How Elon Musk Convinced Gwynne Shotwell to Join SpaceX

This story is tailored from Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days That Launched SpaceX, by Eric Berger. 

Earlier than she would change into certainly one of two principal leaders at SpaceX, Gwynne Shotwell labored with Hans Koenigsmann at a a lot smaller firm in Southern California named Microcosm.

In distinction to the laconic German engineer, Shotwell is daring and effervescent. She has loads of brains however not one of the nerdiness or awkwardness that characterizes some engineers. A former cheerleader in highschool with a hearty snicker, she may discuss to anybody. And sometimes, she and Koenigsmann would exit to lunch.

After Koenigsmann took a brand new job at SpaceX in Could, 2002, Shotwell celebrated by taking him to lunch at their favourite spot in El Segundo, a Belgian restaurant named Chef Hannes. Typically, to tease her buddy, Shotwell known as the eatery Chef Hans-y. After they ate, she dropped Koenigsmann off at 1310 East Grand a couple of blocks away. The big constructing was house to maybe solely half a dozen staff on the time. As they pulled up, Koenigsmann invited Shotwell inside to see his new digs.


“Simply are available in and meet Elon,” he mentioned.

The impromptu assembly may need lasted 10 minutes, however throughout that point Shotwell got here away impressed by Musk’s information of the aerospace enterprise. He appeared no dabbler, flush with web money and bored after a giant Silicon Valley rating. Quite, he had identified the business’s issues and recognized an answer. Shotwell nodded alongside as Musk talked about his plans to deliver down the price of launch by constructing his personal rocket engine and holding improvement of different key parts in-house. For Shotwell, who had labored for greater than a decade in aerospace and knew effectively its torpid tempo, this made sense.

“He was compelling—scary, however compelling,” Shotwell mentioned. In some unspecified time in the future throughout their temporary dialogue, she talked about that the corporate ought to in all probability rent somebody to promote the small, single engine Falcon 1 rocket full-time. On the finish of the go to, Shotwell wished Koenigsmann effectively and left, hoping the brand new firm would make it. Then she went again to her personal busy life.

Later that afternoon Musk determined that he ought to, certainly, rent somebody full-time. He created a vice chairman of gross sales place and inspired Shotwell to apply. The prospect of a brand new job had not been on Shotwell’s radar. After three years at Microcosm, utilizing her mixture of engineering and gross sales expertise, she had grown the agency’s area techniques enterprise by an element of 10. She loved her job. Furthermore, by the summer time of 2002, Shotwell felt like she wanted some stability in her life. Not like a lot of the latest school graduates Musk was hiring to work day and evening, Shotwell had so much to steadiness in her private life. Virtually 40 years previous, she was within the midst of a divorce, with two younger kids to look after and a brand new condominium to renovate. It could be good for the aerospace business to have somebody like Musk are available in and shake issues up. However did she need to disrupt her life as effectively?

“It was an enormous threat, and I virtually determined not to go,” she mentioned. “I feel I in all probability aggravated the hell out of Elon as a result of it took me so lengthy.”

Ultimately, alternative known as, and she or he answered. Her last determination got here down to a easy calculation: “Look, I’m on this enterprise,” Shotwell thought on the time. “And do I need this enterprise to proceed the way in which it’s, or do I need it to go within the course Elon needs to take it?” So she embraced each the problem and the chance Musk provided her. After weeks of dithering about whether or not to keep or go, Shotwell lastly known as Musk whereas driving on a freeway by means of Los Angeles, towards Pasadena.

“Look, I’ve been a fucking fool, and I’m going to take the job,” she mentioned.

Musk won’t have realized it on the time, however he had simply made arguably the corporate’s most essential rent.

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