“The love for human life is one of the things that impresses me the most about Tesla,” said James in reference to the fact that Tesla cars are the safest on the market. James recently spoke at a joint NIRI Twin Cities/IABC-MN/Minnesota PRSA event in Minneapolis.
James’ journey to Tesla investor relations started as a financial journalist on the West Coast. She then moved to Minneapolis to work for Dougherty & Company. When Tesla launched its initial public offering in 2010, Dougherty was the only Wall Street firm to issue a buy rating on the company. Her boss at Dougherty, Jeff Evanson, went on to lead investor relations at Tesla and recruited James to the company.
During both the time covering Tesla while at Dougherty and working at Tesla, James saw firsthand how Tesla navigated three crises:
- On a Friday afternoon in early 2012, Bloomberg News broke the story that Peter Rawlinson, chief engineer on the Model S, and his top lieutenant Nick Sampson were leaving. The stock dropped that day and recovered the next week when Elon Musk shared they they left for personal reasons.
- When the first Tesla vehicle fire occurred, James was prepared — thanks to her minor in physics. Tesla enthusiasts showed their support for the brand by posting photos on social media of other manufacturers’ cars on fire with the hashtag #NotATesla. “There’s a power when you can bypass the mass media,” said James.
- When a man died in Florida while using Tesla Autopilot, typical crisis communications tactics didn’t apply. “When loss of life is involved, you have to communicate before you know all the facts,” said James.
Speaking of Tesla Autopilot, James said, “We’re going to commoditize the heck out of autonomous driving.” Tesla is mapping out the world’s roads by having its cars send data to the Tesla database whenever people are driving its cars.
So what does the future hold for Tesla? An acquisition of SolarCity. Cars that can parallel park without a driver being present. Solar roofs. The ability to rent out your Autopilot-enabled Tesla when you’re not using the car. There’s more to come — it just takes time to move from Elon Musk’s imagination to our reality.