Elon Musk: revolutionary or immature playboy ?

Elon Musk is a household name. His entrepreneurial pursuits have challenged industry titans and have soared to space. Nevertheless, recent events have shrouded the businessman in controversy and now the tech world’s former It-Boy has been forced to step down as Chairman of Tesla and faces huge backlash for his outlandish actions.

Musk grew up in South Africa and developed a keen interest in technology from a young age. He taught himself to code as a child and by age 12 had developed a computer game which he sold  $500. This first foray into the world of business started a pattern he would continue to follow for years: think of an idea, develop the software, sell for a profit – and with a net worth of around $20 billion, it seems to have worked.

After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania and its Wharton School ( who also ‘boast’ Donald Trump as an alumnus) with degrees in both Economics and Physics, he began a PhD at Stanford. Nonetheless,  the entrepreneur in Elon shone through and he soon dropped out to begin building his empire. Within 5 years he had co-founded a web software company which sold for $340 million and developed an online bank: Paypal. Originally X.com, the company merged with Confinity in 2000 and went on to be sold for $1.5 billion in 2002.

There is no doubt that Musk is one of the great entrepreneurs of our time

In 2002 also Musk co-founded SpaceX, the aerospace manufacturing company for which he is so well known. SpaceX is unique for their privately funded model and investment in rockets that can be reused multiple times. Traditional boosters fall to Earth in a less controlled manner, meaning every launch requires new, complex and expensive engines. With these innovations, SpaceX has cut the cost of putting things into orbit, an achievement spectacularly demonstrated this year, when the company launched a Tesla car into space.

In 2003, Musk helped to start Tesla, the electric vehicle company for which he serves as CEO and is in charge of overseeing all product design. Tesla’s mission is to “accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy”, a cause which Musk has always been passionate about. Whilst at the UPenn, he wrote a paper entitled “The Importance of Being Solar” and he has previously said in an interview that he is “confident that solar will beat everything hands-down, including natural gas”.

Despite his success, Elon Musk is no stranger to controversy. In May, he responded to analysts asking him about the performance of Telsa with the flippant  “boring, bonehead questions are not cool”. This summer he accused one of the British divers assisting in the rescue effort of the 12 trapped Thai teenagers in a flooded cave of being a child abuser. The comments were made after the diver in question, Vern Unsworth, criticised a mini-submarine Musk had designed for aid in the rescue mission. The device was branded “not practical” for the recovery by the chief of the rescue but Unsworth went further to say it had “absolutely no chance of working”. Musk evidently took offence and took to Twitter for his measured response, calling Unsworth a “pedo”.

The future of Elon Musk at Tesla and beyond is unclear

The entrepreneur once again found himself in a media scandal in September when he smoked marijuana on a live web show. Though legal in California where the web show was being filmed, within hours two of Tesla’s senior executives quit, causing shares in the company to shoot down by 6%. Later in the same month, he was forced to step down as Chairman after reaching an agreement with the Securities and Exchange Commission. This occurred after the SEC sued Musk for securities fraud over his abandoned plan to take Tesla private.

There is no doubt that Musk is one of the great entrepreneurs of our time. However, this success has come at a price and recently the tech giant seems to leave nothing but controversy in his wake. The future of Elon Musk at Tesla and beyond is unclear, though with recent developments about the severity of global warming it seems his vision for solar power technology is perhaps needed more than ever before.

Photograph: OnInnovation via Flickr 

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