Elon Musk, Much Elan = Must Emulate

Elon Musk, Much Elan = Must Emulate

In a tweet sent on July 25, 2022, Elon Musk writes that he "will try (his) best to be heads down focused on doing useful things for civilization."

The founder, CEO, and Chief Engineer at SpaceX; angel investor, CEO, and Product Architect at Tesla, Inc., founder of The Boring Company; and co-founder of Neuralink and OpenAI (a sample of his achievements to date) has an estimated net worth of around US$242 billion as of July 25, 2022. As such, he qualifies as the wealthiest person in the world according to both the Bloomberg Billionaires Index and Forbes' real-time billionaires list.

His bio is worth checking out, offers lots of food for thought.

Here is a small sample.

1. Move, Move, and Move Again

Elon was born in June 1971 in Pretoria, South Africa, where he grew up. He briefly attended the University of Pretoria and Queen's University after moving to Canada at age 17, acquiring citizenship through his Canadian-born mother, before transferring to the University of Pennsylvania in the US, where he received bachelor's degrees in Economics and Physics. The man was willing to move to find opportunity. He is a citizen of three countries - United States, Canada, South Africa.

2. School Is Good, Too Much of It Not So Much

Elon later moved to California in 1995 to attend Stanford University but dropped out after two days, deciding instead to join the Internet boom and launch a startup. A few too many otherwise good people got degrees but little radiance for it(?) Elon proceeded with his business career, co-founding the web software company Zip2 with his brother Kimbal. The startup was acquired by Compaq for $307 million in 1999. Elon then co-founded online bank X.com, which merged with Confinity in 2000 to form PayPal. The company was bought by eBay in 2002, for $1.5 billion (before becoming independent again more recently).

3. Ethics and Integrity Come First

Elon's father was elected to the Pretoria City Council as a representative of the anti-apartheid Progressive Party, with the Musk children reportedly sharing their father's dislike of apartheid. It sure can't hurt to be ethical, honest, and fair. Nothing can be built of any significant without the proper foundations.

During the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, Elon sent Starlink systems to Ukraine to provide internet access and communication, an action praised by Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy. (Elon refused to block Russian state media on Starlink, declaring himself "a free speech absolutist.")

As third US President Thomas Jefferson put it, " Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom." Andrew Jackson elaborates, not without pertinence, "One man with courage makes a majority."

4. Hard Work, No Matter What

Elon arrived in Canada in June 1989 and lived with a second cousin in Saskatchewan for a year, working odd jobs at a farm and lumber-mill. Gotta do what you gotta do. The man now has a dozen different high-powered jobs (SpaceX, Tesla, etc.) and never seems to stop working...

An inspiration to all who want to maximize the value they wish to extract from the 24 hours a day they get. To quote author Jackson Brown, "Don’t say you don’t have enough time.  You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein."

5. Failure Is Best Construed as a Joke and a Fact of Life 

Once upon a time, Elon tried to get a job at Netscape but never received a response to his inquiries. 

Nearly sounds like a joke, doesn't it?

6. The Sky Is the Limit 

In 2002, Elon founded SpaceX, an aerospace manufacturer and space transport services company, of which he serves as CEO and Chief Engineer. In 2004, he was an early investor in electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla Motors, Inc. (now Tesla, Inc.), whose electric sports car, the Roadster, was the first serial production all-electric car to use lithium-ion battery cells. He became its chairman and product architect, eventually assuming the position of CEO in 2008. In 2006, he helped create SolarCity, a solar energy company that was later acquired by Tesla. In 2015, he co-founded OpenAI, a nonprofit research company promoting friendly artificial intelligence (AI). In 2016, he co-founded Neuralink, a neurotechnology company focused on developing brain-computer interfaces. He also founded The Boring Company, a tunnel construction company. Elon has proposed the Hyperloop, a high-speed vactrain transportation system. 

Indeed, the sky is the limit.

Courtesy of SpaceX, Starlink, NBC News

7. Trust Stocks Will Make You Rich

On September 27, 2021, Forbes announced that Elon had a net worth of over $200 billion, and was the richest person in the world, after Tesla stock surged. In November 2021, he became the first person with a net worth over $300 billion. Around three-quarters of his wealth derives from Tesla.

Elon does not receive a salary from Tesla; he agreed in 2018 to a compensation plan with the board that ties his personal earnings to Tesla's valuation and revenue. The deal stipulated that Elon only receives the compensation if Tesla reaches certain market values. It was the largest such deal ever done between a CEO and board. In the first award, given in May 2020, he was eligible to purchase 1.69 million TSLA shares (about 1% of the company) at below-market prices, which was worth about $800 million.

Musk has repeatedly described himself as "cash poor" and has "professed to have little interest in the material trappings of wealth". In May 2020, he pledged to "sell almost all physical possessions". In 2021, Elon defended his wealth (in response to criticism of his huge wealth by Senator Bernie Sanders) by saying he is "accumulating resources to help make life multi-planetary [and] extend the light of consciousness to the stars."

8. Beware Existential Threats

Elon has described artificial intelligence as apocalyptic (at least potentially) and identified it as the greatest existential threat to humanity. He suggested that the government should regulate its safe development. These stances are considered alarmist and sensationalist by critics like computer scientist Yann LeCunn or industry leader Mark Zuckerberg, and led the think tank Information Technology and Innovation Foundation to award Elon its Annual Luddite Award in 2016.

Elon has described climate change as the second greatest threat to humanity after AI and has advocated for a carbon tax. He has also voiced concerns about human population decline and declining birth rates.

Elon has long promoted the colonization of Mars and argues that humanity should, as a matter of survival, become a "multi-planetary species." 


Elon said that he planned to send a million people to Mars by 2050, creating "a lot of jobs" on the Red Planet. He added he was "highly confident" the first SpaceX Starship may land on Mars in 2026. Many sure hope he delivers.

9. Remain Laser-Focused

Elon agreed to purchase the major American social networking service Twitter in 2022, for $44 billion, but later claimed he was terminating the deal; he is currently involved in a legal battle with Twitter which intends to complete the transaction.

The acquisition might have served as a distraction, which brings us back right where we started... We can only hope that Elon indeed continues to be "heads down focused on doing useful things for civilization." He sure shines when he does.


10. Practice Philanthropy

In November 2021, Elon donated $5.7 billion of Tesla's shares to charity (Fortune magazine noted that no nonprofits subsequently announced receiving any money from Elon, despite the regulatory filing).

Elon is president of the Musk Foundation. To quote the one-page website, "Grants are made in support of:

- Renewable energy research and advocacy
- Human space exploration research and advocacy
- Pediatric research
- Science and engineering education
- Development of safe artificial intelligence to benefit humanity."

Since 2002, the foundation has made over 350 contributions. From 2002 to 2018, it gave out $25 million directly to non-profits. Around half were to scientific research or education nonprofits. Notable beneficiaries include the Wikimedia Foundation, his alma mater the University of Pennsylvania, and his brother Kimbal's Big Green.

In 2012, Elon took the Giving Pledge, thereby committing to give the majority of his wealth to charitable causes either during his lifetime or in his will. He has endowed prizes at the X Prize Foundation, including $100 million to reward improved carbon capture technology.

Quite a life, and lots of food for thought indeed...