A visionary entrepreneur with a mercurial personality, Elon Musk has disrupted the payments, energy, aerospace and automobile industries – all before turning 50. And now he dreams of colonizing Mars in his lifetime.
In his now famous tweet of May 11th, the brilliant and controversial boss of car company Tesla announced the re-opening of his firm’s California factory, in contravention of lockdown measures designed to fight the spread Covid-19 in the United States. “Tesla is restarting production today against Alameda County rules. I will be on the line with everyone else. If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me.” A decision that cheered Donald Trump, an ardent supporter of a rapid return to full economic activity in the US, despite the risk that such a move would pose to the health of Americans.
No one puts Elon in a corner
Musk’s willful political disobedience had its genesis several weeks earlier when, on March 23rd, he received the order to shut his Bay Area car manufacturing plant since it was not deemed an essential activity by the authorities. Wounded, he went on the warpath a week later, declaring, during a shareholder meeting that being ordered to shut down by the government was quite simply “fascist”.
Musk is not one to be muzzled, and knows that not even the governor of California, Gavin Newsom, would dare arrest him in the middle of a major economic crisis and risk the South African taking his factory and the 10,000 jobs it provides to a state where Tesla can continue to churn out Model X’s unhindered.
"Musk is not one to be muzzled, and knows that not even the governor of California, Gavin Newsom, would dare arrest him in the middle of a major economic crisis for flouting a shelter-in-place order"
Despite his factory having to shut, Elon Musk made the podium of those billionaires that actually made money during the lockdown. The others are Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, who has brought in $32 billion since the turn of the year, and Colin Huang, the boss of Chinese e-commerce site Pindoudou ($14 billion). Elon Musk lands in third position with $11.5 billion pocketed since the start of the year. Beyond the raw figures, this reality reflects the vision and conviction of these CEOs, who have decided to carry on regardless during a healthcare crisis, risking the wrath of the regulators and the opprobrium of the general public.
Self-styled Tony Stark
The South African CEO and industrial engineer, who became a naturalized American in 2002, is part of an exclusive club of entrepreneurs who changed the rules of the game, who disrupted their chosen industry. Widely considered the greatest industrialist of modern times, Musk has reached previously unimagined heights of innovation, to the point where people have drawn comparisons with Tony Stark, aka Marvel’s Iron Man.
At twelve years of age, around the time he sold the program of his first video game, Musk was already an avid reader of science fiction, engineering and business books, which provided the blueprint for his future career.
In 1999 he created an internet bank called X.com, which acquired PayPal in 2000 and a year later subsumed its banking services operations into PayPal. The online payment company would be sold to Ebay in 2002 for $1.5 billion, with Musk using the proceeds to launch Space X, a commercial space flight and exploration company, which earlier this year carried American astronauts into space from American soil for the first time in almost a decade.
Musk has made no secret of his desire to put a human on Mars before the midway point of this century, as a precursor to colonizing the Red Planet. In racing to produce the technology to make this feat possible, Space X has stolen a march on traditional military-industrial companies at home as well as US rivals Russia and China.
In 2004 he bought into Tesla, becoming its CEO in 2008. Ten years later, on February 6th 2018, the child in Musk (and one suspects, nerds everywhere) cheered when he used Space X's Falcon Heavy rocket to launch a red Tesla Roadster into the void of space, where it should remain, whizzing round the solar system, for centuries to come.
By Anne-Sophie David
The Elon Musk Method: Business Principles from the World's Most Powerful Entrepreneur, (Leaders Press) is available in multiple formats