Nikola's CEO reveals what Elon Musk rival Trevor Milton is really like as a boss

  • Like Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Nikola Corp. founder Trevor Milton can be outspoken and sometimes combative on Twitter.
  • But Milton has a sense of humility the public doesn't always see, Nikola CEO Mark Russell told Business Insider.
  • Milton treats Russell and Nikola's other employees as equals, rather than subordinates, Russell said.
  • Are you a current or former Nikola employee? Do you have an opinion about what it's like to work there? Contact this reporter at [email protected], on Signal at 646-768-4712, or via his encrypted email address [email protected]
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Nikola Corp. founder and executive chairman Trevor Milton has attracted attention for being outspoken and sometimes combative on Twitter, where his candor bears a close resemblance to that of Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

But there's more to Milton than is apparent in his public comments, Mark Russell, Nikola's CEO, told Business Insider.

"He's an unusual guy in many respects, but one of the things that has made him successful is his self-awareness and humility," Russell said. "If you listen to him or read what he writes, you might not think he's super humble, but he actually is humble. He understands that he's not good at everything, and he understands that he can't do it alone."

Russell pointed to the partnerships Nikola — which is developing battery and hydrogen-powered trucks, as well as a hydrogen refueling network — has formed with established companies like Bosch, Nel, and CNH Industrial as evidence of Milton's awareness that Nikola can't achieve its goals alone.

"These are very large corporations, very sophisticated teams, and he has teamed up successfully with them over a period of years," Russell said. "That requires a certain humility and a certain recognition that it takes a large team and a collaboration that goes far and wide if you really want to change the world."

Before Milton founded Nikola, he worked for Russell at Worthington Industries, which bought one of Milton's prior startups, dHybrid Systems. While their roles are now reversed, it doesn't feel like it, Russell said. At Nikola and Worthington, neither has treated the other as a subordinate, an attitude that extends to the rest of Nikola's employees.

"He and I have the same philosophy: You kind of treat everybody the same and with the same dignity and respect, regardless of what reporting relationships are," Russell said. "We're partners. We're in this together, and he treats pretty much everybody that way. I try to do the same."

Nikola's planned lineup includes two hydrogen-fuel-cell semi trucks (the Nikola One and Nikola Two) and a battery-powered semi truck that will eventually have a hydrogen-fuel-cell variant (the Nikola Tre), as well as an electric pickup truck (the Nikola Badger) and recreational vehicles. The company intends to begin delivering the Nikola Tre next year, with the Badger and Nikola Two to follow in 2022 and 2023, respectively. 

Are you a current or former Nikola employee? Do you have an opinion about what it's like to work there? Contact this reporter at [email protected], on Signal at 646-768-4712, or via his encrypted email address [email protected]

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