Elon Musk: Business Magnate and Visionary
Elon Musk is one of the top business visionaries of the world, known as a leading figure in the realm of technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship. He is the founder, chief executive officer, and chief technology officer of aerospace company SpaceX and chief executive officer of electric motorcar company Tesla Inc. He has also been active in the field of artificial intelligence through the nonprofit OpenAI and the startup Neuralink. Elon Musk is considered one of the most successful entrepreneurs on the planet and from this position of influence, he became a devoted proponent of space exploration and multi-planetary human settlements.
Born in South Africa and educated at the University of Pennsylvania, in the United States, Musk dropped out of a Ph.D. at Stanford University in order to pursue entrepreneurship. From his first business ventures in which he took advantage of the internet boom to provide services in niche markets, he transitioned to a different type of entrepreneurship, focusing on aligning his work with his personal visions regarding the future of humanity. Elon Musk declared that the goal of Tesla, SpaceX, Hyperloop, and SolarCity is to become an active force against global warming by exploring the benefits of sustainable energy. He has also stated repeatedly that he wants to establish a human settlement on Mars to provide humanity with a safety net in case of an existential threat.
Early Life and Education
Elon Reeve Musk was born on June 28, 1971, in Pretoria, South Africa, to Errol Musk and Maye Musk. His father is an electromechanical engineer and his mother, who was born in Canada, is a nutritionist and model. He has two younger siblings, Kimbal and Tosca. In 1980, Musk’s parents divorced, and he was raised by his father in Pretoria.
From an early age, Elon Musk was a voracious reader and grew up fascinated by computer programming, learning to code by himself. His talent for both innovation and entrepreneurship became obvious at age 12 when he created a video game and sold it to a local magazine. A precocious child, Musk suffered under the weight of social exclusion at school and was repeatedly bullied. In one incident, he was severely beaten and had to be hospitalized for two weeks.
During his years of formal education in South Africa, Musk decided, against his father’s wishes, to seek a way of moving to the United States, which he believed to be the world’s main hub for innovation and science. In 1989, he got a Canadian passport through his mother and enrolled at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, hoping that from Canada he could eventually move to the United States. The move to Canada also allowed him to avoid the mandatory service in the South African military.
While studying at Queen’s University, Musk met and fell in love with fellow student Justine Wilson, who later became a known Canadian novelist. They married in 2000 and had five sons through in vitro fertilization. Musk and Wilson separated in 2008.
In 1992, Elon Musk finally made his way to the United States by transferring to the University of Pennsylvania. He studied economics at the Wharton School and physics at the College of Arts and Sciences, getting two Bachelor’s degree diplomas. In 1995, he moved to California for a Ph.D. at Stanford University but dropped out just days after starting to focus on business opportunities that presented themselves due to the internet boom.
First Successful Ventures
In 1995, Elon Musk began his career in business by founding a software company called Zip2, which developed an online city guide for popular newspapers. In February 1999, Zip2 was acquired by Compaq, and Musk was generously compensated for his share. Just a month later, he began working on his second company, X.com, which focused on developing an online financial service, incorporating e-mail payment. After a year of business, X.com merged with another similar company, Confinity, which had developed its own online payment service, PayPal. The merged company officially took the name PayPal in 2001.
PayPal rapidly turned into Musk’s most remarkable success. The company had a quick and steady growth and was acquired by eBay in October 2002. Musk received his share of $165 million dollars, and this gave him the financial independence he needed to pursue more personal goals.
After the fulminate success of his first companies, space exploration became a predominant element in Elon Musk’s work. Highly influenced by Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, a science fiction saga in which a galactic empire falls and ushers in a dark age, he has gradually become a fervent supporter of humanity’s transition to a multi-interplanetary species, and of space exploration as a crucial step in securing the survival of the human species against threats that could wipe it out.
Musk started his work in the field of space exploration with the Mars Oasis project, which was meant to send a miniature greenhouse with food crops to Mars. In the fall of 2001, Musk traveled to Moscow to buy a refurbished intercontinental ballistic missile to send to Mars but had troubles negotiating with the Russians and returned without a missile. A second trip to Russia in 2002 was equally unsuccessful, and Musk decided to adopt a different strategy and build rockets instead of buying them. In May 2002, using the money acquired through his previous ventures, he founded SpaceX, originally Space Exploration Technologies, based in Hawthorne, California. Musk is still CEO and CTO of the company.
SpaceX started with manufacturing vehicles for space launch. In the following years, the company designed the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rockets, followed by Dragon, the company’s first spacecraft. In 2006, Musk and his team at SpaceX won a contract with NASA to prepare Falcon 9 and Dragon for cargo transports to the International Space Station. This was followed in 2008 by another contract with NASA, by which SpaceX took the task of launching several flights to the International Space Station and replacing the U.S. Space Shuttle. The same year, Falcon 1 sent a satellite into Earth’s orbit, becoming the first private rocket to achieve such a feat. In May 2012, SpaceX broke another record by becoming the first commercial entity to launch a spacecraft to the International Space Station.
To increase the affordability of space travel after the initial successes of SpaceX, Elon Musk began to explore the possibility of designing reusable rockets even though this was generally considered not feasible. In December 2015, SpaceX achieved a first stage recovery, which marked the first time ever that something like this was achieved. Naturally, the event represented an important step forward in increasing rocket reusability and making space travel more accessible. This first achievement was repeated multiple times afterwards. In February 2018, SpaceX unveiled the 27-engine Falcon Heavy, which is, at the moment, the most powerful operating rocket in the world. For the test launch, the Falcon Heavy had a payload of Musk's cherry-red Tesla Roadster, equipped with cameras to "provide some epic views" for the planned orbit around the sun. Additionally, SpaceX is the largest manufacturer of rocket engines in the world.
According to his declarations, Musk intends to focus in the future on Mars colonization. In June 2016, Musk revealed that he hopes to schedule the first unmanned flight to Mars for 2022 and the first manned flight for 2024. Musk also speaks frequently about his detailed plans for exploring and colonizing Mars, revealing his greatest hope of establishing a significant human colony on Mars by 2040. He declared he wants to die on Mars.
Meanwhile, SpaceX is working on a second generation of launch vehicles and spacecraft that will include a set of massive vehicles specially designed for interplanetary and lunar missions. The new family of rockets will replace the current models.
While working assiduously at SpaceX, Elon Musk did not neglect his personal life. In 2010, the entrepreneur married English actress Talulah Riley, but their marriage turned out to be very tumultuous. The couple went through several separations and reconciliations and their divorce was finalized in late 2016.
In 2003, Elon Musk co-founded Tesla Motors, named after the 20th century electrical inventor Nikola Tesla. The goal of the electric car company is to become a front-runner in the world’s transition to sustainable energy. The company was later renamed Tesla Inc. Musk supervised the detailed signs of Tesla’s first product, the Roadster sports car. From 2008 until the present, Elon Musk has been CEO and lead product designer at Tesla.
In 2008, Tesla Inc. released the Tesla Roadster to the market and four years later, the company began selling a Model S sedan. A third car, the Model X SUV, was launched in September 2015. In 2017, Tesla released its first affordable mass-market electric car, Model 3.
Besides its original models, Tesla Inc. also produces electric powertrain systems and components for other companies. Musk believes this will help auto manufacturers in producing their own inexpensive electric vehicles as they would no longer need to build the products from scratch. Additionally, Musk announced in 2014 that Tesla Inc. would allow anyone to use its patents in an attempt to motivate car producers to focus on electric cars.
In September of 2018 Musk was nearly removed from his position as CEO of Tesla by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) due to his reckless tweets. On August 7, Musk released a bombshell tweet: "Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured." Not only did the tweet drive up the sagging stock price, it also caught the eye of the SEC. As part of a late September deal with the SEC, Musk agreed to step down as chairman of Tesla for three years. He was able to retain his title of CEO; however, both he and the company were fined $20 million dollars by the SEC. Tesla also appointed two independent directors to the board to form a permanent committee to monitor Musk’s public statements.
SolarCity and Hyperloop
In 2006, Elon Musk’s cousins, Lyndon and Peter Rive, co-founded SolarCity while Musk outlined the concept of the company. SolarCity has experienced constant growth and quickly became one of the largest providers of solar power technology in the United States. In June 2014, Musk decided to build a massive SolarCity factory in Buffalo, New York. The Tesla Gigafactory 2 has been in operation since 2017 and may be the first in a series of similar facilities, according to Musk. SolarCity was eventually acquired by Tesla and is now a subsidiary of Tesla.
Elon Musk has also shown an interest in public transport, and in 2013, he developed a first design for a high-speed mode of transport meant to be built in California. Teams of engineers from SpaceX and Tesla further developed Musk’s concept and created the first designs, which revealed that if the project proves feasible from a financial and technological perspective, Hyperloop has the potential to become the cheapest mode of transportation for long distances. In Musk’s vision, Hyperloop passengers would sit inside an aluminum pod and travel through an evacuated tube at up to 800 miles per hour. Musk was criticized for several comments he made regarding public transportation, in which he called it a highly unpleasant way to move around because it means sharing space with strangers. He underpinned the comforts of independent transport, which his critics view as frivolous in the context of global warming.
Elon Musk has often warned against the risks of artificial intelligence (AI), which he considers a significant threat for the human species. He believes that corporations may amass excessive power by using AI to increase their profits and that governments may use AI to oppress citizens. He repeatedly expressed his desire for regulations in the field. Despite these claims, in 2015, Musk took part in the development of a not-for-profit artificial intelligence research company called OpenAI, which aims at researching and popularizing the positive aspects of AI. In 2018, as artificial intelligence became a focus within Tesla Inc., Elon Musk left OpenAI to avoid a possible conflict of interest in the future.
Elon Musk’s ambivalent views on artificial intelligence led him to co-found Neuralink in 2016. The neuro-technology startup company has as its goal the creation of devices that could link the human brain to technology and thus provide it with several enhancements. Musk revealed that the purpose of Neuralink is to create direct mind-computer links though implants of technological devices. Musk told a crowd at the World Government Summit in Dubai, “Over time I think we will probably see a closer merger of biological intelligence and digital intelligence.”
Musk has also invested in two other artificial intelligence companies, DeepMind and Vicarious. Vicarious is a company with the goal of building a computer that can think like a person, with a neural network capable of replicating the part of the brain that controls vision, body movement, and language. To explain why he chose to get deeply involved in the field of AI although he had repeatedly expressed his reluctance towards it, Musk declared that he likes to keep in touch with technological advancements just in case. Many accused Musk of sabotaging AI research funding by talking about the field as an existential threat to humanity.
Along with his many other responsibilities, Elon Musk is also the chairman of the Musk Foundation, which provides solar-power energy systems to areas devastated by natural disasters. So far, the foundation has helped a community from Alabama affected by a hurricane and another one from Sōma, Japan, affected by a tsunami. Musk has also made other generous donations for research projects. He is a supporter of universal basic income and direct democracy.
Elon Musk’s hard work and visionary leadership has paid off as Forbes magazine estimates his net worth is in excess of $20 billion.
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