Elon Musk could be the real-life Batman or Iron Man. And if there is a real-life Lex Luthor, Musk could be one of them.
This uber-intelligent 49-year-old South African isn’t just one of the world’s wealthiest people; he’s also a millennium-ready futurist [source: Forbes].
Musk has always been a man on the go. He taught himself computer programming as a child, and at the age of 17, he moved all the way to Canada for university before heading south to Pennsylvania for his economics degree. Following that, he decided to pursue a Ph.D. in applied physics [source: Mkhitaryan].
But graduate school was not Musk’s cup of tea. Instead, he started his first technology company, which made him a millionaire by the age of 28. Then he started another — and another — amassing millions, then billions, of dollars in wealth along the way. According to Robert Downey Jr., he based his “Iron Man” movie character Tony Stark on Musk [source: Hern].
Here are ten fascinating facts about Iron Man’s mortal manifestation.
1: He’s an outspoken Twitter user.
Elon Musk’s tweeting has landed him in hot water. On April 4, 2019, he is seen leaving federal court in New York after the Securities and Exchange Commission and Musk’s lawyers presented their arguments about whether Musk should be held in contempt for tweets that the agency claims violated an earlier agreement.
Elon Musk, like Donald Trump, is well-known — or infamous — for his provocative tweets. When members of a Thai boys’ soccer team were trapped in a cave in July 2018, Musk directed his engineers to work on converting a liquid transfer tube from a SpaceX rocket into a type of child-sized submarine that could travel through the water in the cave.
The Thai government deemed the vessel impractical, and a British cave diver involved in the rescue effort referred to Musk’s submarine as a “public relations stunt.” Musk responded by tweeting that the diver was a “pedo guy” — a pedophile. Musk apologized after a public outcry [source: Chu]. Nonetheless, the cave diver filed a libel suit against him [source: BBC].
A similar, albeit more complicated, scenario occurred early in the coronavirus pandemic, when Musk tweeted that he’d delivered more than 1,000 ventilators to California hospitals. Some hospitals never got them, while others got non-invasive BiPAP machines instead of traditional ventilators.
Then there were the tweets about Tesla’s stock, which we previously mentioned. To recap, Musk tweeted in August 2018 that he was considering taking the company private at $420 per share and that he had secured the funding. Following that tweet, Tesla’s stock price increased by 11% before falling by 7%. In August 2018, two shareholders filed class action lawsuits, claiming Musk’s tweet was a ploy to get the stock price to rise and annoy all the short sellers — people who bet the stock price would fall and make money by buying at a lower price. Wattles is the source.
For these reasons, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) also filed a securities fraud lawsuit, alleging that “in truth, Musk was aware that the potential transaction was uncertain and subject to numerous contingencies.” Musk, Tesla, and the Securities and Exchange Commission reached an agreement without the company admitting or denying wrongdoing. He was fined $20 million, and Tesla was fined an additional $20 million for failing to have “disclosure controls and procedures relating to Musk’s tweets.” This money would be given to “harmed investors.” As previously stated, Musk stepped down as Tesla’s chairman, though he remains CEO (or Technoking) [source: Ohnsman]. The company is still publicly traded.
Unions, the press, and certain scientists have also been targets of Musk’s ire [source: Biba]. When asked about his Twitter attacks, Musk told a Bloomberg Businessweek reporter, “You’re in the game if you’re on Twitter. As a result, if you attack me, it is permissible for me to respond in kind.” He did, however, admit, “Should you remain silent if someone attacks you on Twitter? In some cases, the answer is probably yes, so I shouldn’t say anything. In fact, most of the time I don’t say anything at all. I should probably avoid saying anything more frequently.”
Musk asked his 63 million Twitter followers on November 6th whether he should sell 10% of his stake in Tesla. He set up a poll, and the vast majority of his followers voted in favor of selling stock.
On November 7, Musk tweeted, “I will abide by the results of this poll, whichever way it goes.” Please keep in mind that I do not receive a cash salary or bonus from anyone. Because I only own stock, the only way for me to pay taxes is to sell stock.” More than 57% of those polled voted in favor of selling.
2: The Hyperloop tube arrival.
Musk was bold enough to unveil plans for his futuristic Hyperloop, a form of transportation dreamed up by the engineering teams at Tesla and SpaceX, in 2013, with his quirky brilliance at top gear.
The Hyperloop concept, which is part of his The Boring Company, is essentially a train enclosed within a large airtight tube. The so-called vactrain would transport passengers or cargo along a thin cushion of air, aided in part by electromagnets that suspend “capsules” above rails.
In one early proposal, Musk suggested that the Hyperloop could be used in densely populated areas such as Southern California, zipping people from San Francisco to Los Angeles at speeds of up to 700 or 800 miles per hour (1,126 or 1,287 kilometers per hour), reducing travel times and avoiding the gridlock that plagues the highways For example, instead of the six hours it takes by car, someone could travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 85 minutes [source: Bradley].
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Because Musk wants the idea to spread as quickly as possible, he made the Hyperloop plans open-source, making them available to anyone who wants to improve on them.
Although some question whether this project is truly financially viable, several companies, including Virgin Hyperloop, have already made the concept a reality. Two Virgin Atlantic employees took the first successful test ride on a hyperloop test facility near Las Vegas in November 2020, and Virgin says the hyperloop is on track to become a reality.
3: He’s a Hard Worker — and a Tough Boss
Despite losing a significant portion of his net worth due to the severe drop in Tesla stocks, CEO Elon Musk remains the world’s richest person, according to the Bloomberg Billionaire Index.
Tesla’s CEO recently sold approximately $5 billion in Tesla stock. After that, his net worth dropped to $288 billion on November 9, a $35 billion drop. On November 10, however, it increased by nearly 3.9% in a single day. According to the Bloomberg Billionaire Index, his net worth as of November 10 was $299 billion. Musk’s lead over Jeff Bezos as the world’s richest person, however, shrank to $98 billion on November 10. His year-to-date change has increased by nearly 76 points.. Musk, on the other hand, does not parade around with massively expensive personal purchases such as yachts. Instead, he burys himself in the office, and he expects the same dedication from his employees, which occasionally sparks controversy.
Elon Musk’s biography by Ashlee Vance includes a story about a longtime assistant who asked for a raise. Musk told her to take two weeks off during which time he would do her job and assess how important she was to the company. When she returned, he informed her that he no longer required her services. She was offered another position, but she declined, no doubt feeling insulted [source: Business Insider].
In recent years, allegations of unfair low pay, unsafe working conditions, and mandatory overtime have surfaced at Tesla. Musk has repeatedly denied these allegations. Lumb is the source.
Workers at some Tesla facilities have attempted to unionize, and Musk has been outspoken in his opposition. Indeed, on March 25, 2021, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Tesla had violated labor laws and ordered the company to stop interfering with workers attempting to unionize at one of its plants. The violations stem from the firing of Tesla production associate Richard Ortiz, who was also a union organizer, as well as Musk’s 2018 tweet, “There is nothing preventing the Tesla team at our car plant from voting union. They could do so tomorrow if they wanted. But why should you pay union dues and forego stock options for nothing?” Some Tesla employees claimed that these were intimidation tactics intended to keep them from organizing.
4: The only person to establish four billion-dollar businesses.
What part of your body would you be willing to have amputated in order to come up with a single million-dollar idea? Elon Musk is such a business genius that he founded or co-founded not one, not two, not three, but four companies worth more than $1 billion each: PayPal, Tesla, SpaceX, and SolarCity.
SpaceX is worth more than $74 billion, and some economists believe Tesla’s valuation could reach $1 trillion as demand for electric vehicles grows in China. Tesla paid $2.6 billion in stock to acquire SolarCity in 2016. Musk’s cousins founded it, and he invested $10 million in it in 2006. SolarCity manufactures and sells solar panels for both residential and commercial use. Tesla and Solar City both strive to make sustainable energy more practical and efficient [source: Carr].
Musk understands that charitable causes are part of the territory of extreme wealth. He donated $15 million to the Global Learning program, which aims to help underprivileged children all over the world improve their basic reading and math skills [source: Zaidi].
Following the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017, he dispatched massive battery systems powered by solar panels to restore power to Puerto Rico. In addition, he contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money to the cause.
And he’s joined the ranks of the filthy rich who are committed to philanthropy. He signed the Giving Pledge, a concept devised by billionaire investor Warren Buffett to encourage more charitable donations. Signing the Giving Pledge commits you to donating at least half of your wealth to charity, either during your lifetime or in your will [source: Zaidi].
5: Is the father of a son named X A-XII.
Musk met his first wife, Justine, while studying at Queen’s University in Ontario. They married in 2000, as PayPal’s success grew. Nevada, their first son, died at the age of 10 weeks from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
The two eventually had children through in vitro fertilization, which frequently results in multiple births. In the Musks’ case, it happened not once, but twice: twins in 2004 and triplets in 2006, all boys.
Justine Musk, who wrote three novels during this time period, claimed that her husband was manipulative and obsessed with his work. She stated in a Marie-Claire article, “‘I am your wife, not your employee,’ I told him repeatedly. ‘If you were my employee,’ he frequently said, ‘I would fire you.'”
Musk began a relationship with English actress Talulah Riley after a messy divorce in 2008, and the two married in 2010. They divorced two years later. They not only reconciled, but also married again in 2013. They divorced for the second time in 2016, perhaps unsurprisingly [source: Cain].
Elon Musk has stated that he and his musician girlfriend Grimes are’semi-separated.’ According to Musk, the couple, who began dating in May 2018, are still on good terms and co-parenting their one-year-old son, X A-Xii Musk. (Yes, that’s his name. Musk says it is pronounced “X Ash A Twelve.” )
6: Revolutionized the Automobile Industry.
Musk believes that humans must shift away from reliance on fossil fuels and toward renewable energy, or else we will run out of energy and, as he puts it, “plunge into the dark ages” [source: Leary]. He, like many other scientists, warns about the dangers of rising carbon dioxide levels caused by the combustion of fossil fuels, as well as the resulting global warming.
And he backed up his words with deeds. He co-founded Tesla in 2003, much to the chagrin of car executives around the world. Musk’s ambition was to create low-cost, zero-emission vehicles.
The Tesla Roadster (2008) was the first electric vehicle to use lithium-ion battery cells and have a range of more than 200 miles (320 kilometers) per charge. This prompted major automakers to release their own EVs, such as the Chevy Volt. Tesla introduced the first semi-autonomous vehicle in 2015, a move that many of the major automakers have followed. Since then, Musk has stated that Tesla models will be equipped with driverless technology [source: Hawkins, Alvarez]. Tesla can also automatically update software in its vehicles without requiring drivers to visit a dealership, which legacy automakers may find more difficult to do due to their franchise system [source: Hawkins].
He also delivered on affordability. Some models, such as the Model 3, are now priced around $40,000 [source: Felton]. The company’s first profitable quarter occurred in 2013, but the next one would not occur until 2016 [source: Urbi].
Tesla, on the other hand, has had issues with Musk, most notably his tweeting. Musk stepped down as chairman in 2018 after a tweet suggesting he was taking the company private resulted in a $20 million fine by Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulators. According to the most recent SEC filing, his title is “Technoking of Tesla.”
7: A founding member of the ‘PayPal Mafia.’
Musk became a millionaire at the age of 28 after selling Zip2 and using the proceeds to launch X.com, one of the world’s first online banks, in 1999. The service provided a number of financial tools, including the ability to pay without using a credit card.
Because some perceived X.com as an adult-themed website, Musk renamed the company PayPal.com after it merged with rival Confinity. The new company increased its focus on providing money transfer services via email and the internet, and the business grew.
However, Musk was forced out of his position as CEO due to a disagreement over PayPal’s technical aspects (he wanted to move the service from Linux to Windows). He did, however, remain on the board, so when eBay bought PayPal in 2002 (over his objections) for a whopping $1.5 billion in stock, he walked away with a windfall of about $160 million after taxes [source: Kane].
Interestingly, many of the people who worked at PayPal in its early days went on to found other internet economy behemoths such as Yelp, LinkedIn, and YouTube — so much so that the group is sometimes referred to as the “PayPal Mafia” [source: Parrish].
8: Attempts to Establish a Colony on Mars
Musk was free to pursue a (literally) loftier goal after PayPal exited the picture. And he had the means to do so. Disappointed that NASA had no plans for a manned mission to Mars, he devised the Mars Oasis project, which would build a greenhouse on the Red Planet. As part of that otherworldly concept, he co-founded SpaceX in 2002, a company aimed at making space travel more accessible [source: Bierend].
SpaceX was founded in part because Musk did the math and realized that developing a dependable and reusable rocket system would make space missions much more affordable. So that’s exactly what he set out to accomplish. SpaceX flew a record 26 missions in 2020, 22 of which were successful. In September 2018, it booked its first paying passenger to the moon.
Musk hopes to one day establish a self-sustaining colony on Mars, but it appears that going to the moon will come first. SpaceX beat rival company Blue Origin to a $2.89 billion contract with NASA to send the first astronauts to the moon in the twenty-first century.
9: From college dropout to multibillionaire
Musk earned degrees in economics and physics from the University of Pennsylvania, which he paid for by renting out his rented ten-bedroom frat house on weekends and turning it into a nightclub. He went to Stanford University in California in 1995 to pursue a Ph.D. in applied physics, but after only two days, he dropped out to become an entrepreneur instead.
The same year, he and his brother Kimbal founded Global Link Information Network, which provided online city guides to publications such as the Chicago Tribune and The New York Times. These guides functioned similarly to the internet’s version of the yellow pages. Despite his father’s claim that the money to start this company came from him, Musk claims it came from a group of angel investors [source: Strauss].
Life was far from glamorous at first, as the brothers essentially lived in their office in order to keep their expenses as low as possible. Musk reflected on those days in a 2014 commencement speech to USC graduates, saying, “We showered at the YMCA and were so strapped for cash that we only had one computer. The website was operational during the day, and I was coding it at night, seven days a week “Huddleston is the source.
Global Link was later renamed Zip2 and went on to become a huge success. Compaq Computers saw so much potential in the company that it purchased it for $300 million in 1999. Musk’s share of the sale totaled $20 million, more than enough to fund his next, bigger idea. Hern is the source.
10: A Book-Raised Child
Musk was born in South Africa to Maye, a Canadian nutritionist and model, and Errol, a South African engineer. His parents, on the other hand, rarely did much parenting, preferring to delegate basic child-rearing to a housekeeper. As a child, the man himself claims that books — stacks and stacks of them — were his constant companions [source: Strauss].
Musk’s brother and sister chose to stay with his mother after his parents divorced in 1980, while he stayed with his father. Later in life, he realized his father was a “terrible human being,” with a reputation for ruthlessness. Errol Musk was acquitted of manslaughter after shooting three intruders dead in self-defense. He also had a child with his stepdaughter. Despite his personal flaws, Elon’s father was a good engineer who taught his young son many fundamental lessons in electricity, construction, and science [sources: Chung, Crilly].
Musk created his own computer game, Blastar, when he was 12 years old, and sold it for a few hundred dollars to a computer magazine. That set the tone for the rest of his professional life [source: Mack].
Until he was in his teens, the boy’s small stature and introverted personality made him a target for bullying; he was once beaten so badly that he was rendered unconscious. Bullying stopped only when he learned to fight back. It’s no surprise, then, that at the age of 17, he fled South Africa (in part to avoid mandatory military service in a country divided by apartheid) for university in Canada. And it was at that point that he began to blossom in incredible ways [source: Strauss].
Money may not be Musk’s primary motivation. He claims that he wishes to evolve the human race. He sees a future with high-efficiency mass transportation, electric vehicles, and super-efficient sustainable energy production. He also launches his engineering concepts into outer space, and perhaps one day even to Mars. And he’s well on his way to making some of his dreams come true.
NASA selected SpaceX’s Orion spacecraft in April 2021 to transport the next generation of American astronauts to the moon. The SpaceX Falcon 9 Crew Dragon will also launch astronauts into space from the United States on November 15, 2020, for the first time since the end of the shuttle era. And the Starship SN15 prototype rocket, which SpaceX is developing to launch people and cargo to the moon, completed a historic high-altitude test flight and landing on May 5, 2021.
However, while Musk’s meteoric professional career appears otherworldly, his turbulent personal life makes him appear less than superhuman. His tumultuous relationships and tragedies are just as complicated and messy. Not to mention his penchant for saying divisive things both in person and on Twitter. Make no mistake: this Hyperloop and reusable rocket concept is anything but typical.