Elon Musk's Long-Term Assistant Who Requested a Raise Was Fired
Here's what you can steal away from it.
It's early 2014, and Mary Beth Brown has chosen to ask for a raise, never expecting that it would terminate her 12-year working relationship with Elon Musk.
Brown has been working for Elon Musk, the modern-day Tony Stark, for 12 years. She put in a lot of effort because she had to travel back and forth between Los Angeles and Silicon Valley every week, work late at night, and even on weekends.
She used to manage Musk's scheduling across two firms (SpaceX and Tesla), as well as manage public relations and frequently assist Musk in making business choices.
She was like Musk's extension. At the very least, she would think so.
In his book "Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future," Ashlee Vance highlighted this tale and described Brown as follows: "Brown — or MB, as everyone called her — became Musk's dedicated assistant, establishing a real-life version of Iron Man's Tony Stark and Pepper Potts." Brown, like Musk, worked a twenty-hour day. She brought Musk food, lined up his business appointments, organized time with his children, picked out his clothes, handled with press demands, and yanked Musk out of meetings when required to keep him on schedule. As a result, she became the only link between Musk and all of his businesses, and she proved to be a great asset to the companies' personnel."
Brown also made an amazing contribution to building SpaceX's early culture, according to Ashlee, because she paid great attention to every detail and helped balance the attitude around the company.
So, in early 2014, Brown approached Musk with high hopes and requested a raise. She specifically desired to be compensated in accordance with SpaceX's senior executives.
Do you want to know what Elon Musk said in response? He encouraged Brown to take a few weeks off so he could appreciate the importance of Brown's obligations (in her absence). Musk actually wanted to comprehend how important Brown was to him.
"'Look, I think you're really valuable,' I told her. Perhaps the recompense is appropriate. According to Ashlee's footnotes, Musk added, "You need to take two weeks off, and I'm going to examine if that's real or not."
As a result, Brown took a two-week leave of absence, and Musk took over her position.
When Brown returned to the office after two weeks, Musk informed her that he no longer need her services.
"When she arrived back," Musk says, "my conclusion was simply that the relationship was not going to work any longer." Twelve years is a long time in any employment. She'll do an outstanding job for someone."
Brown was really taken aback. Nobody gets fired for requesting a raise, right?
According to Ashlee's book, this heinous act shocked everybody at SpaceX and Tesla and reinforced the lore around Musk's brutal stoicism and lack of humanity.
Musk stated that he offered Brown another job at the same salary, but she declined and left the firm.
The question now is, why did Musk fire his long-term assistant, who had done everything properly for him for a long time? Was that all about requesting more money? Or was it Musk's realization that their relationship was no longer working? Or, despite working with Musk for twelve years, Brown's incapacity to judge/understand him?
Brown's perspective shows that she was confident in her contribution to the firms Musk owned, and she expected Musk to treat her as a top soldier on his squad.
However, she misinterpreted Musk on this occasion because he approached the situation from a very pragmatic standpoint, ignoring all of Brown's past contributions.
So, after only two weeks, Musk discovered that Brown's employment was no longer required. Brown, in other words, failed to become vital to Musk.
"If you agree with Musk's choice to discharge his assistant from her post, it shows you the significance of making yourself as vital as possible before asking for a raise," states this article on theladders.com. On the other hand, if you side with the assistant, it's a good reminder to not be underpaid and unappreciated for years."
On August 25, 2015, Justine Musk, Elon Musk's ex-wife, stated on Quora from her verified profile, "Mary Beth Brown began working for Elon soon after we relocated to LA twelve or thirteen years ago" (Elon and I were still married then). Elon's MB was a great and diligent employee who was also a pleasure to work with on a personal level. She devoted her life to the profession — and to our family — and her retirement came as a surprise to me.
According to Ashlee Vance, who published the book on Elon, MB apparently asked for a raise. E told her that if she was genuinely vital to SpaceX, the company should be unable to function in her absence (or something to that effect). He proposed a three-week experiment to assess this hypothesis/her value. This reminds me of something dad remarked to me many years ago, after I returned from a week's vacation with my family in Canada, that his life had run fairly smoothly in my absence. He was informing me that I was an inept house manager. (He was correct.) So, among the various accounts I've heard about MB's departure from SpaceX, this is the one that rings true with me. (Although you would never use the phrase "incompetent" un reference to MB!)
I hope MB's life is fantastic wherever she is and whatever she is doing. She and I haven't always been on the same page, but I have enormous regard for that wonderful woman and will always do."
Elon Musk contradicted the account about Brown being dismissed.
"Of all the phony anecdotes, this one worries me the most," he tweeted on August 11, 2017. Ashlee never told me or my assistant about this story. It's complete rubbish."
"Mary Beth was an outstanding assistant for almost 10 years," he continued, "but as corporate complexity developed, the function required numerous specialists rather than one generalist."
For those who believe Musk is a saint who can do no wrong, I must inform you that, in reality, Musk, like all hard-core businessmen, mercilessly fires people who disagree with him or get in his way (according to a new book, Power Play: Tesla, Elon Musk, and the Bet of the Century by Tim Higgins).
Whatever the real cause is, I believe the incident offers us some important lessons. We should not work for companies where our efforts go unrecognized. Again, we must not take our jobs (or our bosses) for granted.
Because you can be replaced at any time, no matter how long you've been with the company or how close you are to management. Companies simply love to terminate high-paid older staff and replace them with younger, lower-paid workers.
That is the harsh reality. So keep that in mind and prioritize your personal life over the company you work for.
And, of course, before asking for a raise, make sure you provide your manager at least a dozen (if not many) reasons why you deserve it. Furthermore, it is preferable not to work for organizations where you must ask for a raise.
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