How Space Companies Treat their Workers
March 4th saw the launch of Elon Musk’s Space X Falcon 9 rocket which sent the SES-9 telecommunications satellite into space. The primary objective was to place the satellite into orbit while the secondary objective was to see if the reusable rocket could make the first landing on a drone ship in the ocean. Ultimately the recovery from the drone failed due to re-entry into the atmosphere at a higher than expected velocity and not enough fuel to prevent damage to the space vehicle.
Tesla Motors founder, Musk, later confirmed in a statement that the rocket had crash-landed on the drone ship. Musk said before the launch date that his expectation was that the mission would fail. Even though he has faith in the Space-X employees that diligently work round the clock for him, Musk prefers to be realistic in his expectations.
In spite of this most recent setback, Musk remains one of the great inventors of our time. He and Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos are in a kind of space race of their own and regularly goad each other with each launch, especially after Bezos was able to successfully launch and land their reusable New Shepherd rocket at the beginning of 2016 via his aerospace company, Blue Origin.
The two space companies, however, have different objectives and focuses. While Bezos New Shepherd project is being developed so that it can take people to the edge of space, Musk’s and Space X have set their sights on launching satellites into orbit. And while the two high-powered CEO’s of two major U.S. companies are in essence competing with each other, they have also demonstrated mastery of how allocation of human capital is done.
Being able to have such a focus in terms of management of human capital, however, has been met with a fair amount of criticism in recent months. The New York Times published a lengthy article which served as an expose’ of Amazon’s corporate practices in terms of human resource management. Workers alleged an atmosphere where their time and personal relationships were sacrificed in order to accommodate Amazon’s corporate culture that was more about competition and crunching the numbers than creating cooperation among coworkers
Bezos’ response to the article was quick, arguing that the dystopian picture that was painted of Amazon as work environment had no relation to the reality. But it is well known that Bezos believes that hardship can serve as the impetus toward solving problems.
“I think frugality drives innovation, just like other constraints do. One of the only ways to get out of a tight box is to invent your way out,” Bezos said in a 2008 interview with Bloomberg.
As far as management styles go, Musk is also a man who tends to drive his employees being what he calls himself as a bit of a “nano-manager”. Musk allegedly tends to push his employees as much as possible toward perfection. According to an anonymous employee who shared their experiences working for Space X; shared by an anonymous Quora user online claiming to have worked at SpaceX.
“He won’t hesitate to throw out six months of work because it’s not pretty enough or it’s not ‘badass’ enough. But in so doing he doesn’t change the schedule,” the user posted.
Space X has faced a series of lawsuits brought against the company that allege violations of labor laws. Space X allegedly expected employees to work overtime on a regular basis without being compensated and denying workers breaks.
Even with the progress that both Space X and Blue Horizon have made such treatment of workers does hail back to the early 20th Century and the days of Thomas Edison when labor laws were less likely to come down on the side of employees. Edison was well-known to have also been such a demanding manager requiring that his workers put in long hours through the night during the week for months on end with as little as two or three hours of sleep a night.
One of Edison’s employees, Nikola Tesla, was promised $50,000 in order to help improve Edison’s dynamo, to which Tesla also added automatic controls. When Tesla was expecting to collect the money he was promised, Edison said, “Tesla, you don’t understand our American humor.” Edison only gave Tesla a small raise in compensation for his years of hard work. (1)
Inventors and innovators such as Edison, Musk and Bezos have a relentless approach to the work ethic. While it might seem harsh, the stress does encourage employees to struggle in order to come up with innovations and it serves as a test of worker loyalty to the company’s vision and that of their leaders.
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