Tesla chief Elon Musk has been actively at the forefront of promoting tech revolution in the past few years—building space rockets, electric cars, and solar batteries. Photo by Reuters
Culture

Elon Musk 101: The two sides of the world’s richest man

The tech mogul just dislodged Jeff Bezos as the wealthiest man in the world. Have you met?  
RHIA GRANA | Jan 08 2021

Tech mogul Elon Musk has quite possibly just reached the apex of his business career as he moves to the top spot of Bloomberg’s billionaires index. The Tesla and SpaceX chief has overtaken Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and is now the world’s richest man.

As of January 8, Musk has a total net worth of over $195 billion, making him $10 billion richer than Bezos, who has held the post of richest man since 2017.

Musk’s quick ascent to No. 1 on the richest list is perceived to be extraordinary, considering that Tesla, the company that he cofounded, was reportedly burning billions of cash—not fuel—in 2018, according to a Bloomberg report. 

The surge in the demand for electric vehicles because of the pandemic is said to be one of the reasons for the massive growth in Tesla’s shares. Musk just happens to own 20 percent of those shares, which was what pushed him to the top of the list. The super entrepreneur didn’t even figure on the top 50 richest list at the start of 2020, when his estimated worth was pegged at $27 billion.

Well, nothing seems to be impossible for the maverick Musk who has been actively at the forefront of promoting tech revolution in the past few years—building space rockets, electric cars, and solar batteries. One of the visionary’s lofty goals is to send astronauts to Mars by 2024.

SpaceX founder and chief engineer Elon Musk attends a post-launch news conference to discuss the SpaceX Crew Dragon astronaut capsule in-flight abort test at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, US January 19, 2020. Steve Nesius, Reuters/File Photo

Good deeds

Like many wealthy individuals, the South Africa-born Musk has made generous contributions to various causes via the eponymous foundation that he launched in 2002.

The foundation’s website mentions that “Grants are made in support of: Renewable energy research and advocacy; Human space exploration research and advocacy; Pediatric research; Science and engineering education.”

The website has no information on these efforts, but there are reports that show the foundation has donated to educational and health charities, and space societies. With the help of Musk’s power company Solar City, the billionaire’s foundation provides solar power systems to communities affected by disasters. It also helped launch Kitchen Community that feeds indigent kids, donated to a school for gifted children, and started a not-for-profit school located within the SpaceX headquarters.

Forbes says the foundation has donated millions of dollars to nonprofit groups over the years. But obviously, much is expected of Musk, who signed the Giving Pledge  and promised to donate half of his wealth for the common good.

 

The other side 

But while the man is admired for his business prowess and philanthropy, he has also found himself on the ugly side of the news a few times.

It was just last March when he tweeted that “The coronavirus panic is dumb.” He was later found to be infected with a moderate case of the disease, which prevented him from attending a SpaceX launch.

He also expressed skepticism about the accuracy of coronavirus testing, when two of his tests came back negative and two came back positive. “Something extremely bogus is going on,” he tweeted. “Same machine, same test, same nurse. Rapid antigen test from BD.” 

Elon Musk is said to be the inspiration for Robert Downey Jr.'s approach to his Tony Stark character in the Marvel movies.

The outspoken tech entrepreneur also received a backlash from health experts when he claimed that “kids are essentially immune [to coronavirus].” Musk also posted a graphic showing that there were no children fatalities in Italy on 15 March 2020.

Musk realized his actions have consequences when he smoked weed during a podcast with comedian Joe Rogan in 2018. Although weed is considered legal in California, Tesla’s supporters were obviously displeased, as shares dipped by 9 percent after his appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast.

There was also that time when Musk figured in a high-profile crisis in 2018, when a flooding caused a group of soccer players to be trapped in Tham Luang cave in Thailand. According to reports, Musk offered to provide a submarine to save the children. However, the submarine didn’t make it on time, and the divers including the British Vernon Unsworth were already able to save the kids.

In an interview with CNN, Unsworth called Musk’s effort a PR stunt, which likely provoked Musk’s anger, leading to his infamous “pedo guy” tweet. When the former sued Musk for defamation, Musk insisted he did not mean pedophile but “creepy old man,” a common insult.

“I was upset. It was wrong and insulting and so I insulted him back,” he told The Guardian. Musk’s lawyer Alex Spiro, on the other hand, said Unsworth’s interview was an “attack” on the “genuineness of [Musk’s] efforts.” Musk won the said defamation lawsuit.

If one is to believe Musk’s rhetorics, being recognized as the richest man in the world might not appeal to guy all that much. In this BBC News story, it is said that it is not money he is ultimately in pursuit of. The inspiration for Robert Downey’s big screen interpretation of Tony Stark of Iron Man, Musk is known for his audacious ambitions and fantastical dreams—from creating trains that run in unbelievable speed to revolutionizing battery technology to colonizing Mars. In the same story, it is said he remains inspired by the books he read as a child in South Africa. Come to think of it, Musk, for all that he’s achieved, might still be a child at heart—for how else can he continue to dream like one, unmindful of limitations, fueled by the idea of possibilities?