Elon Musk has routinely discussed his fear that humanity will doom itself by developing increasingly capable artificial intelligence, but this story regarding how he fired his assistant of 12 years makes the SpaceX and Tesla founder sound more robotic than our current AI machines.
In a story taken from the biography Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, posted by Business Insider, author Ashlee Vance reveals how Musk unceremoniously dropped his longtime executive assistant Mary Beth Brown after she asked for a raise. According to Vance, Musk decided to tell her to take the next two weeks off work, before seeing whether or she was necessary to his day-to-day operations:
“According to Vance, the assistant, Mary Beth Brown, asked Musk for a significant raise after she’d been working with him for 12 years. In response, Musk told Brown to take two weeks off, during which he would assume her responsibilities and see whether she was critical to his success.
When Brown returned, Musk told her he didn’t need her anymore.
Musk also told Vance that he offered Brown another position at the company but that she never returned to the office after that.”
The story does not offer any more information in regards to Musk’s treatment of Mary Beth, but it’s nonetheless a pretty depressing story that, judging from the above excerpt, shows a lack of empathy on behalf of Musk towards a long-term employee.
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As reported by Jalopnik, Musk’s ex-wife Justine Musk had discussed Mary Beth in a post on Quora, discussing comparisons between his alleged treatment of his former assistant and his general relationships with other humans:
“Mary Beth Brown started working for Elon soon after we moved to LA twelve or thirteen years ago (Elon and I were still married then). MB was an exceptional and devoted employee of Elon’s and lovely to deal with on a personal level. She gave her life to the job — and to our family — and the news of her departure was a shock to me.
Apparently (according, I believe, to Ashlee Vance, who wrote the book on Elon), MB asked for a raise. E told her that if she was truly critical to SpaceX, it should not be able to operate in her absence (or something to that effect). He suggested a 3-week experiment to test this hypothesis/her worth. This reminds me of something similar he once said to me, many years ago, after I came back from a week’s visit with my family in Canada — that his life had operated quite smoothly in my absence. He was letting me know that I was an incompetent house manager. (He was not wrong.) So of the different stories I have heard behind MB’s departure from SpaceX, this is the one that resonates with me. (Although you would *never* use the word ‘incompetent’ in association with MB!)
Wherever MB is and whatever she is doing, I hope her life is fabulous. She and I have not always been on the same side, but I have — and will always have — tremendous respect for that remarkable woman.”
Though little information regarding Mary Beth Brown exists online outside of the story of her being fired by Musk, a separate Quora thread revealed a little more about her time at Space X and Tesla. “Brown placed her desk a few feet in front of Musk’s, so that people had to pass her before having a meeting with him,” an excerpt from the biography reads. “If someone needed to request permission to buy a big-ticket item, they would stop for a moment in front of Brown and wait for a nod to go see Musk or the shake-off to go away because Musk was having a bad day.”
The excerpt concludes: “This system of nods and shakes became particularly important during periods of romantic strife for Musk, when his nerves were on edge more than usual.”
Additionally, Mary Beth can reportedly be seen sitting at her dusk in the SpaceX headquarters in the below video, at around the 22-second mark: