Tesla gears up to hire manufacturing workers

SAN JOSE — As millions of Americans desperately search for jobs, Tesla Motors’ 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 auto plant, now renamed the Tesla Factory, in Fremont, Calif. It 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.”

On Friday, though, Tesla said both its chief engineer and director of chassis engineering for the Model S luxury car had left the company. Tesla shares fell as much 20%.

Landing a job at Tesla is not easy.

“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, 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, a joint venture between General Motors Co. and Toyota Motor Corp., 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. The intersection of business and human behavior has fascinated him, and he 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 more than 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 building 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.

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 advisors and keeping tabs on top students and winning teams. It’s a global search: Tesla employees have relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area from the Midwest, Germany, Asia and elsewhere.

About 25% 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?”

Hull writes for the San Jose Mercury News/McClatchy.