Co-founder of Zip2, Founder of Paypal, SpaceX, Telsa Motors
Net worth: $2.4 billion (2012)
At a Glance
Born: 28 June 1971 in Pretoria, South Africa (Age 41)
Source of Wealth: Inventor, Entrepreneur
Residence: Bel Air, Los Angeles, California
Country of Citizenship: United States
Education: Queen’s University, The Wharton School (BEc,), University of Pennsylvania, (BSc.)
Marital Status: Divorced, 5 children
Elon Musk is a South African-born American entrepreneur. He is best known for founding SpaceX, and co-founding Tesla Motors and PayPal (initially known as X.com). While at those companies, he oversaw the construction of the first electric car of the modern era, the Tesla Roadster, a private rocket known as Falcon 9/Dragon, and the Internet payment system PayPal. He is currently the CEO and Chief Designer of SpaceX, CEO and Product Architect of Tesla Motors and Chairman of SolarCity. Musk holds a bachelor’s degree in Business from The Wharton School, and a second bachelor’s degree in Physics from University of Pennsylvania, School of Arts and Sciences.
Musk was born and raised in Pretoria, South Africa, the son of a Canadian mother, Maye (née Haldeman), and a South African father, Errol Musk. His mother’s heritage includes Pennsylvania Dutch; his maternal grandfather was from Minnesota, and had moved to Saskatchewan, where Musk’s mother was born. His father is an engineer and his mother is an author, nutritionist and model.
Musk bought his first computer at the age of 10 and taught himself how to program; by the age of 12 he sold his first commercial software for about $500, a space game called Blastar.
After spending 3 years (Grades 8 – 10) at Bryanston High School, Musk matriculated at Pretoria Boys High School. He left home in 1988 at the age of 17, without his parents’ support and in part because of the prospect of compulsory service in the South African military: “I don’t have an issue with serving in the military per se, but serving in the South African army suppressing black people just didn’t seem like a really good way to spend time”. He wanted to move to the US, saying: “It is where great things are possible”.
In 1992, after spending two years at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Elon left Canada, pursuing business and physics at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia on financial aid. Choosing to major at the The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, he received an undergraduate degree in Business, and from University of Pennsylvania, School of Arts and Sciences, he received a second bachelor’s degree in Physics. He then moved to the Silicon Valley area of California to undertake a PhD in Applied Physics and Materials Science at Stanford. He did not finish that degree. His undergraduate degrees behind him, and drawing inspiration from innovators such as Nikola Tesla, Musk then considered three areas he wanted to get into that were “important problems that would most affect the future of humanity”, as he said later, “One was the Internet, one was clean energy, and one was space”.
Musk went on to a graduate program in both applied physics and materials science at Stanford in 1995. He stayed two days before dropping out to start Zip2, which provided online content publishing software for news organisations, with his brother Kimbal Musk. In 1999, Compaq’s AltaVista division acquired Zip2 for US$307 million in cash and US$34 million in stock options.
Musk co-founded X.com, an online financial services and e-mail payment company, in March 1999. One year later, in a 50/50 merger, X.com acquired Confinity, which operated an auction payment system similar in size to X.com, namely PayPal. Musk was a principal architect behind the purchase, which hinged on his belief in the emerging online-transfer, or “P2P” technology. Musk believed that the Confinity sub-brand would become the necessary vehicle to incorporate and develop a person-to-person payment platform within X.com. The combined company at first adopted X.com as the corporate name, but in February 2001, X.com changed its legal name to PayPal Inc. Musk was instrumental in the new PayPal’s focus on a global payment system and departure from the core financial offerings of X.com.
PayPal’s early growth was due in large part to a successful viral growth campaign created by Musk. In October 2002, PayPal was acquired by eBay for US$1.5 billion in stock. Before its sale, Musk, the company’s largest shareholder, owned 11.7% of PayPal’s shares.
Musk founded his third company, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), in June 2002of which he is currently the CEO and CTO. SpaceX develops and manufactures space launch vehicles with a focus on advancing the state of rocket technology. The company’s first two launch vehicles are the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rockets and its first spacecraft is Dragon.
SpaceX was awarded a $1.6 billion NASA contract on 23 December 2008, for 12 flights of their Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station, replacing the Space Shuttle after it retired in 2011. Initially, Falcon 9/Dragon will replace the cargo transport function of the Shuttle and astronaut transport will be handled by the Soyuz. However, SpaceX has designed Falcon 9/Dragon with astronaut transport in mind and the Augustine commission has recommended that astronaut transport be handled by commercial companies like SpaceX.
Musk views space exploration as an important step in expanding—if not preserving—the consciousness of human life. Musk has said that multiplanetary life may serve as a hedge against threats to the survival of the human species. “An asteroid or a super volcano could destroy us, and we face risks the dinosaurs never saw: An engineered virus, inadvertent creation of a micro black hole, catastrophic global warming or some as-yet-unknown technology could spell the end of us. Humankind evolved over millions of years, but in the last sixty years atomic weaponry created the potential to extinguish ourselves. Sooner or later, we must expand life beyond this green and blue ball—or go extinct.” Musk’s goal is to reduce the cost of human spaceflight by a factor of 10. He founded SpaceX with $100 million of his early fortune. He remains chief executive officer and chief technology officer of the Hawthorne, Calif.-based company.
In seven years, SpaceX designed the family of Falcon launch vehicles and the Dragon multi-purpose spacecraft from the ground-up. In September 2009, SpaceX’s Falcon 1 rocket became the first privately funded liquid-fuelled vehicle to put a satellite into Earth orbit. NASA selected SpaceX to be part of the first program that entrusts private companies to deliver cargo to the International Space Station. This contract, which has a minimum value of $1.6 billion and a maximum value of $3.1 billion, has become a cornerstone of the Space Station’s continued access to cargo delivery and return. In addition to these services, SpaceX’s goals include simultaneously lowering the price of orbital spaceflight and improving reliability, both by an order of magnitude, while creating the first fully reusable orbital launch vehicle. In the coming years, Musk will focus on delivering astronauts to the International Space Station, but has stated his personal goal of eventually enabling human exploration and settlement of Mars. In a 2011 interview, he said he hopes to send humans to Mars’ surface within 10–20 years. On 25 May 2012, the SpaceX Dragon vehicle docked with the ISS, making history as the first commercial company to launch and dock a vehicle to the International Space Station.
Musk is a co-founder and currently head of product design at Tesla Motors. He oversaw development of the Tesla Roadster. Musk’s interest in electric vehicles extends long before the creation of Tesla.
Musk began by hiring Martin Eberhard as CEO and a management team and provided almost all of the capital for Tesla’s first two funding rounds, giving him a controlling interest from the start. As a result of the financial crisis in 2008 and a forced layoff at Tesla, Musk was forced to assume the additional responsibility of CEO.
Tesla Motors first built an electric sports car, the Tesla Roadster, which has shipped over 2,300 vehicles to 31 countries. Tesla began delivery of its four-door Model S sedan on 22 June 2012 and unveiled its third product the Model X, aimed at the SUV/minivan market, on 9 February 2012. Model X is scheduled to begin production in 2014. In addition to its own cars, Tesla sells electric powertrain systems to Daimler for the Smart EV and Mercedes A Class, and to Toyota for the upcoming electric RAV4. Musk was also able to bring in both companies as long term investors in Tesla.
Musk is principally responsible for an overarching business strategy that aims to deliver affordable electric vehicles to mass-market consumers. His vision was to create the Tesla Roadster as a means to that end—a car aimed specifically at affluent early adopters, whose purchase of the sports car would subsidise the research and development costs of lower priced models of electric vehicles. From the start of Tesla, Musk has been a champion of the Model S, a four-door family sedan with an anticipated base price of half that of the Roadster. Musk has also favoured building a sub-$30,000 subcompact and building and selling electric vehicle powertrain components so that other automakers can produce electric vehicles at affordable prices without having to develop the products in house. Several mainstream publications have compared him with Henry Ford for his revolutionary work on advanced vehicle powertrains.
He is reported to have a 32% stake in Tesla, which is currently valued above $1 billion, as of March 2012.
Musk provided the initial concept for SolarCity, where he remains the largest shareholder and chairman of the board. SolarCity is the largest provider of solar power systems in the United States. His cousin Lyndon Rive is the CEO and co-founder. The underlying motivation for funding both SolarCity and Tesla is to help combat global warming. In 2012, Musk announced that SolarCity and Tesla Motors are collaborating to use electric vehicle batteries to smooth the impact of rooftop solar on the power grid.
Musk is chairman of the Musk Foundation, which focuses its philanthropic efforts on science education, paediatric health and clean energy. He is a trustee of the X Prize Foundation, promoting renewable energy technologies. He sits on the boards of The Space Foundation, The National Academies Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board, The Planetary Society, and Stanford Engineering Advisory Board. Musk is also a member of the board of trustees of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).
He began a multi-million dollar program through his foundation in 2010 to donate solar power systems for critical needs in disaster areas. The first such solar power installation occurred on a hurricane response center in Alabama that had been neglected by state and federal aid. To make it clear that this was not serving Musk’s commercial interests, SolarCity noted that it had no present or planned business activity in Alabama.
Musk had plans for a “Mars Oasis” project in 2001, which would land a miniature experimental greenhouse on Mars, containing food crops growing on Martian regolith. He put this project on hold when he came to the conclusion that the fundamental problem preventing humanity from becoming a true spacefaring civilisation was the lack of advancement in rocket technology. He has sought to address this by founding SpaceX to create revolutionary new interplanetary rockets.
His long term goal is to help humanity through SpaceX by creating a true spacefaring civilisation. Musk’s philosophy and description of what is needed to solve the problem are provided in the IEEE podcast “Elon Musk: a founder of PayPal, Tesla Motors, and SpaceX” and article “Risky Business.”
Musk joined The Giving Pledge in April 2012, offering a moral commitment to donate the majority of his fortune to philanthropy. Musk became a member of the campaign first popularised by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates with a class of 12 of America’s wealthiest families and individuals, which included Arthur Blank and Michael Moritz.
Car blog Jalopnik reported on 16 August 2012 that Musk was supporting an effort by Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal to preserve the site of Nikola Tesla’s lab and turn it into a museum, the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe.
Awards and recognition
Listed as one of Time Magazine’s 100 people who most affected the world in 2010. Jon Favreau, director of the Iron Man movies, describes in his article how Musk was the inspiration for Favreau’s film depiction of genius billionaire Tony Stark. The world governing body for aerospace records, Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, presented Musk in 2010 with the highest award in air & space, the FAI Gold Space Medal, for designing the first privately developed rocket to reach orbit. Prior recipients include Neil Armstrong, Burt Rutan of Scaled Composites and John Glenn. He was named as one of the 75 most influential people of the 21st century by Esquire magazine. In June 2011, Musk was awarded the $500,000 Heinlein Prize for Advances in Space Commercialization In February 2011, Forbes listed Musk as one of “America’s 20 Most Powerful CEOs 40 And Under”. Recognized as a Living Legend in Aviation in 2010 by the Kitty Hawk Foundation for creating the successor to the Space Shuttle (Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft). Other recipients include Buzz Aldrin and Richard Branson. American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics George Low award for the most outstanding contribution in the field of space transportation in 2007/2008. Musk was recognized for his design of the Falcon 1, the first privately developed liquid fuel rocket to reach orbit. National Space Society’s Von Braun Trophy in 2008/2009, given for leadership of the most significant achievement in space. Prior recipients include Burt Rutan and Steve Squyres. National Wildlife Federation 2008 National Conservation Achievement award for Tesla Motors and SolarCity. Other 2008 recipients include journalist Thomas Friedman, U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy and Florida Governor Charlie Crist. The Aviation Week 2008 Laureate for the most significant achievement worldwide in the space industry. R&D Magazine Innovator of the Year for 2007 for SpaceX, Tesla and SolarCity. Automotive Executive of the Year (worldwide) in 2010 for demonstrating technology leadership and innovation via Tesla Motors. Prior awardees include Bill Ford Jr, Bob Lutz, Dieter Zetsche and Lee Iacocca. Musk is the youngest ever recipient of this award. Inc Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year award for 2007 for his work on Tesla and SpaceX. 2007 Index Design award for his design of the Tesla Roadster. Global Green 2006 product design award for his design of the Tesla Roadster, presented by Mikhail Gorbachev. Musk is a Director of the Planetary Society, a Trustee of The X-Prize Foundation and a member of the Stanford University Engineering Advisory Board. He has previously served as a member of the United States National Academy of Sciences Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board. In a 2010 Space Foundation survey, Musk was ranked as the No. 10 (tied with rocketry pioneer and scientist Wernher von Braun) most popular space hero. In 2010, Musk was elected to the board of trustees of the California Institute of Technology. In 2011, Musk was honored as a Legendary Leader at the Churchill Club Awards. In 2012, Musk was awarded with the Royal Aeronautical’s Society’s highest award – a Gold Medal.
Honorary doctorate in design from the Art Center College of Design
Honorary Doctorate (DUniv) in aerospace engineering from the University of Surrey
Musk has described himself as a workaholic who routinely invests 100 hours per week running Tesla Motors and SpaceX, often flying in a fuel-efficient corporate jet.
The SpaceX factory was used as a filming location for Iron Man 2 and Musk has a cameo in the movie.
Musk previously owned and later sold a McLaren F1 sports car and a Czech made jet trainer aircraft Aero L-39. The 1994 model Dassault Falcon 900 aircraft used in the film Thank You for Smoking is registered to Musk (N900SX) and Musk had a cameo as the pilot of his plane, opening the door for Robert Duvall and escorting Aaron Eckhart aboard. Musk is an attendee of the Burning Man festival, and says that he first thought up the idea for SolarCity at the 2004 festival. Recently, he proposed a solar-powered jet tunnel system known as the Hyperloop that would enable individuals to make trips from San Francisco to Los Angeles in less than 30 minutes.
Musk lives in Bel-Air, California. Musk met his first wife, the Canadian-born author Justine Musk, while they were both students at Queen’s University. They were married in 2000 and together had six sons, the first of whom died in infancy, then twins followed by triplets. They announced their separation in September 2008. Musk announced in January 2012 that he had recently ended a four-year relationship with his second wife, British actress Talulah Riley.
Tosca Musk, Elon’s sister, is the founder of Musk Entertainment and has produced various movies. Elon himself was the executive producer of her first movie, called Puzzled. His brother Kimbal is said to be the CEO of a social search company OneRiot and owner of The Kitchen restaurant with locations in Boulder, Colorado and Denver, Colorado.
“We have planes, trains, automobiles and boats,” … “What if there was a fifth mode?,” on the Hyperloop.
“In terms of the Internet, it’s like humanity acquiring a collective nervous system. Whereas previously we were more like a… collection of cells that communicated by diffusion. With the advent of the Internet, it was suddenly like we got a nervous system. It’s a hugely impactful thing.”
“Sooner or later, we must expand life beyond this green and blue ball—-or go extinct.”
“I would like to die on Mars; just not on impact.”
“We need to figure out how to have the things we love, and not destroy the world.”