Last month, Insider published an explosive report about a former SpaceX flight attendant who accused SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk of offering her sex in 2016 and paid the company $250,000 to keep quiet. Musk called the story “a politically motivated hit,” while SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell defended Musk in a company-wide email, writing, “Personally, I believe the allegations are false; not because I work for Elon, but because I’ve worked closely with him for 20 years and have never seen or heard anything resembling these allegations.”
Unfortunately, a new and far more damaging insider report puts Shotwell — and all the other senior insiders at Musk’s various companies — in an even more awkward position.
According to the story released late this afternoon, “court documents obtained by Insider show tech mogul Elon Musk secretly had twins with one of his top executives, Shivon Zilis, last November. In April, Musk, 51, and Zilis, 36, filed a petition to change the twins’ names to ‘have their father’s last name and include their mother’s last name as part of their middle name.’
The arrangement was approved by an Austin judge in May, the report adds, and the “twins were born weeks before Musk and Claire Boucher, the musician who performs as Grimes, had their second child via surrogate in December.”
Zilis (or someone acting on her behalf) has already removed any mention of Neuralink from a website about her background and dismantled her LinkedIn page.
Until recently, the same site said that Zilis’s work experience — a Yale graduate who started her career at IBM and then invested on behalf of Bloomberg-backed venture firm Bloomberg Beta until early 2016 — included Neuralink, Tesla and OpenAI .
All three, of course, have deep ties to Musk, who founded Neuralink, co-founded OpenAI, and took over the reins of Tesla in 2008.
According to insiders, Zilis first met Musk in 2016 as a director at OpenAI, where she is now the youngest member of the board.
She reportedly joined Tesla in 2017 as a project lead.
Today, Zilis holds the title of director of operations and special projects for Neuralink, where Musk is co-CEO.
The outlet also says that Zilis was recently taken public as one of the people Musk could bring on to run Twitter if his proposed $44 billion acquisition of the company goes ahead as expected.
TechCrunch has not independently verified Insider’s account. Musk, who is usually very active on Twitter and hasn’t responded to requests for comment from insiders (neither did zilis), remains a mom for now, though he tweeted last month that falling birth rates in the US were a “demographic catastrophe,” adding added: “I mean, I do my part, haha.”
The biggest question the story raises, aside from how many children Musk plans to father — it looks like he has at least nine with different partners — is whether any of these companies have fraternization policies that limit romantic relationships between a manager and prohibit a reporting employee.
While most companies the size of Tesla and SpaceX prohibit dating relationships between employees separated by two tiers in the chain of command, Musk has been known to flout traditional rules. (A 2020 Tesla employee handbook isn’t exactly standard fare, warning: “We’ll assume you’re an idiot if you don’t call and don’t show up for work. You better have a really good reason for calling us.” didn’t say why you didn’t come or why you left here.”)
Even though Neuralink, Tesla and OpenAI (although Musk distanced himself in 2019) have not introduced policies to prevent fraternization, this new report is extremely problematic. That Musk has secret children with a direct report will certainly be a major distraction for other employees. (You can imagine the water cooler conversation.) It’s bad for morale, which is the last thing Tesla seems to need right now, given its many other employee struggles. It might as well Open Musk’s company to massive lawsuits from Zilis if she eventually decides he’s abusing the power he wielded as CEO.
Last but not least, though probably of least concern, the development is unlikely to be greeted kindly by the US government, which was already cold towards Tesla under the Biden administration. (The government is separately a large customer of SpaceX, where Zilis was not an employee.)
The report, meanwhile, makes the boards of Musk’s companies look startlingly lax, and puts executives like Shotwell in the position of having to reassure employees that Musk has the same strong judgment, self-control, and laser-like focus on his companies’ success as he does he says he expects them. No doubt she’ll be asked to do so tonight, perhaps in another company-wide email.
We don’t envy her the job.