Tom Zhu, who reportedly just became Tesla's 2nd most-powerful exec, slept at a Chinese factory during COVID lockdown — a habit he shares with CEO Elon Musk

Tom Zhu, who reportedly just became Tesla's 2nd most-powerful exec, slept at a Chinese factory during COVID lockdown — a habit he shares with CEO Elon Musk
Tesla promoted China boss Tom Zhu to become the company's second highest-profile executive after Elon Musk.Reuters
  • Reuters reported Tuesday that Tesla has made executive Tom Zhu head of US plants and sales.
  • The role effectively makes Zhu Tesla's second-most powerful executive after Elon Musk.

A Tesla executive reportedly promoted to become the head of the company's US factories shares a trait with CEO Elon Musk — sleeping overnight at the office.

According to a report from Reuters Tuesday, Tom Zhu has been promoted to become Tesla's head of US assembly plants and sales operations in North America and Europe. He was previously Tesla's vice president in China and its most senior sales executive in Asia, and will keep both those roles, according to Reuters.

Zhu's new role makes him effectively the second most powerful executive at the company, behind only Musk.

Complimentary Tech Event
Transform talent with learning that works
Capability development is critical for businesses who want to push the envelope of innovation.Discover how business leaders are strategizing around building talent capabilities and empowering employee transformation.Know More

Like Musk, Zhu's committment to Tesla has extended to overnight stays in Tesla facilities in the past. Zhu reportedly slept in Tesla's Shanghai Gigafactory alongside other employees during the city's two-month COVID-19 lockdowns last year, in an effort to keep the plant running, per Reuters.

After 22 days of shutdown, the factory resumed partial production under a "closed loop system" which saw employees living and working in the factory.


Tesla's CEO Musk is known for his habit of sleeping in Tesla offices and factories, and said in a 2018 interview with Bloomberg that he wanted his "circumstances to be worse than anyone else at the company."

Musk said his primary residences for three years were Tesla's Nevada and Fremont factories where he slept on couches and sometimes the floor. He said it was "damn uncomfortable," but he wanted to inspire employees to "give it their all."

In an interview with the Financial Times in 2022, Musk praised Chinese workers for their work ethic.

"They won't just be burning the midnight oil. They will be burning the 3 a.m. oil," he said. "They won't even leave the factory type of thing, whereas in America people are trying to avoid going to work at all."

Zhu and his team were brought to the US late last year to troubleshoot production issues leading many to believe that he was in line for a bigger role, Reuters reported. Zhu has been credited with overseeing the transformation of Gigafactory Shanghai into the world's largest EV plant.


Zhu, who born in China and holds a New Zealand passport, joined Tesla in 2014. He was formerly a project manager at a company founded by his MBA classmates at Duke University, Kaibo Engineering. Kaibo specializes in advising Chinese contractors working on overseas construction projects.

According to an earlier Reuters report, Zhu was hired by Cal Lankton, then Tesla's director of global EV charging infrastructure after the pair met while Zhu was working on projects for Kaibo in Libya and Sudan. According to his LinkedIn profile, Lankton left Tesla in 2018, and now works for Lyft.

Zhu is described as a no-fuss manager with a buzz cut, who likes to wear Tesla-branded fleece jackets. He lives in a government-subsidized apartment, 10 minutes away from the Shanghai factory.