My personal experience replying to one of Elon’s amazing emails

I played for several years with the idea of telling my story in a blog post. A story about the sad and joyful realities a Tesla employee must face day-by-day. I was hesitant to do this as I love so many things about the teams I’ve been part of and about what Tesla represents. I think this is the main reason why Tesla can get away with anything… I guess is very easy to hide behind a great product and especially a great public image.

 

When I say this, I don’t mean to say I love the company with a market value bigger than GM, but rather the philosophical notion of “Tesla Motors – the disruptor of automotive industry as we knew it” until recently (not even half a decade) and the Holly Land for so many engineers, from the most experienced ones to the newly engineering graduate who dreams of changing the world into a better place. I consider myself lucky to not just see my dream become a reality but to work on it, to see an Electrical Car come to life, spending days and many nights with some of the engineers in my team not being aware that by the time we found the solution to our challenges, our watches showed 4 or even 5 am… again.

I’m not writing my story to denigrate Tesla’s or Elon Musk’s name, but rather to make others think, to show you evidence of what I’ve been thru and to let you draw your own conclusions and rise your own questions and, never the less, to show prove that it doesn’t matter if you are a woman or a man: it’s your decision, and yours alone, to choose if you want to give up or stand up and fight!

 

You are surely wonder what made me decide to write this blog now. Why now?

For two reasons: one that made me start a legal action against Tesla three years ago (still in arbitration) and the second….  Well, yesterday morning I woke up to read an article in INC magazine by Justin Bariso (in case you do not who he is: he is an expert in Emotional Intelligence and probably Elon Musk too).. This article gives praise to Elon Musk for an email which is several years old and the main cause of my second “resignation” from Tesla Motors Inc. 

 

An email like this raises a few questions:

  • Did Elon sent this email as a warning, because, maybe, he heard some rumors on how bad things really are inside Tesla?
  • Was this email sincere when he ended with “No kidding”?
  • It’s easy to put together touching emails, the real challenge is what you will do when someone acts based on it. Will you go thru with your promises? Will you act as you said?

 

I hope my story will make you shape your own conclusions…  don’t want to point fingers, I just want to present facts… and hopefully have some answers someday.

 

Here is a sneak peek of what I've been thru: I am probably a singular event in the universe of employment history, as I was “resigned” not just ones, but twice from Tesla Motors Inc.

Yes, twice resigned!

First time at Tesla I was part of the battery module team (for non-believers: my initials are carved in the molding die that makes the modules, as a recognition for my work to make possible these extraordinarily intricate parts. I didn’t know about this until I saw the physical part in my hand…). The “resignation” was not by choice but, by some horrible play the fate brings you sometime. I though at length If I want to share such a painful episode in my life with everyone…. It happened in January 2013, under the suspicion that I might have breast cancer and in conclusion I will not be any more so valuable to them… however, I will get to that a bit later in another article of this blog, so I can tell my story and show you evidence Not just words, so you can draw your own conclusions.

Second time it was more mundane: it was the consequence – in part- of an email sent by Elon Musk, same email you read about in Justin Bariso’s article. I was crazy enough and dared to reply to it, and – and the rest lies with my gullibility about Elon Musk’s and his emotional intelligence approach to PR. Bear with me as some information is needed first.

 

A few months after my first departure from Tesla, I was re-hired as part of the Interiors Design team – yes, they had to wait long enough to see if I am still have all my body parts and my hair intact – a good indication of not having cancer. One of the rehiring conditions was explicitly from HR to ”forget what happened in January and never bring that up”. I was happy to oblige as long as this would give me the opportunity to make my mark again in the future of transportation, I had all my friends still there and, on the other hand I must admit I enjoyed a lot to look in the eyes a few people that showed me how low and heartless some humans can be…

Long story short, this “new” Tesla Motors that I return proved to be a collection of silos, each run with impunity by a manager with satrapian powers, and when I dared to bring up that Elon’s vision required the free flow of information, I was served a cold piece of reality: “I though you are smart, but am very disappointed about you, if you still think that Elon Musk runs Tesla. He is just the face of Tesla, not the brain of Tesla. Here WE are doing whatever we want”. This from my direct manager Derek Allen. You do not want to know what I reply back to him…

“WE” meant several levels of a close-knit network of old friends including engineering, purchasing, HR, legal and about everything you need to run things the way you like, without fear of ever being caught with any wrongdoings, as the cops are the same as the robbers (remember the childhood games?). Compared to what I experienced before in the battery team, this was not just the complete opposite of the company that I loved so much, but a nightmare of everything that can go wrong in a company….

 

After fighting my way for months with the “system” I tried and succeeded to solve two engineering issues (details later) with the help and support of an entire team who had enough from a few of the “WE” gang. The result: I was bullied, humilied, demoted and retaliated against in the most horrible way possible. As a result, I got to the conclusion that I have to leave this company which does not look like the Tesla I had known before. I was shocked when I was approached by quite a few engineers who asked me not to give up, as they see in me a chance to end this tyranny that was imposed for months to the group, way before I got there… In that moment after hearing what they’ve all been thru as well, I promised them I will get to Elon one way or the other, even if I have to get to the supreme court, moment in which one of them send me the “Communication within Tesla” email.

I promised myself I will fight for this. I tried thru all the company channels, up to our VP of engineering Chris Porritt, to make them hear us only to end up in an even more threatening situation. In the end not knowing where to turn, after a meeting in which I was told “nobody will believe you instead of us”, I started recording some conversations so I can show proof to Elon about what was going on. Doing so I thought it is the right thing to do for Tesla… One of these recordings is a 2+ hours meeting with our VP and 7 engineers explaining the situation that we were all in, this meeting happened only after I told the VP after a month of doing nothing we will all go to Elon.

And, boy, did he do: After this meeting, things got even worse. The other seven engineers were harassed and threatened in private meetings with one of the two managers we all complained about Derek Allen and Andrew Raczkowski, being asked to drop their complains if they don’t want to be made a “problem employee” ….  

My situation was simple: I started being hunted by the HR Marrisa Peretz and Legal departments personnel Steven Cooper, being singled out by the VP of engineering as the only person from that meeting to bring accusations about the two managers, and that was it. In their minds it was an easy solution: I was supposed to be thrown out of the company, this way it would be a lesson for everyone who would dare in the future to speak up! Their problem was that I was not stupid, and my problem was that I got mad and told the legal counselor (after they unveiled their plan) something I hoped I will have to tell only to Elon Musk: that I recorded the two hours meeting in which ALL of us complained about same things and same two people, no matter what projects we worked on. For the next few weeks the situation become unbearable for me, as they pressured me to give them the recording while I kept saying again and again “they are for Elon’s ears only”…

Then I made my mistake: I wrote an email to Elon Musk, in reference to the infamous “Communication within Tesla” email to let him know that I must meet with him in order to show him evidence of shady things going on inside the company, that he need to be aware of. Next day I was informed by the legal counselor of Tesla Motors that I committed “the biggest mistake in my career”, adding the bullying and the pressure to “friendly present my resignation”.

To circle back to the reason of why this blog came alive: Elon Musk’s email might have been genuinely well-intended, however it became a way to weed out the “dissidents” or just a PR stunt to enhance the “visionary leadership” image of the greatest CEO to ever walked the face of the Earth. As I once believe it…

 

Without any further ado, here is the

 

First email I sent to Elon and his “Communication within Tesla” as a reply

 

Date: April 12, 2014 at 10:07:37 AM PDT

To: Elon Musk

Subject: FW: Communication within Tesla

 

Hi Elon,

 

I need talk to you in private without No one knowing about this… I need to see you or talk to you about something Exactly to what are you describing in you email…but it is even worse 🙁

My worries and what I'm scared of is that: what would you do when is not just One manger involved and are a few on top of them that cover each other up…

 

I Love this company more then anything in my Life, it is My Dream…  I didn't had a life for the past 4 years…and that including a funeral that I missed, a mild heart-attack, a few trips with the ambulance after working for more then 27hrs strait and… And in the end a divorce for put me to choose between Tesla and him…That's why I tried to do something about it when I saw what is happening in here. 

 

I'm the girl that showed you the new cool [..] that everyone who saw it they go crazy saying: this is so Tesla all over… But to be able to make it happen that prototype I had to go thru Hell in here… 

I cannot believe this is happening in Tesla. I feel I'm in a nightmare about Tesla that I cannot get out… 

I didn't want to bother you in the beginning, knowing how busy you are, I try to fix the right way and bringing up to my other mangers and VPs, but it's getting out of control and I cannot believe I'm saying this, I don't trust anyone anymore beside You… And two other people… Not even legal department… And HR it's the worse of all.

 

I will get in a Lot of trouble if they will find out I contact you, but I'm just a passionate out of the box engineer. I'm not an expert in management and lawyers games and they know how to turn things around so they can cover again. I was told that even I'll have lunches with you I'll not change things around here…

They call me the The Catia Fairy in tesla (battery and interiors) because I was the one saving the battery 3 years ago. I just move to interiors 10 months ago and always want and love to help anyone from any department no matter the hour, time crunch or difficulty… 

 

Someone ones asked how can I do it nonstop and still put a smile in the end… The truth: I Am not part of Tesla, Tesla is part of Me and I prove that. I am not here for stocks. I lost then all, but that's another story. A few weeks back I end up with -$10 in my account for a week so I can make the […] project happen, I had to borrow money for a week… This is how much I Love this company 

But what make me come to you beside […] struggle are other problems that are even worse… Waste of money, covering up things, intimidate people from the group if we are not obey… I had to apologize to the suppliers for a lot of bad things that my managers did… I ask them to believe me that Tesla it is a different oem, but their disappointment about Tesla is like they say something bad about my baby… And I'm tired… It shouldn't be this way.

 

I always was a stubborn, and passionate person, I'm not scared of hard work or speak up for what I believe in. You can Love me or Hate me, because I always say what I believe even if you like or not. My bad spot… I am not a two faces person or switch sides like they told me when it gets convenient

I immigrated to Canada with less then $1,000 in my pocket when I just turn 22, 12 years ago and came to US 7 years ago; I know what hard work means and how to appreciate every day of me life… 

If this email that you send is True, I need a bit of your time to present everything to you and that means fact… Including a few recorded conversation that they don't know about… I did had to record them… After I realize that's my word against them. 

 

Only problem is where I can see you, because they watch my every move… I am so scared right now that I TRULLY wonder if you will get this email or they will…

 

Thank you, 

Your…Cristina Balan.

 Here is a small inside of what I've been thru and this is nothing

 

Building on the pressure put on me, I cave in and emailed to the Director of Engineering, Eric Bach, that I cannot stand the abuse any longer that I made him aware for more tehn 6 weeks, but I also added that I will not leave Tesla without first showing all the evidence  I have to Elon Musk. Following this incident, the director scheduled a meeting for the next day and promised me that, as he doesn’t want to accept my resignation, he will fix the situation IF I promise Not to show anything to Elon Musk. I agreed!

Next day (April 16th 2014), after this meeting and exactly half an hour before I was prepared for an “ad hoc” meeting with Elon Musk, I was escorted out of the sight of my coworkers, in a construction site where “anything could happened” and “resigned” again or as they said: “we decided to accept your resignation from yesterday”– this time with two security guards at the door of the office where my “exit interview” was happening. Interesting thing is that the HR representative was so eager to get me out of the premises before Elon Musk was supposed to conclude his scheduled meetings, that she agreed to write on my exit interview form, in her own handwriting, as the reason for leaving the company: ”threatened if she spoke up”. Under duress, threatened that if I do not sign my resignation I would be handcuffed and dragged to the parking lot, knowing what my self-respect means to me and how proud I am, I signed whatever was shoved under my nose and I left. I was not even allowed to collect my personal items, which are still held by Tesla. The only things the HR person returned to me were my purse and cell phone from my desk. I walked out the door, followed by the legal counselor who advised me that is in my best interest to “destroy all evidence, especially the recordings” I intended to show to Elon Musk, “for my own good”.  Couple of seconds later I collapse in front of Freemont entrance, not knowing what happened just after I was picked up by the ambulance. It was an experience that marked me more that I can express in words. My dignity as a strong woman that everyone know my for was for a while affected: I had a choice to fight back or just accept the failure I encounter.

If you think I stopped here you are wrong: After getting out of the hospital and trying to make sense of everything that I’ve been thru, I didn’t want to believe that Elon ignored my email. The other engineers who were in the meeting with The VP of Engineering were even more scared than before thinking what will happen with them now… So I decided to write a second email to Elon Musk:

 

My Second Email to Elon:

 

Sent:Saturday, April 19, 2014 11:19 PM

To: Elon Musk

Subject:Re: Communication within Tesla — and Paying the price

Hi Elon,

 

Unfortunately what I was afraid of,  it  happened ! I’m out of Tesla, because I dare to stand up for my team and speak up for what is right for Tesla.

 

I was forced to resign on Wednesday, throw out in the street and not be allowed to go up to say goodbye, just so I'll not have the chance to talk to you and show you the facts and evidences I had.

 

The main reason for what they did to me, was to put a fear on all the other members of the team that will ever think to try something like I did.  Yes we are 8 of us to try and testify; all of us that we have the same events for different projects in different time frames and 8 of us to have meetings to try and change something.

 

Is not just a one time thing, is happening for a wile, but each time my colleagues tried something were shut down.

 

I was threaten to renounce and handle all my evidence against the management who's covering up everything.  The biggest shocked we all had was from the sr mgnt that we ask for help… And from the legal that asked me to destroy the evidence  and not show you the recordings and facts that I have…

 

Just to fast summarize a few of the things I don't want to hide and let it happen anymore:

 

*Cover ups and waisting hundreds thousands of dollars on mistakes that could be fixed from the beginning so we'll not have a problem;  *Choosing suppliers 8 times more expensive because they knew each other outside of Tesla.  *Changing design intend so we can accommodate the suppliers not other way around, without carrying what kind off quality we put in the car or by how much we are delaying the project *Misleading suppliers to the point they told me they don't think they want to work for Tesla in the future,  *Lots of times that I had to apologize to our supplier for my manager and fix the mistakes so we can save our reputation as a company. * Putting parts in the car knowing are bad, cars coming back in less then 30 days with quality issues  * Carpets that could be fixed, the engineers ask to be changed, they rise the issue and the management covered up again and again.

 

In my case, I fight with them and I prove I was right in both of my projects. Even I was threaten I didn't obey. I did what was right for Tesla, because from where I stand I don't work for them, I work for Tesla.

 

When I didn't want to shut up and lie about it and ask to cut quality, I worked night after night and in the end in a bit more then a week, I proved to everyone that I was right, we can still do something and have the quality. 

 

I speak up and showed everyone involved. The results, I was demoted in the lowest position in the group and all the projects were taken away from me; It hurt to be force to accept this position, BUT I was not sorry for fighting and doing what's right. 

 

Unfortunately, the bulling and imitation that I had since then, rich an unbearable level and I asked many times to be transfer, but nothing…

 

I have a reputation of going a extra mile for everything I do and exceed expectation… I'll not stop now. One of our supplier send me a gift in which he said to me: "Some people merely to write about the future (like Dan Brown). You are the special type of persons that makes the future happen!"

 

All I did was for the well being of Tesla, not against it !!! I'm not sorry for speaking up, I'll do it all over again. I'm just sorry I didn't came to you when I had the chance…

 

All the other colleagues of mine are as mad as I am… Even more now. When they've heard what it happen to me on Wednesday…

 

I could just shut up again I'm not in Tesla anymore right, but I can't! I Love this company, even I'm on paycheck or not, and if we don't do anything now we will not have anything to look for. I don't want Tesla another OEM. I'm fighting for a Cause, not for a job.  If they get away with this all the people that knows the truth will just loose the faith in this company.

 

Is not possible to hear from a manager like I've heard, that battery team is not Tesla, that's another company! We are where we are because of the battery first!

 

I am afraid to get into details, because I don't trust who will get this email first! But they are quite a few people that we would like to talk to you and tell you what they've been thru… 

Cristina Balan.

 

~Albert Einstein~ "The intuitive mind it's a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift."

 

 

Since that day until last year when a WSJ reporter wrote an article about me, I always believed 100% that Elon Musk was kept away from the truth of what really happened with me and my team. I know, I know, you will say I’m nuts to still believe in him…. But I always though legal department intercepted my emails somehow and he didn’t get them.  It is not the first time when Tesla has experienced a special “glitch” in the system which is selectively deleting emails, but I will get to those evidences for you to see later.

It happened before with the emails from the two weeks prior to my first resignation. The following is an email received by my lawyer after he told Tesla’s legal counselor that if I will not be allowed to meet with Elon Musk and I will not receive the two weeks of emails prior to end of my first employment we will start the legal litigation. This is what he received:

 

      I’m really sorry that I’ve given you the impression that I was sidestepping your requests, but that was not my intent at all.  I continue to believe that a mediation will help the parties resolve their issues.  As things stand, one of the parties is not grounded in the facts, could very well be us.  […]   

 I also did not realize that referring to the emails as “missing” was controversial.  As I’ve previously told you in our phone conversation, the emails for that period of time do not exist in Ms. Balan’s account.  The reason that they were not restored for her during her employment was because the backup from that two week period of time was corrupted, not just for your client, but for the entire company.  I believe that Ms. Balan was informed that this was the case during her employment.

 

 

Throughout the arbitration process, , the one thing that I requested from Tesla every single week was my emails from Elon’s Inbox (just to see if he received them). Week after week the only answer was that they cannot find them. They couldn’t find any emails, until they learned about a WSJ reporter will write about my story and Tesla’s mysterious glitch who deleted not just two weeks of the entire company emails (you guessed right: exactly the two weeks that proved my case about the first “resignation”) but also many other emails pertaining to the discovery in the process. Guess how good is this “glitch”: it does not affect only the email server, but the people’s computers and backup copies (including the tape back-ups stored off-site).

The irony of the whole story is that a few days later after I met with the WSJ journalist, Tesla provided the first email sent to Elon Musk, as he received it on April 12, 2014 and (within 7 minutes) this email was forwarded to an HR manager.

There is no evidence however that Elon Musk received the second email I sent to him on April 19, 2014 after I was released from hospital, and also, there is no proof that anybody acted in any way to investigate my claims. Unfortunately, it seems that Elon Musk either does not know what is happening behind his back in Tesla Motors, or he does not want to know – as his legal counselor told me when I asked him why is he not giving Elon the information I provided him: “My job is not to keep Elon informed about what is going on, but to protect his plausible deniability”.

As a believer in Elon Musk’s innocence, I started a legal action against Tesla in December 2014 (of course this cannot be a jury trial – per the agreement to arbitration every employee must sign as a condition to employment) and the main request I have is to meet Elon Musk and be able to make him aware of the things I have witnessed while I was working at Tesla.

 

                An interesting detail of this process and a painful one for me: I was offered several settlements – each with a larger monetary value that the previous one, and the only condition deemed “unreasonable” was my request to meet Elon Musk alone, or an equivalent request that Tesla’s legal team  briefed him in detail about my case or a letter that he did received my second email and Tesla give him the recordings provided during discovery… Tesla “snapped” even worse to the letter idea than to my request to meet with Elon… Why? I think I will never find the answers to these questions, as it seems that even if I win the lawsuit, there is no law that can force Elon to tell me the truth nor to force Tesla to show him the evidence we have…

This legal action revealed a whole dark world of misinformation, emails “glitches” resulting in emails lost by the whole company, which magically were recovered when experts testified that this events are unlikely to occur, witnesses with short memories, more emails recovered by magic, reporters writing stories that will not see the light of day after visits to news outlets by the  highest ranking Tesla employees and a sum of other things that as a ex colleague of mine said would make Hollywood’s screen writers drool and their best stories look like cheap fantasy. Indeed, reality beats movies anytime. Stay tuned, this is just the beginning as I will present all the facts/documents about my first resignation and what is life thru an arbitration and what you need to know, in the next articles I plan to add to my blog

The worse is the fact that with very few exceptions, people in my life, including my parents do not understand why am I not signing a settlement and be over with! Why do I need to know if he knew or not? Because I want to see if I was really so blind and as my manger said stupid. Money are not everything! NOT for me! My last settlement offer was made in the first scheduled day of arbitration, and I was standing in that room trying to understand my parents and my lawyer’s perspective and I couldn’t do it… I just couldn’t! I felt like I was selling myself! Maybe is just me but I cannot have a closure not knowing if Elon Musk knew about me and my team or he didn’t!

 

I cannot sign a paper in which I promise to give up my right to tell my story and make the people aware of what happened and what can you do if this will happen to you! I cannot sign a paper that I will prevent me from presenting evidence about how I was told that a woman’s brain cannot handle a patent on her own and if I want to see it become reality, I will teach and  handed it to the “right type” of engineers! I didn’t want to sign a paper for money and not be able to inspire other women which are forced into horrible situations because they think of us as being weak: WE ARE NOT! I was also told by the same person that I am like a wild horse and he will find a way to tame me. Well he didn’t! If a few other powerful women will fight the system every day a bit more, we will end up being equal!

Each time a woman doesn't obey she is too difficult! if she is expressing her concern even shes bringing solutions she’s a drama queen! If you dare to ask for equal right you suddenly become a problem employee and you must be eliminated!!! If a man doesn’t all the above he is determined, rational and has a strong character. Don’t get me wrong, If it wasn’t for the men in my career that challenged me to prove them who I am as an engineer, I wound be on the level that I am now, so thank you for that. Until recently I didn’t work with a woman before so work with men was what I always knew, but This time guys, this time was not the same and I didnt want to complain, as I told to myself I can handle it, Maybe that was one of my mistakes…. 

 

I never knew what impact my passion, my strength and my story can have until I give my first public speech at a TEDx event last year. After this I received hundreds of letters from people from all over the world, from all backgrounds, from high school girls to an air force pilot, both men and women, all saying that it doesn’t matter in the end if you are a woman or a man, please don’t give up just because somebody push you down, even if you cannot fight back, at least stand up! The view is better from there even if it hurts!  Stand up, again and again and again… at some point they will get tired or bored to push you again!

 

What puzzled me the most is what happen last week when some of the reporters who want to write about me and my story, started asking question about the recording and if Elon Musk knew about it, the reaction from Tesla’s legal and PR department after dozens  of  phone calls and voicemails, one of which was to ask my lawyer to ask me to promise, in writing, that I will not play the recordings to any reporter. I realized then that even now they don’t realize and probably never will, that everything I did was NOT AGAINST Tesla and quite the contrary. If I had an intention to do that, why would I wait more than three years to do it. The purpose of those recordings especially the +2hrs one was for Elon Musk’s and Tesla’s benefit, so he can understand how the communication within Tesla was actually working.

 

Either way Mr. Musk, the facts are facts and the proof is available for you to see (and hear) anytime you would feel like it. Just ask your legal team or contact yours truly.

 

So long until my next few articles…

 

Cristina

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