The Motley Fool's Second-Best CEO of the Year Is...

It's that time of the year again, folks! It's time to dust off the cyber awards and crown five CEOs with the prestigious honor of being the best of the best in 2013.

Unlike last year when we held several rounds of public voting after I picked eight of the best and worst CEOs, I wanted to do something different this year. So instead of picking who I thought should be in each category for 2013, I reached out to as many of my Motley Fool colleagues as possible and aggregated their answers into one list. The result is a considerably more balanced list representing a wider swath of views, and likely a more accurate portrayal of the best CEOs of the year than I could have come up with by myself.

Over the previous three weeks we've chronicled three CEOs who would certainly be very deserving of the CEO of the year title. They are:

This week, we're going to turn our attention back to the auto sector and highlight perhaps the most revolutionary CEO of the past couple of years, Tesla Motors (NASDAQ: TSLA  ) CEO, Elon Musk.

Source: OnInnovation, Flickr.

Why Elon Musk?
Under normal circumstances I would aggregate some of the comments of my fellow Fools and add in bits and pieces of supporting evidence as to why a particular CEO deserves such high praise. However, as a Tesla Motors short-seller, I was concerned that my biases would come through a bit too strongly when it's clear from the voting of my fellow Fools that Musk deserves some praise.

With that in mind, I asked the two Foolish auto gurus, John Rosevear and Dan Miller to put into their own words why Elon Musk deserves to be CEO of the year. Here's what they had to say:

John Rosevear's take
Even if he does nothing more, Elon Musk has already done something astounding: He has established the first new global car brand since Lamborghini's founding in 1963. That's an incredibly difficult thing to do: The auto business has huge fixed costs, skimpy profit margins, and massive regulatory hurdles. Nearly every automotive start-up ever has crashed and burned. But Tesla has managed to get it done, in impressive style. 

Like Lamborghini's founder, Musk had made a fortune in other businesses before starting Tesla, and that fortune helped get the company off the ground -- but there, the similarities end. Lamborghini has always been a tiny brand, playing at the very high end of the market. Tesla has much bigger aspirations -- and those aspirations are being realized with a radical new powertrain technology.

So why is Musk a top-notch CEO? Sure, he's a really smart guy with a compelling vision. But not all smart guys make great bosses. The team that Musk has assembled to run Tesla, to develop its mass-market vehicles and build a global sales network, has executed to near-perfection. He has also shown a truly deft touch in guiding the company around obstacles and potholes that could have thrown it well off course. His response to the recent string of fires afflicting Tesla's Model S -- expanding the company's warranty coverage while inviting a federal investigation -- could not have been better. 

Tesla may not "disrupt" the global giants that rule the auto business, but the company has certainly gotten their attention, and already some of those giants are hinting that they'll follow Tesla's lead. Meanwhile, Tesla's products continue to delight its early adopter customers, and Tesla's meticulous attention to detail -- and Musk's skill at carefully setting (and then exceeding) expectations -- has given us every reason to believe that Tesla's next product, the Model X SUV, will arrive on schedule and will deliver as advertised.

Dan Miller's take
As John mentioned above, creating a new global car brand out of thin air is nearly impossible to do. Though the big name automakers would like to think Tesla could disappear as quickly as it developed, Elon Musk's long-term vision and drive for innovation will surely keep the company here for the foreseeable future.

Regarding his drive for innovation, look no further than the Model S which has suddenly grabbed America's attention. People still aren't sure how to classify the ride. Is it simply an electric vehicle? Is it a sports car, a luxury car, or is the Model S some miracle hybrid of all three? The answer seems closest to the latter, and in an industry where consumers have focused solely on internal combustion engines to drive vehicles for over a century, Musk has accomplished something phenomenal: creating strong demand for a next-generation solution.

Just as impressive as his drive for innovation is his devotion to the company's long-term vision. Changing the way we drive on a daily basis is incredibly complex, but a problem Musk is facing head on with its supercharging station network. Tesla has set up 23 high-speed "Supercharger" stations in the U.S. and is on track to offer coverage to 98% of the U.S. population and parts of Canada by 2015 -- right around the corner.

In addition to making electric vehicle traveling an everyday possibility for all American's, those that can't afford the premium price tag on today' s Model S won't have that problem for long. Around 2015, Musk and his team plan to offer a mass produced sporty electric vehicle in the neighborhood of $30,000, opening the doors and wallets for most consumers.

Because of his drive for innovation and devotion to a long-term vision that looks to disrupt an industry set in its ways, Elon Musk has earned his way toward the top of the mountain in 2013.

One last thing
There's not too much I can add to John and Dan's commentary, save for the fact that Elon Musk also used his innovative prowess to push Tesla to its first-ever quarterly profits during the year. In its most recent results, Tesla delivered an adjusted profit of $0.12 per share as deliveries of the Model S hit 5,500, 10% higher than Musk had originally forecast. John and Dan do a great job of covering the intangibles, but there's also this key metric outperformance that was reached during the year as well that makes Musk very worthy of being the second-best CEO of the year.

Stay tuned as later this week we'll reveal The Motley Fool's second-worst CEO of the year, and next week when we reveal of our CEO of the year!

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Read/Post Comments (3) | Recommend This Article (7)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On December 04, 2013, at 5:53 PM, Decoy0527 wrote:

    Very interesting article and even though I am short Tesla (@ $176), I would not argue against Musk as CEO of the year. The vast majority of short sellers like me don't sell short because we dislike the product or dislike the company, we do it simply because we believe the stock is vastly over valued. I will quibble with you on one matter which is your first ever quarterly profit comment, which is followed by the "adjusted profit of .12 cents per share" comment. Maybe it's because I'm a retired auditor, but for me "adjusted profits" are not the same as "profits". Thanks for the article.

  • Report this Comment On December 05, 2013, at 1:21 AM, TMFTwoCoins wrote:

    Couldn't agree more Decoy0527,

    I also tried to short while the stock was at $180, but I find the company and its products phenomenal. It will be very interesting to watch the story unfold from here!

    Thanks for reading,


  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2013, at 7:44 PM, Bujutsu wrote:

    I would never short a stock based on valuation alone. Hasn't Amazon always been considered "over valued" despite the fact that it continues to shoot to the moon?

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