JB Straubel, Technical Manager of Tesla Motors.
When Tesla's CEO Elon Musk on Wednesday announced that technology manager JB Straubel was leaving, every close fan of the electric car manufacturer knew that it represented more than the departure of a typical CTO.
In the first decade of Tesla's existence, Straubel, who is among the co-founders, invented many of the company's signature technologies. His name is on a majority of patents that Tesla filed, especially related to electric vehicle batteries ̵
"JB is absolutely brilliant," said Gene Berdichevsky, employee No. 7 in Tesla, in an email. "When I started, we did some of the technical developments in his garage! I think there wouldn't be any Tesla as it is today without JB."
Straubel, now 43, lobbied early for Tesla to follow a supercharger strategy, instead of going down with battery replacement. Today, the network of charging stations, available only to Tesla drivers, is a great success for the company because it can offer greater service to customers, while drivers of most other electric cars are relegated to competing for time with generic chargers.  Musk delivered the news of Straubel's departure this week while giving some disappointing financial results to Wall Street. It was tough timing for a company struggling to find a profitable model for building and selling cars, since it invested in self-propelled technology. Tesla had a quarterly loss of $ 408 million, and car margins were eroded as customers showed a clear preference for the cheaper Sedan models.
Drew Baglino, who recruited Straubel to Tesla in 2006 and was last vice president of technology, is now entering the role of CTO. The Straubel announcement combined with the weaker results than expected pushed the stock down 14% on Thursday, marking the year's steepest drop.
A spokesman for Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.
Jeffrey Straubel, technical manager and co-founder of Tesla Motors Inc., center, speaks as billionaire Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors Inc., on the left, and Yoshihiko Yamada, consultant at Panasonic Corp., looks under a press event on Tesla's new Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada, USA, Tuesday, July 26, 2016.
Troy Harvey | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Musk and Straubel met in 2003, when Straubel was planning to put him on the idea of building an electric aircraft. But their shared passion for electric vehicles led to Musk introducing Straubel to Tesla's founders, Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning. Musk supported Tesla and joined the board in 2004, one month after Straubel joined, and became CEO in 2008.
In the discussion about Straubel about the revenue conversation, Musk said, "If we hadn't had lunch in 2003, Tesla doesn't exist in the first place. "Already before his Tesla days, Straubel worked with electric cars. Berdichevsky, now Managing Director of Sila Nanotechnologies, said he recognized Straubel when he converted a classic Porsche to an electric vehicle. He built and ran solar cars at a Stanford team.
He "was always a true missionary and visionary for EVs, before the world really cared," Berdichevsky said.
Recent employees in Tesla describe Straubel too – respected and a milder voice in the room next to the bombastic and outspoken muscle. He is an engineer in the heart, a licensed pilot and father wearing khakis most of the time. His obsession was always to reduce the cost per kilowatt hour – to make energy-packed vehicle batteries at a lower price.
Straubel's focus on Tesla was to build technology, team and partnership, and he was more than willing to give the spotlight to Musk, one of the reasons why the two got along well, said former employees.
He shared his time between Tesla's car assembly and California and Gigafactory offices, which he helped to plan and build in Sparks, Nevada. He lived practically in trailers in the midst of rock, dirt and building materials until the enormous battery plant was underway in 2016, according to people who were familiar with the case.
At Strauel's call, Tesla built charging options in Model S, before the Supercharger network was developed. He led the progress and software team through the development of Model S and Model X.
He also led the development of stationary energy products even before Tesla purchased SolarCity. Today, Tesla's Powerwall and Powerpack work as home batteries and batteries that can be used to store and use solar and wind power.
Tesla cars at charging stations in Beijing, China.
Meghan Reeder | CNBC
Outside Tesla, Straubel has a good recovery start called Redwood Materials, which last year signed up to do business in the state of Nevada.
"I can't wait to see what JB is doing," Berdichevsky said. "There are still so many adjacent issues to solve in energy, and I'm sure that's what he's thinking about."
Regarding his successor as the CTO, Berdichevsky said, "If anyone from the first few days can step into the big shoes JB leaves behind, and continue the technical vision, that's Drew."
Gene Munster , a longtime Tesla bull, said the company is well prepared to cope with Straubel's departure:
"The bad news is that JB Straubel was fundamental to the company and is leaving," Munster said in an interview. "The good news is that there is now a framework for other people to step in. He made the heavy promise of getting them where they are, and now it is done. They are able to exploit an undeniable truth about the growth of electrification and autonomy. "
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