A futurist. A dreamer. An innovator who has had a global impact like no one else of that generation. Once an outlier physics whiz, Elon Musk in the mainstream is something to behold. His influence and direction in companies like Tesla, SpaceX, Neuralink, and The Boring Company are changing the way technology enters 21 century everyday life.
Tesla, with Musk at the helm, builds not only all-electric vehicles but also scalable clean energy generation and storage products in a flywheel effect — all part of a business model that prods the world to stop relying on fossil fuels and to move towards a zero-emission future. His leadership has inspired the automotive market toward sustainable transportation to the point that analysts now agree over half the cars sold by 2040 will be electric.
His followers are often loyal, and true believers in the power and promise of sustainable energy. In fact, an early 2020 poll indicated that nearly 50% of people believe Tesla is the most inventive technology company in recent years.
He has propelled electric vehicles, solar, batteries, energy storage, AI, tunnels, and space travel to heights never thought possible in our current time. Merging the human brain with computers, moving commuter transportation underground, privatizing space travel, and envisioning several other emerging technology ventures, Musk was described by Tesla in a February regulatory filing as having responsibilities within and outside of the company. “Although Mr. Musk spends significant time with Tesla and is highly active in our management, he does not devote his full time and attention to Tesla,” the filing indicated.
By doing business differently, Tesla seems to have transcended many COVID-19-induced supply chain issues that have tormented other automakers. Partially, this is because the company is continually researching and innovating, with numerous patents the result of the company’s persistent forward momentum.
Tesla grew its global workforce by well over 20,000 people in 2020 and now employs at least 70,000 people, a nearly 50% gain over the previous year. The company is positioned to add more workers in 2021 as it prepares to open factories in Texas and Germany, with Musk making a trip in recent weeks to Giga Berlin, where he met with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) chairman, Armin Laschet.
Even Carson Block, the short-seller manager of Muddy Waters Capital, has rescinded his longtime criticisms of Musk and Tesla, announcing that his firm’s multiyear bet against the electric carmaker had been sent to “heaven” with no plans to revive it. Block, it seems, underestimated Musk’s ability to “raise capital in huge amounts, reinvent himself, and captivate shareholders,” according to the New York Times.
Musk in the Mainstream Exposes His Vulnerability
Musk’s life and career journey has been secured by privilege but fraught with emotional turmoil. It is often those experiences with hardship and failure that make him relatable to everyday people.
Aside from creating worldwide impact, some of Musk’s investments have been pushed to the proverbial edge of failure. He invested $20 million into saving Tesla after it was on the cusp of bankruptcy in 2015, and applied his own money to the Tesla assembly line to keep it moving. He raised $100 million for SpaceX for a space industry had never before been privatized. In 2008, he invested the last of the money he had gotten from selling PayPal to save Tesla.
Of course, the full picture of Musk in the mainstream is colored by his particular style, energy, and perspective. Engaging in a financial marketplace of ideas, his for-gratis tweets foist audiences into a high frenzy yet accomplish what mass media marketing revenue attempts with frequent mixed results.
Social media success has also made Musk in the mainstream a target of many negative media narratives.
Rather than collect a paycheck from the company, Musk’s income emerges from Tesla stock holdings, and this source of centribillions of dollars of wealth has been a frequent subject of media musings. Under a compensation arrangement, Musk is eligible for options to buy up to 101 million split-adjusted shares of stock at an exercise price of $70.01 each. Those options are distributed in 12 equal tranches of 8.4 million options, based on the company’s capacity to hit both financial milestones and achieve certain stock valuation targets.
A 2021 survey zoomed in on non-Tesla owners, who expressed a positive view of Teslas as vehicles. Musk’s appeal to this speculative audience, however, was much less favorable. While only 26% of Tesla owners said Musk detracted from the brand, a majority of non-owners viewed him as a negative. These future EV consumers feel that the technology Musk showcases is a pathway for improperly trained individuals to relinquish car control. They are clearly concerned over Tesla’s safety in its Autopilot suite of advanced driver-assistance systems and the Full Self-Driving (FSD) function.
Many media markets had a riot when the SEC found Musk guilty of misleading investors as a result of the now-famous/infamous “funding secured” tweet, which required him to step down as Tesla chairman and pay a $20 million fine.
Elon Musk's $20 million tweet! https://t.co/oihnUVkl6K
I saved this screenshot of Elon Musk's famous "Funding secured" tweet that eventually led to SEC lawsuit and a $20 million settlement making this tweet famous for being the most expensive tweet to date.
This is to remind … pic.twitter.com/NBJwMjLnCI
— 1MfP (@toperdomingo99) September 29, 2018
When the world watched global efforts to save a stranded Thai youth soccer team in underwater, an emotional Musk called a diver a “pedo” after he used some dirty imagery to denigrate Musk on a major global TV network. A Los Angeles court found him not guilty of defamation for the incident, concurring with Musk’s defense of differing semantic interpretations of terminology.
Musk testified about the 2016 takeover of SolarCity, arguing that the purchase was a sound decision and that it wasn’t done to benefit himself, but, rather, Tesla shareholders. He quarreled with opposing counsel Randy Baron, saying Baron he was a “bad human being,” and he insisted that his questions were “deceptive.”
Tesla via Musk came under scrutiny from critics when it purchased $1.5 million in bitcoin in February and announced plans to start accepting payments with the cryptocurrency.
Elon Musk — A (Very) Human Being
Setting aside his brilliance, Elon Musk is human and experiences all the joys and challenges of daily life.
He was shadowed by Robert Downey Jr. for his now-famous role as Iron Man, had a cameo role in the 2010 film Iron Man II and was shadowed for the 2011 documentary Revenge of the Electric Car. Fast forward to 2021, and Musk’s hosting role on Saturday Night Live led to an impressive 7.3 million viewers, the third most-watched episode of its pivotal 46th season. Musk is one of the rare SNL hosts who has little to no tangible ties to the entertainment industry outside of cameos and podcast appearances.
His humor is legendary — to himself and others. “I do have a sense of humor,” Musk mentioned at the SolarCity trial. “I think I’m funny.”
He has won numerous accolades and awards, including Fortune’s Business Person of the Year award for 2020.
He listed his 5 homes up for sale — worth almost $100 million — after pledging on Twitter that he aims to own no physical possessions.
Just one stipulation on sale: I own Gene Wilder’s old house. It cannot be torn down or lose any its soul.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 1, 2020
He has donated to charities quietly, off to the sidelines, and indicates he will donate at least half his fortune upon his death.
Most importantly, when CEO Elon Musk reflects on the last decade, he grounds himself in Tesla company goals that were designed to spur the world’s transition to clean energy. Today, he is practical yet optimistic — he sees a future in which energy production moves from reliance on fossil fuels to pragmatic sustainable energy generation. He is essential to the execution of that company vision, with his deep knowledge of physics, thermodynamics, and technology.
He knows what boundaries he can push, even if Musk in the mainstream may see a bit disruptive and unsettling.
Image provided by Tesla
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