As if Elon Musk didn’t have enough on his plate, the world’s richest man is headed to court next week to defend his $56 billion Tesla pay package. Richard Tornetta, a Tesla shareholder who filed a lawsuit in 2019 to overturn Musk’s 2018 pay deal, argued that the package — “the largest compensation in human history” — was unfairly paid to Musk without requires him to focus entirely on the car manufacturer.
The trial begins Nov. 14, but Musk will have to juggle yet another drama as he works to overhaul Twitter. Musk’s deal to buy the social media company Go through in late October, and since then Musk has gone to work shortening groups of employees, sued for said layoffs and generally colluding out loud on the platform charging users $8 per month to get a blue tick next to your names.
Buying Twitter didn’t exactly help Musk’s case in the lawsuit over his pay package. In addition to Tesla, Musk is now the CEO of SpaceX, the Boring Company, OpenAI, and Neuralink. With Twitter, Musk will only lend credence to Tornetta’s claims that Musk is a “part-time contractor” at Tesla.
Tornetta also argued that the board set low bars for Musk’s performance goals and that the grant was “solicited for the stated goal of colonizing Mars (the planet).”
Tesla said Musk’s pay package has delivered a 10-fold increase in shareholder value.
The trial will be decided by Kathaleen McCormick of the Delaware Court of Chancery. McCormick supervised Twitter’s lawsuit against Musk that ended with him agreeing to close his $44 billion deal, an acquisition he financed largely from sells his shares in Tesla.
Grant ‘defeats purpose of keeping Musk focused on Tesla’
Tornetta’s lawyers argue that the 2018 package failed to achieve its stated goal of getting Musk to focus on Tesla, and no wonder — there were no provisions requiring Musk to devote time or attention to Tesla, nor were there provisions limiting Musk’s allocation of time or attention to non-Tesla endeavors.
“In fact, Musk testified that after Grant’s approval, he spent slightly more than half his time on Tesla matters and devoted significant time and attention to various other endeavors,” the lawsuit says.
Musk’s lawyers responded that his ambition is what makes him unique as a CEO, and that he is not running a clock to determine his time at the company.
The contested pay package allows Musk to buy 1 percent of Tesla stock at a discount each time performance and financial goals are met. If they are not met, Musk gets nothing. The Tesla hit 11 of 12 targets, according to court documents.
“In any event, under the proposed plan, Musk will not receive any compensation at Tesla unless he has driven tremendous growth that cannot be achieved without significant time and attention from the CEO,” Musk’s lawyers said.
The lawsuit against Musk also claims the package wasn’t entirely fair because Musk controls the board.
“None of the committee members were independent of Musk,” Tornetta’s lawyers wrote.
For example, Kimbal Musk, Musk’s brother, sits on Tesla’s board – a pretty clear conflict of interest. Tornetta’s affidavit also names former board member Antonio Gracias, who the plaintiff describes as a close friend of Musk. Gracias, personally and through his private equity firm, has collectively invested more than half a billion dollars in “substantially all of Musk’s businesses,” according to the filing, including PayPal, Tesla, SpaceX, SolarCity, The Boring Company and Neuralink.
In addition, the document names Ira Ehrenprice and James Murdoch, who are still on Tesla’s board, as personal friends of Musk and investors in Musk’s organizations. Gracias, Murdoch and Ehrenprice are also listed among the defendants in the suit.