News Column

The Man To See About a Job at Tesla

Dec 12, 2011

Dana Hull

Tesla headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif.

As millions of Americans desperately search for jobs, Tesla Motors (TSLA)' Arnnon Geshuri is racing to fill some. He's the point man for a company on a hiring spree, looking for top-flight engineers, vehicle technicians, sales experts and even an executive chef.

Tesla is ramping up to manufacture its all-electric Model S sedan at the former NUMMI plant, now renamed the Tesla Factory, in Fremont. It currently has 1,400 employees worldwide, a figure expected to roughly double by the end of 2012 and double again by the end of 2013.

"We're going to have hundreds of openings at the Tesla Factory," Geshuri said in an interview at Tesla's Palo Alto headquarters. "We're going to bring manufacturing back to California, and it's going to stay."

But landing a job at Tesla is not easy -- it's looking for the best of the best.

"Do you question tradition and constantly think of ways to improve status quo? Do you thrive in environments where brilliance is common and challenge is the norm?" its website asks. "Are you excited by challenge because you're among the best in your field? If so, you'd be in good company at Tesla Motors."

Geshuri, 42, has a track record for assembling great teams and putting people to work. His reputation as a Silicon Valley legend in the realm of staffing and recruiting was cemented at Google (GOOG), where he oversaw a recruiting staff of 900 that fielded 2.5 million job applications in one year.

He got his first job in human resources while still a graduate student in industrial and organizational psychology at San Jose State, when the former NUMMI auto plant hired him as a consultant. Geshuri held frank discussions with line workers to find out what would make a better working environment and zeroed in on the need for better communication within the plant.

From there, Geshuri went on to Applied Materials, E-Trade Financial and his own startup. He's always been fascinated by the intersection of business and human behavior and likes to cultivate talented people around a common cause.

He's rarely had to look for work himself: Google came knocking in 2004, when the company was about to go public and explode in size. Geshuri met with Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt on a weekly basis as they sought to hire the best engineers from around the world. From 2004 to 2009, the employee head count skyrocketed from 2,500 to more than 20,000.

"I thought I knew recruiting and staffing but Google really changed my perspective," Geshuri said. "It really forced me to think about how to cultivate talent and make Google the destination point, and everyone in the company was responsible for bringing in more talent."

Geshuri never thought he would leave Google. But now he's two years into his next act at Tesla. He joined the electric-vehicle company in November 2009, when the company's head count was about 600. Geshuri remembers walking through a vacant former Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) building on Deer Park Road in Palo Alto with J.B. Straubel, Tesla's chief technology officer.

"I was walking around Tesla's future headquarters while under construction with J.B. and he said something like, 'Imagine building this place with the best of the best,' " recalls Geshuri, who loves the startup phase of a company and the chance to have a hand in creating a unique corporate culture. "He pushed on the right buttons."

Most of the 217 jobs currently listed on Tesla's website are for design and manufacturing engineers based in Palo Alto and Fremont. But the company is also looking for an assistant store manager in Newport Beach, an intern in Zurich, vehicle technicians in Paris, Hong Kong and Tokyo and an executive chef. As Tesla's brand has grown in the wake of its successful IPO in June 2010, resumes have poured in. On average, Tesla receives 300 applications for every job opening.

"We're searching for excellent individuals," Geshuri said. "We want people who are exceptional in their own right but share the same DNA and can collaborate as part of a team."

To find the best and the brightest, Geshuri has built a recruiting staff of 25 people. But all Tesla employees are encouraged to think of themselves as recruiters, and referrals are a vibrant part of the hiring process. CEO Elon Musk has often said that staffing is his top priority and that the value of the company is measured by the quality of the talent. He plays a hands-on role in hiring and personally interviews many of the job candidates.

Former NUMMI workers make up a big pool of potential employees to choose from. College campuses are also key: Tesla has reached out to colleges and universities that have active Society of Automotive Engineers competitions, forming relationships with faculty advisers and keeping tabs on top students and winning teams. It's a global search: Tesla employees have relocated to the Bay Area from the Midwest, Germany, Asia and elsewhere.

About 25 percent of Tesla employees are women, a higher ratio than that of many Silicon Valley tech companies. And Tesla has hired nearly 60 military veterans, including several from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As the nation slowly emerges from the economic downturn, many workers face the daunting task of reinventing themselves. Geshuri has some advice: Social networks like LinkedIn are effective, but make sure that your information is current and in-depth. And instead of simply listing the most recent jobs on a resume, be sure to elaborate on what exactly you did in each job.

"Sometimes people miss an opportunity to describe their exceptionalism on their resume," he said. "What made them exceptional in that role?"

Gaps in employment can also be overcome.

"We're looking for people who are proactive. We want people who are go-getters," he said. "When you were in between jobs did you go back to school, pursue a favorite hobby or volunteer? Whatever hand you were dealt, are you emerging better?"

Eric Burgess worked for Geshuri at Google and now at Tesla. He says Geshuri is both a player and a coach who wants people to be successful. He regularly takes part in interviews with job candidates and has a knack for peeling back the layers of a resume.

"He's really good at getting interesting nuggets out of people," Burgess said. "He pulls things from resumes that aren't related to the job to see what the person has learned from the experience. He'll ask you why you became a history major."

Though hiring and recruiting is a big part of Geshuri's job, as vice president of human resources he's also building Tesla's culture. It's a typical startup: People arrive early, stay late and work hard.

Tesla tries to alleviate some of the pressure by providing shuttle buses with wireless Internet access to ferry employees who live in San Francisco and elsewhere to and from work. There's an employee garden on the hill above the parking lot, and everyone is encouraged to exercise and stay healthy. Employees can sign up to have boxes of organic vegetables delivered to Tesla. And some of those vegetables could be served in the company's cafeteria once he's found the perfect executive chef.

"They have to not just create a great menu, but programs for healthy living," Geshuri said. "And they need to be an effervescent personality."



Source: (c)2011 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)


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