimatum, saying that Twitter employees must commit to “long hours at high intensity” or leave with three months’ severance.

. . .

Managers who think the working world has gone soft in recent years, with all the talk of flexibility and work-life balance, say they envy Mr. Musk’s unfiltered style and share his craving for maximum effort—even if they wouldn’t act quite as forcefully as the world’s richest person.

. . .

. . . he is the rare CEO with a fan base—“Musketeers,” as this male-dominated bunch is known—and might be able to fill the company’s ranks with devotees who believe in his vision of a more freewheeling and profitable platform and are willing to grind.

. . .

“He can do whatever he wants, and everyone that has an opinion about it can piss off,” says Derek Grubbs, director of sales development at Crux Informatics, a software company. “If everybody exits from Twitter, there are plenty of other people who will be ready to enter because it pays well, and working for Elon Musk has a flair to it.”

For the full commentary, see:

Callum Borchers. “ON THE CLOCK; The Bosses Who Want to Emulate Elon Musk.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, November 23, 2022): A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date November 22, 2022, and has the title “ON THE CLOCK; Is Elon Musk Your Boss’s Anger Translator?”)

As Sole Owner Musk Was Able to Act Quickly to Cure Twitter’s “Systemic Paralysis”

(p. A17) Since Elon Musk purchased Twitter, he has undertaken a rapid restructuring that few large technology companies would attempt unless faced with an immediate liquidity crisis. Minutes after closing his purchase of the company, he started a process that reduced the workforce from 7,500 to 2,500 in 10 days.

Media pundits immediately slammed him, arguing that his slash-and-burn strategy would destroy one of the world’s most important social-media platforms—already in danger under the burden of $14 billion in debt. Much of this criticism came in the form of tweets, as the irony of using Twitter to denounce Twitter apparently escaped Mr. Musk’s critics. But the restructuring of Twitter won’t destroy the company.

Mr. Musk is trying to cure a degenerative corporate disease: systemic paralysis. Symptoms include cobwebs of corporate hierarchies with unclear reporting lines and unwieldy teams, along with work groups and positions that have opaque or nonsensical mandates. Paralyzed companies are often led by a career CEO who builds or maintains a level of bureaucracy that leads to declines in innovation, competitive stature and shareholder value.

Mr. Musk set his new tone immediately. He eliminated a 12-member team responsible for artificial-intelligence ethics in machine learning, the entire corporate communications department, and a headquarters commissary that cost $13 million a year (despite prior management’s pandemic decree that Twitter employees would be “remote forever”).

Three attributes give Mr. Musk a better chance of rebuilding Twitter into an innovative force in social media: He is an operator, an engineer and a sole owner.

For the full commentary, see:

Rob Wiesenthal. “Elon Musk Slashes Bureaucracy, Giving Twitter a Chance to Soar.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, Dec. 9, 2022): A17.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date December 8, 2022, and has the same title as the print version.)

FTX Fraudster Bankman-Fried Made $40 Million in Midterm Political Donations Which Mostly “Went to Democrats and Liberal-Leaning Groups”

(p. A1) FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried oversaw one of the biggest financial frauds in American history, a top federal prosecutor said in charging that the former chief executive stole billions of dollars from the crypto exchange’s customers while misleading investors and lenders.

. . .

(p. A6) Mr. Bankman-Fried is also accused of defrauding the Federal Election Commission starting in 2020 by conspiring with others to make illegal contributions to candidates and political committees in the names of other people.

He and his associates contributed more than $70 million to election campaigns in recent years, The Wall Street Journal previously reported. He personally made $40 million in donations ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, most of which went to Democrats and liberal-leaning groups.

For the full story, see:

Corinne Ramey, James Fanelli, Dave Michaels, Alexander Saeedy and Vicky Ge Huang. “FTX Founder Is Charged With Fraud.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Dec. 14, 2022): A1 & A6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Dec. 13, 2022, and has the title “FTX’s Sam Bankman-Fried Charged With Criminal Fraud, Conspiracy.”)

As of January 2022, Koch Industries Had Invested $1.7 Billion into Renewable-Energy Infrastructure

(p. B10) Norwegian startup Freyr Battery and energy conglomerate Koch Industries Inc. are accelerating their plan to build a multibillion-dollar battery plant that will be among the largest to tap incentives in President Biden’s climate, tax and spending plan, Freyr said.

. . .

Koch has emerged as one of the biggest investors in batteries, a turnabout from its emphasis on fossil fuels. It has said it wants to benefit from the falling cost of renewable-energy technologies and help drive it down further. As of January [2022], it had invested a total of $1.7 billion into electric batteries, energy storage and solar-power infrastructure, according to its website.

The plan is unusual among battery projects in being dedicated primarily to the energy-storage market rather than electric vehicles.

For the full story, see:

Stephen Wilmot. “Koch Teams Up on Battery Plant.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, November 12, 2022): B10.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date November 11, 2022, and has the title “Koch Teams With Startup to Build Giant Battery Factory.”)

“Woke” Bankman-Fried’s FTX Played “Dumb Game” of Virtue Signaling

(p. A17) There was a time when people engaged in doing good addressed problems that, so to speak, you could get your arms around, such as improving school performance, providing potable water or preventing malaria. But at some point, the impulse to do good transformed into a combination of moral tendentiousness and grandiosity.

. . .

. . ., inside the Bankman-Fried fairy tale rests a smaller tipping point, which suggests his generation senses that their preachy elders may have led them down a moral garden path.

In an exchange with Mr. Bankman-Fried, a writer for Vox asserts, “You were really good at talking about ethics.” He replied that “I had to be” because of “this dumb game we woke westerners play where we say all the right shibboleths and so everyone likes us.”

He is describing what has come to be known in our time as virtue signaling, . . .

For the full commentary, see:

Daniel Henninger. “WONDER LAND; The Moral Vanity of FTX.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, December 1, 2022): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date November 30, 2022, and has the title “WONDER LAND; The Moral Vanity of Sam Bankman-Fried.”)

Entrepreneur Kerns’s Internal-Combustion-Engine Electric Generators Gave Power to the People

(p. A21) Robert D. Kern, a mechanical engineer who in the mid-1950s started a company in a garage making portable backup power generators and then transformed the business into an industry leader known as Generac, selling it in 2006 for an estimated $1 billion, died on Nov. 8 [2022] in Waukesha, Wis.

. . .

“The company is way beyond anything we dreamed about,” Mr. Kern said in an interview with the Grainger College of Engineering at the University of Illinois, his alma mater. “My vision was incredibly small compared to what it became, but tenacity is what it is all about.”

He and his wife and a few investors started the business after the rise of the airline industry had cost Mr. Kern his job making motors for railroad cars. Generac became a leading developer, manufacturer and marketer of portable and backup electric generators for homes and industry.

Today, Generac, based in Waukesha, about 18 miles west of Milwaukee, accounts for roughly 75 percent of standby home generator sales in the United States.

. . .

Mr. Kern was hired by the Waukesha Motor Company to design generators for combustion engines to be used on railway passenger cars. With the growth of the jet airline industry, rail travel in the United States plummeted, and Mr. Kern’s division was eliminated.

But remaining passionate about internal combustion engines, he decided to adapt developing technologies in generators for potential new markets and establish his own company to reach them.

In 1954, with his wife as the new company’s bookkeeper, he began making portable generators for recreational vehicles and for farmers and construction crews out of a garage in the village of Wales, Wis., about 28 miles west of Milwaukee. The business, originally called Electric Controls Inc., marketed the gear through Sears under the Craftsman brand. It became Generac in 1959, combining the word generation with AC.

. . .

Generac also developed an affordable backup generator for home emergencies and then expanded the business to produce permanent emergency generators for the commercial and industrial markets.

In 1967, the Generac factory in Waukesha burned to the ground, but with help from the local community, production resumed six days later, and the plant was rebuilt in seven weeks, without layoffs.

For the full obituary, see:

Sam Roberts. “Robert D. Kern, 96, Engineer Whose Idea For Portable Generators Produced Riches.” The New York Times (Thursday, November 24, 2022): A21.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Nov. 22, 2022, and has the title “Robert D. Kern, 96, Whose Emergency Generators Produced Riches, Dies.”)

U.S. Chips+ Act Rewards Intel for Being Less Innovative Than TSMC


(p. A15) Intel, with huge profit margins on its Pentium microprocessors, could spend more than its competitors on state-of-the-art fabs, but innovation eventually was pushed aside for predictability. Intel would get one fab working and then “copy exactly” new cookie-cutter fabs. For smaller feature sizes, Intel looked at the new Extreme Ultraviolet technology from Dutch equipment company ASML and thought it too expensive and risky to use. TSMC embraced ExtremeUV and won, especially for lower-power chips for mobile devices. TSMC can now spend more than anyone else on fabs.

With the Chips+ Act chock full of $52 billion in subsidies and tax credits for chip makers, Congress is saying that real countries have fabs. The act also authorizes $1 billion for carbon removal—weird, because chips are made from silicon. Worse, the U.S. is rewarding Intel, which just announced a disastrous quarter, for coming in third place behind TSMC and Samsung.

Nothing is free. Even Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo admitted “there’s a lot of strings attached” in the 1,054-page law. National Economic Council director Brian Deese endorsed command-and-control industrial policy: “The question should move from ‘Why should we pursue an industrial strategy?’ to ‘How do we pursue one successfully?’ ” This is as wrong as Soviet or Chinese five-year plans. Industrial policy eventually leads to disaster. Japan’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry micromanaged the country’s domestic semiconductor industry and ended up presiding over its decline. Today no Japanese semiconductor company sits in the global top 10. Because China doesn’t have access to ASML ExtremeUV equipment, it has made little progress in advanced chips.

Yes, we need domestic supplies of advanced chips in case China invades Taiwan. But subsidies are the wrong approach.

. . .

Instead, the U.S. could enable suppliers to place large orders for chips for the military, intelligence agencies, whatever. They could even prepay. Silicon Valley was originally built on orders for transistors for intercontinental missiles and the space program.

For the full commentary, see:

Andy Kessler. “INSIDE VIEW; The Semiconductor Boondoggle.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Aug. 15, 2022): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date August 14, 2022, and has the same title as the print version.)

Steve Case’s “Heroic Push” to Encourage Entrepreneurship Outside Silicon Valley, in “Surprising Places”

(p. C12) This is why one of the most energizing books I read this year was Steve Case’s “The Rise of the Rest.” It chronicles Steve’s journey to nurture tech startups in what some might consider “surprising” places. Think: Milwaukee vs. Silicon Valley.

. . .

Steve’s book is a heroic push encouraging us to widen the aperture. With the right investments and visibility, we can change the American landscape for the better, leveling the playing field and creating a more inclusive economy for years to come.

For the full review, see:

Asutosh Padhi. “12 Months of Reading; Asutosh Padhi.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Dec. 10, 2021): C12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date December 8, 2022, and has the title “Who Read What in 2022: Political and Business Leaders.”)

The book praised by Asutosh Padhi is:

Case, Steve. The Rise of the Rest: How Entrepreneurs in Surprising Places Are Building the New American Dream. New York: Avid Reader Press, 2022.

Auto Experts Are Skeptical of EVs, but Are Afraid “So They Can’t Speak Out Loudly”

(p. A1) “People involved in the auto industry are largely a silent majority,” Mr. Toyoda said to reporters during a visit to Thailand. “That silent majority is wondering whether EVs are really OK to have as a single option. But they think it’s the trend so they can’t speak out loudly.”

. . .

(p. A6) The world’s biggest auto maker has said it sees hybrids, a technology it invented with the debut of the Toyota Prius in the 1990s, as an important option when EVs remain expensive and charging infrastructure is still being built out in many parts of the world. It is also developing zero-emission vehicles powered by hydrogen.

“Because the right answer is still unclear, we shouldn’t limit ourselves to just one option,” Mr. Toyoda said. Over the past few years, Mr. Toyoda said, he has tried to convey this point to industry stakeholders, including government officials—an effort he described as tiring at times.

Global car companies have made a sharp pivot to electric vehicles within the last few years, driven in part by the success of EV-only maker Tesla Inc.

. . .

At the same time, the legacy auto makers have a much broader base of customers, including many living in rural areas and developing economies with unreliable electricity supplies.

And their gas-engine businesses are still driving the bulk of profits needed to fund the costly shift to electric vehicles, which not only requires the development of new models but also construction of new facilities and battery plants.

The infrastructure to charge electric vehicles is meanwhile still lacking in the U.S. and many other parts of the world, making owning an EV still a challenge for many types of consumers.

. . .

Ryan Gremore, an Illinois-based dealer, who owns several brand franchises, said he gets a lot of customers inquiring about EVs, in part because of limited supplies.

That might give the impression of robust demand, but it is unclear how it will materialize when inventory levels at dealerships normalize, he added. “Is there interest in electric vehicles? Yes. Is it more than 10% to 15% of our customer base? No way,” Mr. Gremore said.

Mr. Toyoda’s long-held skepticism about a fully electric future has been shared by others in the Japanese car industry, as well.

Mazda Motor Corp. executives once cautioned that whether EVs were cleaner depends largely on where the electricity is produced. They also worried that EV batteries were too big and expensive to replace gas-powered models and better suited to the types of smaller vehicles that Americans didn’t want.

For the full story, see:

River Davis and Sean McLain. “Toyota Skeptical of Going All-EV.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Dec. 19, 2022 ): A1 & A6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Dec. 18, 2022, and has the title “Toyota Chief Says ‘Silent Majority’ Has Doubts About Pursuing Only EVs.”)

Smil Shows How Fossil Fuels “Are Indispensable to Feeding the World”

(p. C6) In “How the World Really Works” the distinguished Canadian environmental scientist Vaclav Smil distills a lifetime of erudition.

. . .

Mr. Smil describes the massive extent to which fossil fuels are required to extract and produce the core materials—ammonia-based fertilizers, steel, cement and plastics—that are indispensable to feeding the world and building the machines and infrastructure on which modern economies depend.

. . .

Within the realm of the possible, he writes, “one thing remains certain” about transitioning to renewable energy: “It will not be (it cannot be) a sudden abandonment of fossil carbon, nor even its rapid demise—but rather its gradual decline.”

For the full review, see:

William Barr. “12 Months of Reading; William Barr.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Dec. 10, 2021): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date December 8, 2022, and has the title “Who Read What in 2022: Political and Business Leaders.”)

The book praised by William Barr is:

Smil, Vaclav. How the World Really Works: The Science Behind How We Got Here and Where We’re Going. New York: Viking, 2022.

New Technology Creates More Jobs Than It Destroys

(p. 3) The pessimist’s basic mistake is to focus too much on what is lost to competition and technology, and too little on what is gained. Over the past 25 years, as McKinsey & Company, the consulting firm, has pointed out, about a third of the new jobs created in the United States were types that did not exist or barely existed 25 years ago.

. . .

In New York City the car replaced the horse carriage within the first 15 years of the 20th century, killing off the carriage trade and giving birth to the taxi trade — as well as to highly paid auto mechanics. Uber threatens the taxi trade, and the self-driving car threatens the Uber driver. But it has also brought multimillion-dollar signing bonuses for self-driving-car engineers and created new opportunities for mechanics. People tend to find a way to work with and profit from new technology.

. . .

In most cases, an industry without enough workers to meet customer demand would simply hire more, or at least raise wages to attract them.

Yet, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, neither of those things happened last year. The number of pharmacists employed in the United States dropped about 1 percent from 2020 to 2021. On balance, employers did not raise wages — in fact, median pay fell slightly, even without adjusting for inflation.

. . .

. . . there is no evidence so far to support forecasts of a nearly jobless future. If robots threatened human labor, human joblessness would be growing. But it’s not. In fact, since 2008, job growth has been strongest in countries like Germany and Japan, which deploy the most robots.

For the full commentary, see:

Ruchir Sharma. “No, That Robot Will Not Steal Your Job.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sunday, October 8, 2017): 3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 7, 2017, and has the same title as the print version.)