Elon Musk is the CEO of two companies, Tesla and SpaceX — but if you ask him, his role as chief executive is essentially just "a made-up title."
That's the somewhat philosophical reply Musk offered at The Wall Street Journal's CEO Council Summit on Monday, when asked whether he'd consider stepping into another role at Tesla in the coming years. The only consequential titles at a large company, Musk responded, are "president, secretary and treasurer," because those positions are required for Internal Revenue Service paperwork.
"All of these other titles are just basically made up," Musk mused, ultimately avoiding the question. "So CEO is a made-up title, CFO is a made-up title, general counsel...They don't mean anything."
As a further example of how little stock he puts in the "CEO" title, Musk noted that he changed his title to "Technoking of Tesla" in a March regulatory filing. "I'm legally 'Technoking,'" he said. "I just did that as kind of, like, a joke — just to show that these titles don't mean a lot."
Musk became Tesla's chairman in 2004, a year after the company was founded, and assumed the role of CEO in 2008. He held both titles for a decade before stepping down as chairman in 2018 for a three-year period, to settle fraud charges with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission. Those terms will expire this year.
In a January quarterly earnings call, Musk complained about the rigors of his Tesla CEO role.
"The sheer amount of work required to be CEO of Tesla is insane," he said. "It would be nice to have a bit more free time on my hands as opposed to just working day and night from when I wake up to go to sleep seven days a week. It's pretty intense."
That wasn't his first time complaining. Last year, Musk noted that he "really didn't want to be CEO" of Tesla from the beginning. In 2018, he said the job's "insane stress" made him "somewhat impulsive," causing him to work 120-hour weeks and sleep on a factory floor to help Tesla meet production deadlines.
Still, his current status as the world's richest person — with a net worth of $267 billion, according to Bloomberg — is partially due to Tesla's market valuation of $1.05 trillion.
In the January earnings call, Musk stated his belief that "nobody is or should be CEO forever." But, he said, he expected to keep running Tesla "for several years" to come.