Last month, Insider published an explosive report about a former SpaceX flight attendant who accused SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk of both exposing himself and propositioning her for sex in 2016 and to whom the company paid $250,000 to keep quiet. Musk immediately labeled the story “a politically motivated hit piece,” while SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell came to Musk’s defense in a subsequent, company-wide email reported on by CNBC in which she wrote: “Personally, I believe the allegations to be false; not because I work for Elon, but because I have worked closely with him for 20 years and never seen nor heard anything resembling these allegations.”
Now, a new, far more damaging Insider report just emerged that puts Shotwell — and every other executive insider Musk’s various companies — in a highly uncomfortable position.
According to the story, published late this afternoon: “Court documents obtained by Insider show that the tech mogul Elon Musk quietly had twins last November with one of his top executives, Shivon Zilis. In April, Musk, 51, and Zilis, 36, filed a petition to change the twins’ names in order to “have their father’s last name and contain their mother’s last name as part of their middle name.” The order was approved by a judge in Austin, Texas, this May . . . The twins were born weeks before Musk and Claire Boucher, the musician who performs as Grimes, had their second child via surrogate in December.”
Until recently, that same page stated that the work experience of Zilis — a Yale graduate who began her career at IBM, then invested on behalf of the Bloomberg-backed venture outfit Bloomberg Beta until early 2016 — included Neuralink, Tesla and OpenAI.
All three, of course, have deep ties to Musk, who founded Neuralink, cofounded OpenAI and assumed leadership of Tesla back in 2008.
Specifically, says Insider, Zilis first met Musk in 2016 while a director at OpenAI, where she is now the youngest member on its board of directors.
In 2017, she reportedly joined Tesla as a project director.
Today, Zilis holds the title of director of operations and special projects for Neuralink, where Musk is a co-CEO.
Insider adds that Zilis previously worked as a project director in the CEO’s office.
The outlet also says that Zilis has recently been floated as one of the people Musk could tap to run Twitter after his acquisition.
TechCrunch has not independently verified Insider’s account. Meanwhile, Musk, who is typically highly active on Twitter and who did not respond to requests for comment from Insider (neither did Zilis), is remaining mum for now, though he last month tweeted that falling birth rates in the U.S. are a “demographic disaster,” adding, “I mean, I’m doing my part haha.”
The biggest question the story raises, beyond how many children Musk plans to father — it’s looking like he has at least nine children with various partners — is whether any of these companies have fraternization policies that prohibit romantic relationships between a manager and a reporting staff member.
While most companies the size of Tesla and SpaceX prohibit dating relationships between employees who are separated by two levels in the chain of command, Musk isn’t known as someone who follows the standard rules.
Still, even if Neuralink, Tesla and OpenAI (where Musk disassociated himself in 2019) do not have policies in place preventing fraternization, it’s obviously a huge distraction, it’s bad for morale and it could open up the companies to massive lawsuits from Zilis if at some point down the road she decides he abused the power he wielded as CEO.
It’s also probably not looked on kindly by the U.S. government, which has already been chilly toward Tesla under the Biden administration.
The reported development also makes the board of directors at Musk’s companies look astonishingly lax and puts defenders like Shotwell in the unenviable position of having to reassure employees that Musk shares their same ethics. No doubt she is being asked to do that tonight.
We don’t envy her having to write that next company-wide email.