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Tesla Motors, Inc. Hires Former Apple PR Veteran

By Daniel Sparks – Sep 30, 2016 at 12:20PM

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The key hire adds to an impressive (and necessary) recruiting streak as the company prepares for vigorous growth.

Image source: The Motley Fool.

Ahead of a planned launch of its lower-cost Model 3 late next year and a ramp-up of total vehicle production from about 50,000 units 2015 to 500,000 units in 2018, Tesla Motors (TSLA 0.03%) is attracting notable new talent. And its latest hire from Apple (AAPL -2.63%) reinforces the company's ability to attract top-notch professionals.

An important hire

About a month after Tesla's lead public relations representative Khobi Brooklyn left the company, the young automaker has hired public relations talent from Apple. After working for Apple's public relations team for over eight years, Sarah O'Brien recently updated her job in her LinkedIn profile to Sr. Director of Communications at Tesla, as pointed out on Friday by Electrek.

O'Brien's LinkedIn profile shows at least 12 years of public relations experience. At Apple she initially held a position working as PR for the company's music offerings in the tech giant's EMEIA (Europe, Middle East, India, Africa) markets, and she more recently worked on communications for iPhone --up until this month -- according to her LinkedIn profile.

O'Brien has stepped into a role with a turbulent history. Brooklyn was head of Tesla's global communications only for several months, following Ricardo Reyes' 18-month stretch as the PR team's lead -- which was actually his second time at Tesla as its head of communications. Reyes had left Tesla in 2012 to work at mobile payments start-up Square.

Model X tows a mobile Tesla store -- one of the company's unconventional marketing approaches as it refrains from ad spend and sells its vehicles directly to consumers, bypassing dealers. Image source: Tesla Motors.

It's good to see Tesla pulling talent from a company with a long track record of effective public relations. Communications efforts are arguably among Tesla's most important initiatives, as the company doesn't pay for advertising, opting to instead rely on press coverage, word-of-mouth marketing, and unconventional marketing tactics. In addition, Tesla's aggressive push of new technologies like long-range electric vehicles and its driver-assisting Autopilot often leads to abnormal levels of scrutiny in the media.

A recruiting spree

This hire follows several other important hires for the company.

Late last year, Tesla recruited Google's former VP of finance Jason Wheeler as its new chief financial officer, following former Tesla CFO Deepak Ahuja's retirement. Wheeler joined Tesla as the company doubled down its efforts to generate operating cash flow from Model S and Model X ahead of planned big spending for its higher-volume Model 3 production. And Tesla reinforced its finance team even more in September, when it hired solar industry veteran Eric Branderiz to join as the company's corporate controller and chief accounting officer, just ahead of Tesla's attempt to acquire SolarCity.

Tesla has also made some notable manufacturing hires recently. In May, it poached Volkswagen's head of manufacturing of its Audi A4, A5, and Q5 vehicles, representing production of about 400,000 vehicles per year. The company followed up this manufacturing hire with the recruitment of Apple's director of reliability engineering, David Erhart. Erhart will reportedly take on the role of senior director of reliability.

Of course, Tesla's recent track record of attracting talented executives isn't spotless. Adding to a history of crossing over between Tesla and Apple, Tesla's vice president of vehicle engineering Chris Porritt left Tesla in late 2015 and eventually joined Apple.

A growing, talented team of experienced executives doesn't necessarily make Tesla a more attractive investment since it is expected from a company preparing to increase production so rapidly. But it's at least confirming the automaker's ability to attract top talent from market leaders. And Tesla's latest PR hire, in particular, fills an important role for the company at a critical time.

Daniel Sparks owns shares of Apple, SolarCity, and Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple, SolarCity, and Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2018 $90 calls on Apple and short January 2018 $95 calls on Apple. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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