Connect with us


Sam Bankman-Fried lobbied for Taylor Swift deal as FTX bled cash and execs urged restraint

Source image:

FTX fallout continues — SBF's management style and missed Taylor Swift deal under scrutiny

Earlier this year, as the crypto meltdown was draining the industry of liquidity, FTX executives were begging company founder Sam Bankman-Fried to preserve cash and stop spending hundreds of millions of dollars on celebrity endorsements.

But the 30-year-old billionaire, who’d relied on branding and hype to rapidly take his crypto exchange from upstart to stalwart, was set on signing up one more big name.

Three people close to FTX and Bankman-Fried told CNBC that the former CEO lobbied aggressively for a partnership with 11-time Grammy Award winner Taylor Swift. The deal, which would have cost the now-bankrupt company more than $100 million over three years, was close to coming to fruition before it fell apart in the spring, said the people, who asked not to be named because of confidentiality agreements.

US singer Taylor Swift poses in the press room after winning six awards at the 50th Annual American Music Awards at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, California, on November 20, 2022. –

Valerie Macon | AFP | Getty Images

The former executives, who had direct knowledge of the negotiations, said the partnership would’ve been a disaster for FTX because of the steep price tag. Bankman-Fried’s commitment to getting the Swift deal done despite the deteriorating business environment fit a pattern of ignoring his lieutenants and going it alone, a half-dozen former company insiders and business partners said.

The Financial Times reported earlier that FTX held talks with Swift about a potential sponsorship.

Bankman-Fried’s overconfidence was embedded into an organization that had few checks on its leader and no board of directors to hold him accountable. Meanwhile, Bankman-Fried portrayed a very different persona to the public, showing himself as a quirky young genius comfortable in shorts and a T-shirt or in a suit in front of Congress who repeatedly professed his belief in effective altruism, a philosophy that promotes the idea of earning a lot of money in order to donate it to the most important causes.

Valued at $32 billion earlier this year by private investors, FTX spiraled into bankruptcy last month after skepticism emerged about the health of the crypto exchange’s financials and customers began demanding withdrawals only to be told their money wasn’t available. Even facing potential criminal charges and the possibility of years in prison, Bankman-Fried has continued to shun advisors by speaking publicly, offering press interviews and tweeting his defense.

CEO Sam Bankman-Fried

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

“I have a duty to talk to people; I have a duty to explain what happened,” Bankman-Fried said in a video interview at The New York Times DealBook Summit last week, acknowledging that his lawyers are opposed to his current tactics. “I don’t see what good is accomplished by me just sitting locked in a room pretending the outside world doesn’t exist.”

Between his DealBook appearance, an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America” and his commentary on various podcasts, Bankman-Fried has repeatedly claimed that FTX’s downfall was the result of sloppy management and excessive risk.

Bankman-Fried has denied committing fraud and said he was unaware of much of the intermingling of funds that took place between FTX and Alameda Research, Bankman-Fried’s hedge fund. At least $8 billion in FTX customer funds are now unaccounted for and were used to backstop billions in loan losses at Alameda.

Pursuing Swift NFTs

Bankman-Fried also ran fast and loose with company cash. Within just over two years of starting FTX in 2019, Bankman-Fried signed a $135 million, 19-year deal with the NBA’s Miami Heat for naming rights on the team’s arena. He also signed sponsorships with the Golden State Warriors, Major League Baseball and Formula One, and got Larry David to promote the company in a Super Bowl ad. Gisele Bündchen, Tom Brady, Shaquille O’Neal, Stephen Curry, David Ortiz and Naomi Osaka were among the brand’s ambassadors.

Part of the Swift deal would have included the production by the singer of a collection of non-fungible tokens (NFTs), or digital items that can rise and fall in value. Beyond that, there was a lack of clarity over what Swift would be doing for the company, sources said. After the Swift agreement fell apart, talks emerged internally over a deal with Katy Perry as recently as August, one person said.

Representatives for Swift declined to comment, and Perry did not respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

Sam Bankman-Fried faces possible bankruptcy after failed FTX deal

FTX insiders said that while some people in and around the company questioned Bankman-Fried’s decisions, he surrounded himself most immediately with a crew of yes men. Two sources used the word “insular” in describing his leadership style. Bankman-Fried mainly sought advice from a tight-knight group in the Bahamas, where he lived and where the company was headquartered, sources said.

One former FTX executive said Bankman-Fried had a tendency to chew out employees who disagreed with him in a way that deterred others from speaking up. When Bankman-Fried was angry, sources said his knee-jerk reaction was to immediately blame underlings. Some former insiders said Bankman-Fried put on an act for the public, portraying himself as an easygoing CEO.

Bankman-Fried said in a message to CNBC that he disagrees with the characterizations provided by those former employees. He declined to comment on details of the Swift negotiations.

“Partnerships were an area that was more contentious and on the margin I originally was in favor and ultimately started pushing back on new ones,” Bankman-Fried said in the message.

John Ray III, the new CEO tapped to restructure FTX said in filings that in his 40 years of legal experience, which includes Enron’s liquidation, he had never seen “such a complete failure of corporate controls and such a complete absence of trustworthy financial information as occurred here.”

One of Bankman-Fried’s closest confidants was Caroline Ellison, the ex-CEO of Alameda Research, who he once dated. The pair would often go on lunch walks around FTX’s fenced-in Nassau headquarters, one FTX executive said.

Outside of his Bahamas cohort, Bankman-Fried went to great lengths to avoid speaking to others and he stayed away from face-to-face confrontations, preferring the encrypted messaging app Signal or Slack, one top deputy said. He frequently ignored messages from C-level executives if he disagreed with them.

Another former insider said employees were afraid of Bankman-Fried, adding that “there were very few people who were willing to challenge Sam.”

WATCH: Bankman-Fried said he didn’t ever try to commit fraud on anyone

I didn't ever try to commit fraud on anyone: Sam Bankman-Fried


Continue Reading


Two children and two adults survive after Tesla plunges 250 feet off California cliff

View from the helicopter during a rescue operation after a vehicle carrying two adults and two children went over a cliff in Devil’s Slide, San Mateo county, California, U.S., January 2, 2023, plunging hundreds of feet, according to the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, in this still image obtained from social media video.

CHP – Golden Gate Division | Reuters

Two adults and two children were rescued from a Tesla that plunged 250 feet off a cliff Monday morning in San Mateo County, California, officials said. 

The car was traveling southbound on the Pacific Coast Highway when it went over the cliff at Devil’s Slide, south of the Tom Lantos tunnel, and landed near the water’s edge below, the Cal Fire San Mateo-Santa Cruz Unit said. 

The car flipped and landed on its wheels in the fall, CAL FIRE/Coastside Fire Incident Commander Brian Pottenger said. Witnesses saw the accident and called 911. 

As crews were lowered down, they were able to see movement in the front seat, through their binoculars, meaning someone was alive.

“We were actually very shocked when we found survivable victims in the vehicle. So, that actually was a really hopeful moment for us,” Pottenger said. 

Fire officials called for helicopters to help hoist the survivors to safety. As they waited, firefighters rappelled to the scene and rescued the two children.

Rescue teams are seen at the scene as a Tesla with four occupants plunged over a cliff on Pacific Coast Highway 1 at Devils Slide on January 2, 2022 in San Mateo County, California, United States.

Tayfun Coskun | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The California Highway Patrol shared video on social media showing helicopters lower first responders to the scene to extricate and rescue two adults inside. 

All four were hospitalized. The San Mateo Sheriff’s Office said the two adults suffered non-life-threatening injuries and the two children were unharmed.

It’s not clear what caused the car to go over the cliff. CHP is handling the investigation. 

Continue Reading


Tesla shares tumble more than 10% following deliveries report

Tesla vehicles are shown at a sales and service center in Vista, California, June 3, 2022.

Mike Blake | Reuters

Shares of Tesla dropped 13% on Tuesday morning, a day after the electric auto maker reported fourth-quarter vehicle production and delivery numbers for 2022.

Deliveries are the closest approximation of sales disclosed by Tesla. The company reported 405,278 total deliveries for the quarter and 1.31 million total deliveries for the year. These numbers represented a record for the Elon Musk-led automaker and growth of 40% in deliveries year over year, but they fell shy of analysts’ expectations.

related investing news

Some analysts see a buying opportunity in Tesla for 2023 despite persistent demand pressures


According to a consensus of analysts’ estimates compiled by FactSet, as of Dec. 31, 2022, Wall Street was expecting Tesla to report around 427,000 deliveries for the final quarter of the year. Estimates updated in December, and included in the FactSet consensus, ranged from 409,000 to 433,000.

Those more recent estimates were in line with a company-compiled consensus distributed by Tesla investor relations Vice President Martin Viecha. 

Some Wall Street analysts think Tesla’s deliveries miss spells trouble for the electric vehicle maker, but others see a buying opportunity for the company in 2023.

Baird analyst Ben Kallo, who recently named Tesla a top pick for 2023, maintained an outperform rating and said he would remain a buyer of the stock ahead of the company’s earnings report, which is scheduled for Jan. 25.

“Q4 deliveries missed consensus but beat our estimates,” he said in a Tuesday note. “Importantly, production increased ~20% q/q which we expect to continue into 2023 as gigafactories in Berlin and Austin continue to ramp.”

Analysts at Goldman Sachs said they consider the delivery report to be an “incremental negative,” and view Tesla as a company that is “well positioned for long-term growth.” Goldman reiterated its buy rating on the stock in a Monday note and said that making vehicles more affordable in a challenging macroeconomic environment will be a “key driver of growth.”

“We believe key debates from here will be on whether vehicle deliveries can reaccelerate, margins and Tesla’s brand,” the analysts said.

Shares of Tesla suffered an extreme yearlong sell-off in 2022, prompting CEO Musk to tell employees in late December not to be “too bothered by stock market craziness.”

Musk has blamed Tesla’s declining share price in part on rising interest rates. But critics point to his rocky $44 billion Twitter takeover as a bigger culprit for the slide.

Morgan Stanley analysts said they think the company’s share price weakness is a “window of opportunity to buy.”

“Between a worsening macro backdrop, record high unaffordability, and increasing competition, there are hurdles for all auto companies to overcome in the year ahead,” they said in a note Tuesday. “However, within this backdrop we believe TSLA has the potential to widen its lead in the EV race, as it leverages its cost and scale advantages to further itself from the competition.”

CNBC’s Lora Kolodny and Michael Bloom contributed to this report.

Continue Reading


Tesla makes China boss Tom Zhu its highest-profile executive after Elon Musk

Tom Zhu Xiaotong, Tesla’s current executive in charge of China, speaks as a new Tesla experience store opens on Aug. 18, 2015 in Hangzhou, China.

Visual China Group | Getty Images

Tesla’s China chief Tom Zhu has been promoted to take direct oversight of the electric carmaker’s U.S. assembly plants as well as sales operations in North America and Europe, according to an internal posting of reporting lines reviewed by Reuters.

The Tesla posting showed that Zhu’s title of vice president for Greater China had not changed and that he also retained his responsibilities as Tesla’s most senior executive for sales in the rest of Asia as of Tuesday.

The move makes Zhu the highest-profile executive at Tesla after Chief Executive Elon Musk, with direct oversight for deliveries in all of its major markets and operations of its key production hubs.

The reporting lines for Zhu would keep Tesla’s vehicle design and development — both areas where Musk has been heavily involved — separate while creating an apparent deputy to Musk on the more near-term challenges of managing global sales and output.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Reuters reviewed the organizational chart that had been posted internally by Tesla and confirmed the change with two people who had seen it. They asked not to be named because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

Elon Musk needs to go back to Tesla and have others run Twitter, says Jim Cramer

Zhu and a team of his reports were brought in by Tesla late last year to troubleshoot production issues in the United States, driving an expectation among his colleagues then that he was being groomed for a bigger role.

Zhu’s appointment to a global role comes at a time when Musk has been distracted by his acquisition of Twitter and Tesla analysts and investors have urged action that would deepen the senior executive bench and allow him to focus on Tesla.

Under Zhu, Tesla’s Shanghai plant rebounded strongly from Covid lockdowns in China.

Tesla said on Monday that it had delivered 405,278 vehicles in the fourth quarter, short of Wall Street estimates, according to data compiled by Refinitiv.

The company had delivered 308,600 vehicles in the same period a year earlier.

The Tesla managers reporting to Zhu include: Jason Shawhan, director of manufacturing at the Gigafactory in Texas; Hrushikesh Sagar, senior director of manufacturing at Tesla’s Fremont factory; Joe Ward, vice president in charge of Europe, the Middle East and Africa; and Troy Jones, vice president of North America sales and service, according to the Tesla notice on reporting lines reviewed by Reuters.

Tesla country managers in China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand continued to report to Zhu, the notice showed.

Zhu does not have a direct report at Tesla’s still-ramping Berlin plant, but a person with knowledge of the matter said responsibility for that operation would come with the reporting line for Amsterdam-based Ward. Ward could not be immediately reached for comment.

Zhu, who was born in China but now holds a New Zealand passport, joined Tesla in 2014. Before that he was a project manager at a company established by his MBA classmates at Duke University, advising Chinese contractors working on infrastructure projects in Africa.

During Shanghai’s two-month Covid lockdown, Zhu was among the first batch of employees sleeping in the factory as they sought to keep it running, people who work with him have said.

Zhu, a no-fuss manager who sports a buzz cut, favors Tesla-branded fleece jackets and has lived in a government-subsidized apartment that is a 10-minute drive from the Shanghai Gigafactory. It was not immediately clear whether he would move after his promotion.

He takes charge of Tesla’s main production hubs at a time when the company is readying the launch of Cybertruck and a revamped version of its Model 3 sedan. Tesla has also said it is developing a cheaper electric vehicle but has not provided details on that plan.

When Tesla posted a picture on Twitter last month to celebrate its Austin, Texas, plant hitting a production milestone for its Model Y, Zhu was among hundreds of workers smiling on the factory floor.

Why China is beating the U.S. in electric vehicles

Allan Wang, who was promoted to vice president in charge of sales in China in July, was listed as the legal representative for the operation in registration papers filed with Chinese regulators in a change by the company last month.

Tesla board member James Murdoch said in November the company had recently identified a potential successor to Musk without naming the person. Murdoch did not respond to a request for comment.

Electrek previously reported that Zhu would take responsibility for U.S. sales, delivery and service.

Continue Reading