Tesla Reorganizes Leadership as Executives Leave to Join Startups

Diarmuid O’Connell

Tesla Inc. is embarking on a “thorough reorganization” of its executive team, following several departures including the electric-vehicle manufacturer’s Vice President of Finance Susan Repo, and long-time executive Diarmuid O’Connell joining used-leasing app Fair.

Repo left the OEM in March after heading up the company’s structured finance department and leasing program, according to her LinkedIn. O’Connell joined Fair’s executive team as Chief Strategy Officer, having left Tesla in October 2017 after 11 years with the company to explore a “temporary retirement” he told Auto Finance News. O’Connell joined Tesla in 2006 as Vice President of Business Development before the automaker went public and was responsible for managing commercial and OEM relationships, negotiating strategic deals, and took leadership on global public policy, and sometimes the interim head of communications.

“I joined Tesla when there was 50 of us, and I focused on whatever projects were necessary,” he said, adding later “at any startup environment, you are starting from zero and you’re going to encounter a lot of challenges along the way … and it’s fundamental to have a positive attitude and take challenges and turn them into opportunities.”

Tesla’s chief Elon Musk told employees on Monday the company was undergoing a “thorough reorganization,” which would involve “flattening the management structure to improve communication,” combining functions and trimming activities “not vital to the success of our mission” in the reorganization, according to an email to his staff.

Tesla has long-faced a problem with a high turnover of employees, with several executives departing to startups. Matthew Schwall, director of field performance engineering, exited this month to join Alphabet Inc’s self-driving unit, Waymo; Jon McNeill, president of global sales and services, left in February to join ride-hailing company Lyft as chief operating officer; and Jon Wagner, director of battery engineering, who joined in 2013 exited in November 2017 to launch a battery and powertrain startup in California.

But as the auto industry is rapidly changing, O’Connell saw the “need” for innovation on a customer level, which is what has prompted him to join Fair in an official capacity.

“I also liked the idea that introducing this new model we were synchronizing our efforts with other parties in the auto space like customers, OEMs, and dealers,” he said. “Everyone is looking at new and better ways to serve the public and Fair is a beautiful marriage of significant trends in the industry.”

O’Connell’s responsibilities as Chief Strategy Officer will be to help direct Fair’s organizational and market activities as it gets ready to expand from California to major markets across the U.S. throughout 2018.

“Diarmuid’s experience launching revolutionary products will be a critical aspect of our growth plan, while his operational savvy and close relationships at all levels of business and government will help us overcome countless obstacles along the way,” Scott Painter, Fair’s founder and chief executive, said in the announcement.

Fair launched in August 2017 to let customers get a pre-owned car entirely on their phone, with the ability to sign for their car with their finger, pick up their keys, and turn it in any time. Fair has received over $1 billion in funding and counts BMW i Ventures as an investor.

O’Connell has a bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College, a master’s degree in foreign policy from the University of Virginia, and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management.

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