Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner.

Musk gives evidence in lawsuit over Tesla compensation package

In this courtroom sketch Tesla chief executive Elon Musk gives evidence in a courtroom in Wilmington, Delaware (Elizabeth Williams via AP)
In this courtroom sketch Tesla chief executive Elon Musk gives evidence in a courtroom in Wilmington, Delaware (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

Tesla chief executive Elon Musk is defending himself in a shareholder lawsuit challenging a compensation package he was awarded by the company’s board of directors that is potentially worth more than 55 billion dollars (£46 billion).

Mr Musk denied that he dictated terms of the compensation package or attended any meetings at which the plan was discussed by the board, its compensation committee, or a working group that helped develop it.

“I was entirely focused on the execution of the company,” he said.

Plaintiff’s lawyer Greg Varallo spent much of his early cross-examination trying to draw Mr Musk into admitting that he controls Tesla to such an extent that he can sway the board to do his bidding.

In this courtroom sketch Tesla chief executive Elon Musk, left, gives evidence before Chancellor Kathaleen McCormick, seated right, in a courtroom in Wilmington, Delaware
In this courtroom sketch Tesla chief executive Elon Musk, left, gives evidence before Chancellor Kathaleen McCormick in a courtroom in Wilmington, Delaware (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

Among other things, Mr Varallo questioned Mr Musk about his title of “Technoking”, a role that Mr Musk has previously noted comes with “panache” and “great dance moves”.

“I think comedy is legal,” Mr Musk told Mr Varallo, who had questioned whether Mr Musk was “stone-cold sober” when he came up with the title.

Mr Varallo also suggested that one of the reasons that Mr Musk developed a “master plan” for Tesla was to let people know he was in charge.

He also noted that Mr Musk makes recommendations regarding compensation for senior executives, and that he unilaterally made the decision to pause Tesla’s policy of accepting bitcoin from vehicle purchasers.

“You’re asking complex questions that can’t be answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’,” Mr Musk said when Mr Varallo asked whether he came up with the vision for Tesla.

Mr Musk said he never intended to be chief executive of Tesla, and that he did not want to be chief executive of any other companies either, preferring to see himself as an engineer instead.

He also said he expects an organisational restructuring of Twitter to be completed in the next week or so.

“Are we in the Tesla trial or the Twitter trial?” Mr Musk wondered at one point, casting a quick glance at Chancellor Kathaleen St Jude McCormick.

The Leonard L Williams Justice Centre in Wilmington, Delaware
The Leonard L Williams Justice Centre in Wilmington, Delaware (Matt Rourke/AP)

Ms McCormick also presided over a lawsuit that Twitter filed against Mr Musk earlier this year to force him to carry through with his agreement to acquire the social media giant.

Ms McCormick dismissed that suit this week after Mr Musk completed the deal, subsequently declaring himself to be “Chief Twit.”

Mr Musk also downplayed the notion that his friendships with certain Tesla board members, including sometimes holidaying together, mean that they were likely to do his bidding.

He said holiday was perhaps too strong a word for such time he spent with directors.

“For me, it was email with a view,” he said.

The Tesla lawsuit alleges that the performance-based stock option grant was negotiated by the compensation committee and approved by Tesla board members who had conflicts of interest due to personal and professional ties to Mr Musk, including investments in his companies.

It also alleges the shareholder vote approving the compensation plan was based on a misleading proxy statement.

The shareholder plaintiff alleges that the proxy wrongly described members of the compensation committee as “independent”, and characterised all of the milestones that triggered vesting in the stock options as “stretch” goals meant to be difficult to achieve, even though internal projections indicated that three operational milestones were likely to be achieved within 18 months of the stockholder vote.

Elon Musk, seated in the rear of the car, arrives at the Leonard L Williams Justice Centre in Wilmington, Delaware
Elon Musk, seated in the rear of the car, arrives at the Leonard L Williams Justice Centre in Wilmington, Delaware (Matt Rourke/AP)

Lawyers for the defendants have noted that two institutional proxy advising firms that urged shareholders to reject the plan nevertheless noted that it would require “significant and perhaps historic achievements” and require growth that “appear stretching by any benchmark”.

The plan called for Mr Musk to reap billions if Tesla hit certain market capitalisation and operational milestones.

For each incidence of simultaneously meeting a market cap milestone and an operational milestone, Mr Musk, who owned about 22% of Tesla when the plan was approved, would get stock equal to 1% of outstanding shares at the time of the grant.

His interest in the company would grow to about 28% if the company’s market capitalisation grew by 600 billion dollars (£505 billion).

Each milestone in the plan includes growing Tesla’s market capitalisation by 50 billion dollars (£42 billion) and meeting aggressive revenue and pre-tax profit growth targets.

Mr Musk would receive the full benefit of the pay plan, 55.8 billion dollars (£46.7 billion), only if Tesla hit a market capitalisation of 650 billion dollars (£547 billion) and unprecedented revenue and earnings within a decade.

To date, Tesla has achieved all 12 of the market capitalisation milestones and 11 operational milestones, resulting in the vesting of 11 of the grant’s 12 tranches and providing Mr Musk with more than 52.4 billion dollars (£44.1 billion) in stock option gains, according to the lawsuit.

Since the grant was awarded, Tesla’s market capitalisation has increased from 59 billion dollars (£49.7 billion) to more than 613 billion dollars (£516 billion) now, having briefly hit one trillion dollars early this year.

Document boxes including some with Elon Musk’s name printed on them are taken into the Leonard L Williams Justice Centre in Wilmington, Delaware
Document boxes including some with Elon Musk’s name printed on them are taken into the Leonard L Williams Justice Centre in Wilmington, Delaware (Matt Rourke/AP)

Mr Musk has sold Tesla stock to finance the Twitter purchase, adding downward pressure on the shares.

Shares of Tesla and other carmakers have been battered this year, but the Austin, Texas, company earned 5.5 billion dollars (£4.6 billion) in 2021, blowing away the previous year’s profit of 721 million dollars (£607 million).

It also produced a record 936,000 vehicles, nearly double vehicle production in 2020.

Lawyers for the plaintiff have suggested that incentivising Mr Musk to remain at Tesla’s helm by offering a huge compensation package was unnecessary, because he has never suggested that he might leave.

They have also suggested that Mr Musk’s true motive in negotiating the package was to fund his dream to colonise Mars.

In a November 2017 email to former Tesla general counsel Todd Maron, Mr Musk expressed optimism that the compensation package would be seen in a favourable light.

“Given that this will all go to causes that at least aspirationally maximise the probability of a good future for humanity, plus all Tesla shareholders will be super happy, I think this will be received well,” he wrote, adding that “it should come across as an ultra bullish view of the future”.

While in the witness box, Mr Musk also said that he does not want to be the chief executive of any company.

“I expect to reduce my time at Twitter and find somebody else to run Twitter over time,” Mr Musk said, according to multiple media reports.