Who is Elon Musk? The tech billionaire has “no respect” for the SEC
In recent years, Elon Musk has become something of a household name. The 47-year-old tech entrepreneur is the tour de force behind Tesla Inc, SpaceX and The Boring Co, in addition to the less well-known firm Neuralink. That’s a pretty impressive lineup for the old CV.
Along with a host of world famous businesses, Musk is also known for his sporadic and fiery Twitter rants. The latest victim of Musk’s wrath is Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which he recently revealed in an interview he has “no respect” for.
The billionaire entrepreneur was being interviewed by news channel CBS when he let it known that he has “no respect” for the SEC, the body which attempted to sue him for securities fraud back in September.
At the time, Musk had tweeted out information that he had secured funding to take Tesla private. The SEC dubbed the claim “false and misleading,” with the spat resulting in a $20 million (£15 million) payout from Musk. From his end, Musk cited a belief in the justice system, despite his abject lack of respect for its perpetrator.
This lack of respect is not entirely unprecedented; in early October this year, Musk tweeted facetiously, “Just want to [sic] that the Shortseller Enrichment Commission is doing incredible work! And the name change is so on point!”
As for his incendiary tweets, Musk chalks it up to self-expression. “I use tweets to express myself,” he explained. “Some people use their hair, I use Twitter.” There you have it.
But just who is the enigmatic Musk? How did he get where he is now? And, as a man with fingers in frankly innumerable pies, what does he really do?
We’ve done a roundup everything you need to know about the man, the myth, the Musk. If you’re curious about him (and really, who isn’t?), read on to find out more.
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Who is Elon Musk?
Musk was born in Pretoria, South Africa. As is the done thing among tech billionaires, he began teaching himself computer programming age 12 and moved to Canada at the ripe old age of 17 to attend Queen’s University.
Musk later jumped ship to the Ivy League University of Pennsylvania (UPenn to those in the know), gaining a degree in economics from the Wharton School and another in physics from the College of Arts and Sciences.
Gravitating towards Stanford, as all tech entrepreneurs are want to do, Musk started a PhD in applied physics and material sciences and persevered for a commendable two days before sacking it off to pursue entrepreneurship.
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Early business endeavours include the co-founding of Zip2, a software company which he shifted for a hefty $340 million (£255 million) in 1999 to Compaq. Although, anyone acquainted with Musk’s career trajectory will know that that’s small change in the grand scheme of things (he’s estimated to be worth a cool $19.7 billion, or £14.8 billion).
Not content to while out the rest of his days in a Hamptons beach house, Musk founded X.com, an online payment company that went on to become PayPal after a merger with Confinity in 2000. The new firm was bought by eBay in 2002 for $1.5 billion (£1.1 billion).
Not a bad track record for a 31-year-old.
Elon Musk: SpaceX
Musk founded Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, in May of 2002. The company bills itself as an aerospace manufacturer and transport services company, with Musk heading it up as CEO and lead designer.
The firm is centred in Hawthorne, California, and boasts 7,000 employees. Professing to “design, manufacture and launch advanced rockets and spacecraft,” one of the firm’s most recent ventures was to send a tiny “kid-sized” submarine to help extract the Thai soccer team from the watery caves in which they’ve been trapped.
Also in the works are the Falcon 9 Block 5, a heavy-duty rocket being prepped to carry a communications satellite into orbit for Bangladesh, and the Falcon Heavy, the world’s most powerful operational rocket.
Oh yes, and Musk wants to colonise Mars in order to decrease the likelihood of human extinction. The entrepreneur has insisted on the need to “back up” humanity in order to ensure longevity. Speaking to GQ, Musk mused, “You back up your hard drive… Maybe we should back up life, too?” We only hope he doesn’t come crashing back to Earth with a bump…
Elon Musk: Tesla, Inc.
Just one year after bringing SpaceX to fruition, Musk co-founded Tesla, an EV and solar panel manufacturer. He is involved in the company as CEO and product architect.
The multinational company is based in – where else – Palo Alto, and shifts a range of products, from EVs the Tesla Model S, Model X and Model 3, along with batteries Powerwall and Powerpack, solar panels, solar roof tiles, and other related products.
Tesla is no modest enterprise, with 37,500 employees on the payroll. As of June 2017, the company had produced over 100,000 vehicles and was drawing in revenue of $11.8 billion (£8.9 billion).
Elon Musk: The Boring Company
The aptly named Boring Co. is an infrastructure and tunnel construction company which Musk founded back in 2016. Reports suggest it was borne of Musk’s sheer frustration with the infamously heavy Los Angeles traffic.
Its website is minimalistic, and, like its namesake, lighthearted: “To solve the problem of soul-destroying traffic, roads must go 3D, which means either flying cars or tunnels. Unlike flying cars, tunnels are weatherproof, out of sight, and won’t fall on your head,” it professes.
So again, noble, if lofty, ambitions. Whether or not Musk conceived of the idea just to bring a pun to fruition is, as of yet, unclear. Although he does have a track record of overcooked jokes.
It hasn’t been plain sailing for Musk recently, who, in addition to being sued for libel by a rescuer in this summer’s Thai cave debacle (see below), has hit a bit of a roadblock when his plan to tunnel beneath Los Angeles’ 405 freeway and Sepulveda Boulevard was blocked by a lawsuit.
Meant to combat the city’s congestion problem, the plans to dig the tunnel were forced to be abandoned after LA residents filed a lawsuit against the city, on the grounds that the Sepulveda tunnel did not get a proper environmental review. While the tech millionaire did agree to forget about this particular tunnel, Musk will continue to work on The Boring Company’s tunnel to Dodger Stadium.
Elon Musk: Other enterprises
Other business ventures are ample, and include SolarCity, a solar energy services company and a subsidiary of Tesla, in addition to OpenAI, a nonprofit that aims to promote research into friendly artificial intelligence.
Neuralink was co-founded by Musk in 2016, and uses neurotechnology to develop brain-computer interfaces.
Also in the pipeline is the Hyperloop, a high-speed transportation system which foresees travel from New York to Washington DC taking a mere 30 minutes. He also plans to engineer a vertical take-off and landing supersonic jet electric aircraft (complete with electric fan propulsion), dubbed the Musk electric jet.
As for his umbrella goals? They’re noble (although there’s no denying the man can’t afford a stellar PR team). Musk wants to reduce global warming via sustainable energy consumption and, um, find a way to reliably rate the press. Oh yes, and there was the modest prospect of, er, establishing a human colony on Mars in order to stave off the risk of human extinction. Yeah, us either.
Love him or hate him, it’s hard not to be taken aback by Elon Musk. With aspirations as lofty as his bank balance, he doesn’t look set to slow down any time soon. And from being on standby in the Thai cave rescue to promulgating the virtues of sustainable energy consumption, Musk deserves credit where credit is due. Plus, he gave us a hell of a lot of meme fodder after that Met Ball debut.
Elon Musk: Politics
One of the most recent nuggets of information to come to light about Musk is his affiliation with the Republican Party. The billionaire was recently revealed to have donated nearly $40,000 (£30,100) to Protect the House, a political action committee (PAC) for the GOP.
The PAC in question was conceived to help Republican politicians maintain their congressional hold, with recent polls suggesting the Democrats could claw their way back to congressional victory come November.
Musk, as per usual, took to Twitter to defend himself, asserting that “I am not a conservative. Am registered independent and politically moderate.”
Indeed, Musk’s political track record is more nuanced than his recent donation may suggest. When Donald Trump announced US’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on global warming, Musk resigned in protest from an advisory committee serving the President.
Meanwhile, the Sierra Club, a prominent environmental organisation in the US, accredited Musk with sizeable donations. Michael Brune, a representative of the organisation, defended Musk on Twitter: “Setting aside all else, @elonmusk has spent his career focused on tackling the climate crisis & advancing clean energy. We know that from his work with Tesla & Solar City. And we know that from his generous $6m in financial support for our climate advocacy”.
Elon Musk: Mental health
Recently, Musk has become something of an awareness warrior for mental health, letting on that he’s had an “excruciating year”, and that stress and long hours have taken their toll on him. Speaking to the New York Times, Musk flitted between tears and laughter, detailing coping mechanisms he’s used to get through “the most difficult and painful year of my career”.
Musk admitted to sometimes taking the sleeping pill Ambien to get to sleep, something one wouldn’t think he’d have trouble with given he’s known to work up to a whopping 120 hours per week.
Elon Musk: Controversy
No stranger to controversy, Musk has recently landed in legal trouble with the news that British cave rescuer Vernon Unsworth is suing him for libel. The lawsuit seeks $75,000 (£57,000) from the tech billionaire, in addition to an injunction which would ensure Musk doesn’t continue with his unfounded allegations.
Unsworth is also seeking “punitive damages” from the entrepreneur, “to punish him for his wrongdoing and deter him from repeating such heinous conduct,” reveals the lawsuit shared by the BBC.
Then Musk’s famed spat with Unsworth during the Thai cave rescue took a nastier turn, with the billionaire making unfounded claims about the latter’s personal life. Musk emailed a Buzzfeed reporter claiming that Vernon Unsworth, a diver who assisted with the Thai cave rescue, was a “child rapist”. The verbal altercation began when Musk took to Twitter to denounce Unsworth as a “pedo” after the latter criticised the submarine Musk engineered for the rescue effort.
Meanwhile, Twitter has not taken kindly to Musk’s verbal assaults. “Fair play to you Elon,” came one man’s response, “I[t] takes a big man to apologise for calling someone a paedo because they made fun of your submarine”.
Musk’s apology doesn’t appear to have borne the test of time, with the tech giant alleging that Unsworth moved to Chiang Rai after decades in Thailand “for a child bride who was about 12 years old at the time”. Musk told reporter Ryan Mac to “call people you know in Thailand, find out what’s actually going on and stop defending child rapists”. Unsworth’s lawyer has called the allegation “completely false”.
In addition to all this suing, Musk has landed his electronic energy empire Tesla in a spot of legal bother. The company is facing a criminal probe in the US, after its CEO and co-founder tweeted out some ill-advised statements.
After Musk declared on Twitter that has was taking the company public, with “funding secured”, the SEC launched an investigation into him on the grounds that this constituted fraud. This culminated in a lawsuit being filed against him.
As a result of the ensuing settlement, Musk was required to step down from his position as Chairman for Tesla, a position which he can’t hold for another three years. He remains CEO of Tesla. Both the company and Musk were required to pay a USD$20 million fine as well.
Lead image: OnInnovation, used under Creative Commons