After biographer Ashlee Vance released Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for A Fantastic Future in 2015, readers wanted to know: Did Elon Musk actually fire Mary Beth Brown, his longtime assistant, after taking on her responsibilities for two weeks in a test of her usefulness? The Tesla CEO, for the record, says the anecdote is “bogus.” In the book, Vance described Musk and Brown as the real-life Tony Stark and Pepper Potts, namedropping Marvel’s Iron Man and his invaluable assistant.
“If Musk worked a twenty-hour day, so did Brown,” Vance added. “Over the years, she brought Musk meals, set up his business appointments, arranged time with his children, picked out his clothes, dealt with press requests, and, when necessary, yanked Musk out of meetings to keep him on schedule. She became the only bridge between Musk and all of his interests and was an invaluable asset to the companies’ employees.” But their relationship took a turn in 2014, apparently.
Vance claimed Musk fired Brown after taking on her responsibilities for two weeks
According to Vance’s biography, Brown asked Musk to be “compensated on par with SpaceX’s top executives” in early 2014, after 12 years of working with him. Musk replied to the request by telling Brown to take two weeks off, during which he would take on her responsibilities and determine whether her employment was necessary.
“I told her, ‘Look, I think you’re very valuable. Maybe that compensation is right. You need to take two weeks’ vacation, and I’m going to assess whether that’s true or not,’” Musk said, according to Vance’s footnotes. “When she got back, my conclusion was just that the relationship was not going to work anymore.”
And so when Brown came back to work, Musk said that he didn’t need her, and he offered her another position in the company, Vance added. But Brown didn’t return to the office, and Musk fired her, according to the biography.
Musk said the Mary Beth Brown anecdote is “total nonsense,” but Vance “stand[s] behind that story”
In Aug. 2017, Musk disputed that Mary Beth Brown anecdote, tweeting, “Ashlee Vance’s biography is mostly correct, but also rife with errors and never independently fact-checked, despite my request that he do so. … Of all the bogus anecdotes, this one troubles me the most. Ashlee never actually ran this story by me or my assistant. It is total nonsense.”
He added: “Mary Beth was an amazing assistant for over 10 years, but as company complexity grew, the role required several specialists vs. one generalist.” But Vance defended his reporting in an email to CNBC Make It. “That anecdote is very well sourced,” Vance wrote. “I stand behind that story and, of course, the entire book.”
What is Mary Beth Brown doing now?
Mary Beth Brown seems to have dropped out of the public eye, and as a Quora user noted, there are many Mary Beth Browns on LinkedIn, none of whom appear to list experience with Tesla or SpaceX. In his rebuttal tweets, however, Musk claimed that Brown “was given 52 weeks of salary and stock in appreciation for her great contribution” and that she “left to join a small firm, once again as a generalist.”