The Power of Tesla

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Our senior strategy course (J401), with Professor Steele uses the Case Method to analyze and understand the business, financial, regulatory, market conditions and external challenges that companies must consider while executing their plans and generating profit. At the beginning of the course, each group was assigned a public company case to study, analyze and present. The first of two presentations involved presenting on the written case and analyzing what challenges the company was facing. The second presentation entails presenting on and analyzing what has occurred since the case was written.

Our group was assigned Tesla Motors. Tesla Motors is currently the only public company of its size solely manufacturing electric vehicles. Our team did not have a lot of knowledge of Tesla Motors, or cars in general, so we had a lot to learn in a short period of time. We did know that Elon Musk, founder and CEO of Tesla Motors, was quite the visionary. In fact, Mr. Musk was recently named number 38 on Forbes list of the “World’s Most Powerful People of 2015”. His goals of creating an affordable electric vehicle as well as working towards a world that does not rely on fossil fuels have pushed Tesla Motors to the forefront of technological innovation in regards to sustainable vehicles.

When the Tesla Case was written, the largest challenges that Tesla faced were the cost of the battery, safety of the vehicle, andcompetition in the Electric Vehicles market. As a team, we decided to take advantage of Indianapolis having a Tesla dealership by visiting the store front and interviewing an employee about the retail and consumer side of the company. We learned much about how Tesla Motors trains its employees, the advertising component of having a mall location as opposed to a separate dealership, how the technology has improved since the case was written, as well as the little known fact that absolutely no deaths have occurred in a Tesla vehicle.

To begin our final analysis, we had to start with certain goals in mind that Tesla Motors has been facing since the case was written.

  • We first identified the primary challenges to be: cost of the battery, safety of the vehicles, and competition in the electric car industry
  • We then recognized what areas of the business were most relevant to the primary challenges and focused on those areas
  • Lastly, we analyzed the identified areas of business through the lens of the primary challenges to better understand how those challenges affected the business and what Tesla Motors was doing to tackle those challenges

During the final phase of the case analysis, which is intense, our team learned as much about the challenges of working with peers on a complex, data driven assignment as we did about the company itself! We believe by the time we concluded our visit to Tesla Motors, we were able to truly understand the Tuckman stages of group development. These stages are “Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing”, from the model created by Psychologist Bruce Tuckman for describing phases that groups go through when they have a project to complete. When we visited Tesla Motors, we were in the Norming phase.

Once we returned, we were able to move right into the Performing stage. We then proceeded to work towards verifying information we obtained during our visit, as well as gaining a deeper understanding of where Tesla is headed in the future. The tools we used to understand Tesla Motors beyond the text case included the Bloomberg Terminal in the library as well as resources from the many databases that we as students have access too. Our business librarian Katharine Macey was a great resource for our team. Professor Steele, who teaches our course, always wants us to broaden our global perspective regarding business conditions and how these conditions impact our company. Additionally, he believes the case learning method to be as much about how manage the softer side of analysis in a team setting as it is understanding the hard numbers and their meaning.

Tesla continues to face issues regarding the cost of the vehicle, even though the battery is becoming more affordable with better technology and the business partnerships Tesla has with the Gigafactory. The issue of vehicle safety is a top priority for Tesla Motors, which can be seen with the actions Tesla has taken since November 20, regarding a small yet important problem with a bolt in the seatbelt mechanism in their Model S vehicle. Tesla has recalled all 90,000 Model S vehicles worldwide to be sure to fully protect the Tesla community and their passengers.

Throughout our undergraduate careers, our classes have taught us the importance of things such as analytical thinking and effective communication. As Kelley students, we have had multiple classes in which we learned the principles of important areas of business such as Marketing, Finance, and Leadership. In J401, we have been asked to take all we have learned during our time as college students and apply it to a case, the Tesla Case. Using the skills and knowledge we have gained, we have come to understand that, though Tesla Motors is facing and will continue to face many challenges, with the innovative Elon Musk at the forefront, the company is more than capable of overcoming these hurdles and revolutionizing the auto industry. But, we have learned about more than Tesla Motors. We have come to better understand what kinds of challenges we will face in the real world of business and, more importantly, how to go about tackling those challenges. J401 is the culmination of everything we had learned thus far. By learning how to utilize all the knowledge we have gained as Kelley students, we learned more than how to analyze a case, we learned how to be successful business professionals.

During a conversation for this blog article, Professor Steele added: “The Tesla team has approached the analysis in the manner that will be applicable in real business analysis as students begin their professional jobs. Not only did the team apply the business tools mastered in their undergraduate learning, they also went the additional step in understanding the retail business side of the company, and presenting the case in a manner that would satisfy any business meeting they may find themselves participating in after graduation. Strong analytical skills, achievement of effective team dynamics and excellent team presentation skills are exactly what we hope the student teams to master – the Tesla team has set an example for all of us”.