Elon Musk was up early on Saturday. He departed Los Angeles, where he runs SpaceX, his private rocket venture, and flew north in his white Gulfstream jet. Stopping in Silicon Valley, he picked up two engineers from Tesla, his electric-car company. They flew on to Reno, Nev., where they spent the day at Tesla's battery plant, the Gigafactory.
It might have been just another workday for Mr. Musk — a multistate jaunt to personally fix a drive-unit production line. But this was no ordinary morning. He was a brief night's sleep removed from one of his most consequential decisions: scrapping his plan to take Tesla private.
It was an abrupt about-face, and it capped a tumultuous two and a half weeks that began with a single tweet and wound up roiling markets, setting off regulatory alarms and raising questions about his judgment. Even by Mr. Musk's standards — this is a C.E.O. who believes Tesla is under attack by saboteurs, has a personal life playing out in the gossip blogs and is prone to fiery outbursts on Twitter — it has been a time of high intrigue.
"The reason Elon seems to attract drama is that he is so transparent, so open, in a way that can come back to bite him," said Kimbal Musk, Mr. Musk's younger brother and a Tesla board member. "He doesn't know how to do it differently. It's just who he is."
Mr. Musk, a brilliant but erratic billionaire, is the animating force behind Tesla, responsible for everything from its push into renewable energy to the design of the air vents in its newest electric car. His singular role gives him extraordinary influence over the fate of Tesla, its more than 40,000 employees and its investors.
Associates, including several people inside the company interviewed over the past week, portray him as a workaholic who zeroes in on the smallest details. His deep involvement suggests that the company can't do without him. Yet these days, it's not always clear that he knows what's best for Tesla.
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Even before taking Tesla investors on a roller-coaster ride, Mr. Musk was increasingly unpredictable, marketing flamethrowers online and dispatching a submarine to assist in a rescue in Thailand, then calling a critic of the gesture a pedophile. In an interview this month with The New York Times, Mr. Musk said he was physically exhausted and emotionally drained, causing some to question his fitness for the job.
Mr. Musk's personal life is no less chaotic. He was dating Grimes, the Canadian pop musician, but the two stopped following each other on social media last week, leading gossip blogs to speculate they had broken up. That followed a bizarre run-in with the rapper Azealia Banks, who intimated that Mr. Musk had written his going-private tweet while on acid. (He denied it.) Amid the fallout, he took to Twitter, posting cryptic messages about love and quoting T. S. Eliot.
And at the office, he is hardly a typical chief executive. Racing to resolve critical production issues, he can often be found on the factory floor, working to fix robots. At night, he sometimes sleeps under his desk. All the while, he has been confronting an exodus of senior employees, preparing to be interviewed by the Securities and Exchange Commission, and was working with Goldman Sachs and Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund to take Tesla private — until he wasn't.
Some board members have been dismayed at Mr. Musk's behavior, according to people familiar with the directors' thinking, but no active search is underway for a replacement — although there have been fitful efforts to find a top lieutenant.
James Anderson, the head of the asset management firm Baillie Gifford, Tesla's biggest shareholder after Mr. Musk, said he still had faith in the 47-year-old chief executive, calling him a "visionary leader" who had unmatched technical expertise and remained "obsessive about the details."
Yet Mr. Anderson said he had grown increasingly worried about Mr. Musk, believing that his volatile personal life and intense work ethic were taking a steep toll. "He is so demanding, so driven by the imperative to do something good for the world," Mr. Anderson said. "You could always see something like this happening."