Elon Musk is famous for making his companies get things that usually seem impossible for their competitors. One of the reasons behind his secret is that he works with a team that is as ambitious, motivated and effective as he is. And if any member of that team fails to keep up with Musk, he ends up being fired.
Apparently, that is what has happened recently. According to Reuters, when the CEO of SpaceX met with the engineers who lead the satellite internet project Starlink and saw that the deadlines had not been advanced, he decided to dismiss at least seven members of the senior management team.
Fight against time
Known for imposing aggressive deadlines, Musk quickly hired new managers from SpaceX headquarters in California to replace some of the managers he fired. His order: launch the first batch of satellites made in the United States in the middle of next year, said the sources.
The reorganization of the administration and the launch timeline illustrate how quickly Musk wants to put online the Starlink program of SpaceX, which competes with OneWeb and Telesat of Canada to be the first to market a new Internet service based on satellites
These services, essentially a constellation of satellites that will bring high-speed Internet to rural and suburban locations around the world, are key to generating the cash that SpaceX needs to finance Musk’s true dream of developing a new rocket capable of reaching the Luna and, finally, trying to colonize Mars.
However, the program is having problems hiring and retaining staff, the employees said. Currently, around 300 SpaceX employees work in the Starlink program. According to GeekWire, Musk said that in 2015 the Redmond operation would have “probably several hundred people, maybe a thousand people” after 3-4 years in operation.
What Musk said seems to be far from being fulfilled because so far this year, about 50 employees left the company “on their own,” said one of the employees of SpaceX, although the reason for these departures was unclear. In general, SpaceX employs more than 6,000 people.
The culture within SpaceX
SpaceX spokeswoman Eva Behrend told Reuters that the team remains an essential part of the company’s efforts to build a next-generation satellite network. “Given the success of our recent Starlink demonstration satellites, we have incorporated lessons learned and reorganized to allow the next iteration of design to be completed in a short time,” said Behrend.
The executive has not made further comments on the reorganization or the launch window but noted that the strategy was similar to the rapid iteration in the design and testing that led to the success of its rockets.
Among those dismissed were SpaceX satellite vice-president Rajeev Badyal, a hardware and engineering veteran of Microsoft Corp and Hewlett-Packard, and chief designer Mark Krebs, who worked at Google’s satellite and aircraft division, said the employees. Krebs declined to comment and Badyal did not respond to requests for comment.
The reorganization would have happened after Musk tried to further accelerate the satellite testing programs. Another factor would have been the work culture. Some of the managers had been hired from Microsoft, where workers were more accustomed to development programs longer than Musk’s short terms.
“Rajeev wanted three more iterations of test satellites,” said one of the sources. “Elon believes that we can do the job with cheaper and simpler satellites, before.” This particular way of working has brought success in previous ventures. Including one in the same space sector.