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The name is amongst the most famous inventors’ in modern times. The modern-day Henry Ford or Nikola Tesla. Revolutionizing the global auto and space sectors, he is South African born, American business magnate – Elon Reeve Musk.
With his vision and passion to change the world, Musk is regarded as the most formidable entrepreneur of the 21st century. In December of 2020 Musk climbed the global financial ladder to become the third richest person on earth, according to the Forbes Billionaire list. By January 2021 Musk topped the list to become the richest person in the world. But who is Musk? And how did he reach such extraordinary riches and “astronomical” success?
In this article we take the time to understand who Musk is, his career and pay tribute to his journey to success.
Musk was born in Pretoria South Africa, to a South African father and a Canadian mother. His father is Errol Musk, a South African electromechanical engineer. His mother is Maye Musk, a model and dietitian born in Saskatchewan, Canada, but raised in South Africa. Elon has a younger brother who was an early business partner of his, Kimbal, and a younger sister, Tosca the CEO of the video streaming site Passionflix.
He attended the prestigious Waterkloof House preparatory school, where he was bullied from a young age. Because of the bullying during his childhood, Musk, an avid reader and introvert, retreated to his solitude in invention, physics and computers. At the age of 10, he developed an interest in computing. He learned computer programming using a manual and, by the age of 12, sold the code of a video game he created called Blastar to PC and Office Technology magazine for approximately $500.
He later attended Bryanston High School, a school in a residential suburb in Johannesburg, where Musk claims he was tormented by consistent harassment from bullies. At the age of 15 its reported that Musk was pushed down a flight of stairs suffering various injuries sending him to hospital. Musk transferred to Pretoria Boys High after the incident, where his growth spurt reduced the harassment, he had received from his fellow students. Musk graduated from the school in 1989.
At age 17, in 1989, Musk left South Africa and moved to Canada to attend Queen’s University and avoid mandatory service in the South African military. Musk was later quoted saying that his avoidance of his military service was due to Apartheid. The authoritarian regime did not sit well with Musk’s moral compass, unable to be part of it Musk left with his family leaving behind his father. Musk obtained his Canadian citizenship that year. This would ultimately lead to an easier path into the USA for him.
After two years at Queen’s University, Musk transferred to the University of Pennsylvania, USA. He took on two majors, business and physics. He graduated with an undergraduate degree in economics and stayed for a second bachelor’s degree in physics. These two majors speak to the direction Musk’s career would take later.
After leaving Penn, at the age of 24 he enrolled at Stanford University in California, pursuing his PHD in applied Physics. Musk left Stanford University after only two days, due to the rise of the internet. Musk has credited this type of behavior as his most important entrepreneurial characteristic, stating “seize the opportunities that come your way, even if it means letting go of one opportunity for the next”.
Enthralled in computers and the age of the internet, Musk’s entrepreneurial tendencies soon resurfaced. With the internet exploding in Silicon Valley Musk had envisioned his elaborate dreams for the future of the world in his head. He left the PhD program at Stanford University after just two days, to pursue these dreams.
In 1995 he, and brother Kimbal, founded Zip2, a company that provided maps and business directories to online newspapers. Four years later, Zip2 was bought by the computer manufacturer Compaq for $307 million.
Thereafter, Musk founded an online financial services company, X.com, in 1999. The company eventually merged with a competing financial company to create PayPal in 2000, according to Business Insider.
Though Musk was named as the CEO of the merged companies, his time in the role was short-lived. In October 2000, Musk wanted to switch the PayPal servers from a Unix platform to a Microsoft Windows platform, to the dismay of the other board members. He was fired later the same year but remained the majority shareholder in the company and when eBay bought PayPal in 2002 for $1.5 billion. Musk ended up with approximately $180 million, FOX Business previously reported.
“Going from PayPal, I thought, ‘Well, what are some of the other problems that are likely to most affect the future of humanity?’” he told graduates during his 2012 commencement speech at the California Institute of Technology. “It really wasn’t from the perspective of what’s the best way to make money.”
It was during this time that he was inspired to launch the world-renowned companies SpaceX and Tesla. He founded SpaceX in 2002 because it would help “make life multi-planetary,” and founded Tesla in 2003 because it would solve the problem of sustainable energy, he told the Caltech graduates.
Musk founded his third company, Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, or SpaceX, in 2002 with the intention of revolutionizing the aerospace industry and making affordable spaceflight a reality. By 2008, SpaceX was well established, and NASA awarded the company the contract to handle cargo transport for the International Space Station.
On May 22, 2012, Musk and SpaceX made history when the company launched its Falcon 9 rocket into space with an unmanned capsule. The vehicle was sent to the International Space Station with 1,000 pounds of supplies for the astronauts stationed there, marking the first time a private company had sent a spacecraft to the International Space Station.
In March 2017, SpaceX saw the successful test flight and landing of a Falcon 9 rocket made from reusable parts, a development that opened the door for more affordable space travel. However, a setback came in November 2017, when an explosion occurred during a test of the company’s new Block 5 Merlin engine. SpaceX reported that no one was hurt, and Musk stated that “Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough!”.
In September 2017, Musk presented BFR (an acronym for either “Big F—ing Rocket” or “Big Falcon Rocket”), a 31-engine spaceship capable of carrying at least 100 people. His mission to the red planet revealed that SpaceX was aiming to launch the first cargo missions to Mars with the vehicle in 2022, as part of his overarching goal of inter-planetary travel.
In late March 2018, SpaceX received permission from the U.S. government to launch a fleet of satellites into low orbit for the purpose of providing Internet service. The satellite network, named Starlink, would ideally make broadband service more accessible in rural areas, while also boosting competition in heavily populated markets that are typically dominated by one or two providers. SpaceX launched the first batch of 60 satellites in May 2019 and followed with another payload of 60 satellites that November.
Musk has been quoted as saying that the biggest inspirations to his space pursuits have been Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Musk, along with his crazy entrepreneurial appetite, reached for the stars just like his hero’s did at NASA, and made SpaceX a game changer for the industry.
According to Forbes list and Morgan Stanley, SpaceX is worth a staggering $100 Billion due to the company’s position in the growing space industry. The valuation comes after Morgan Stanley explained that SpaceX is no mere space exploration corporation but rather that it’s deep space exploration, global internet aspirations and space tourism with a future in chartered space flights.
While Elon Musk has demonstrated concern over what happens on land and up in space, he also seems to be interested in what goes on underground. Just four years after its founding, the Boring Company is an infrastructure and tunnel construction company with contracts in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Hawthorne, California. The company’s self-stated goal is “to solve the problem of soul-destroying traffic” by building a network of transportation corridors underground. According to Musk this will be done by making use of hyperloops, voids tunneled underground, without oxygen creating the possibility for trains or pods to move at high speeds. In July 2019, The Boring Company authorized the first external investment, selling $120 million in stock to several venture capital firms, after raising US$113 million in non-outside capital during 2018, mainly from Musk’s own investment in the company.
During the global pandemic year, that has been 2020, Elon Musk has increased his net worth by a staggering $82,2 Billion. This can be accredited to Tesla stocks listed on the S&P 500, SpaceX successfully rocketing four astronauts into space and The Boring company testing Hyperloops in Las Vegas and California.
Musk is the co-founder, current CEO and product architect at Tesla, a company formed in 2003, named after Serbian American inventor Nikola Tesla. The company is dedicated to producing affordable, mass-market electric cars as well as battery products and solar roofs.
In 2008 Tesla Motors released its first car, the completely electric Roadster. In company tests, it achieved 245 miles (394 km) on a single charge, a range unprecedented for a production electric car. Additional tests showed that its performance was comparable to that of many gasoline-powered sports cars: the Roadster could accelerate from 0 to 60 miles (96 km) per hour in less than 4 seconds and could reach a top speed of 125 miles (200 km) per hour. The Roadster sales had resulted in overall corporate profitability for the month of July 2009, earning US$1 million on revenue of US$20 million.
In 2012 Tesla stopped production of the Roadster to concentrate on its new Model S sedan, which was acclaimed by automotive critics for its performance and design. It came with three different battery options, which gave estimated ranges of 235 or 300 miles (379 or 483 km). The battery option with the highest performance gave an acceleration of 0 to 60 miles (96 km) per hour in slightly over 4 seconds and a top speed of 130 miles (209 km) per hour. Tesla Autopilot, a form of semiautonomous driving, was made available in 2014 on the Model S.
Beginning in 2012, Tesla built stations called Superchargers in the United States and Europe designed for charging batteries quickly and at no extra cost to Tesla owners. Later versions of those stations were called Tesla Stations and also had the capability of complete replacement of the Model S battery pack.
Tesla released the Model X, a “crossover” vehicle (i.e., a vehicle with features of a sport-utility vehicle but built on a car chassis), in 2015. The Model X had a maximum battery range of 295 miles (475 km) and seating for up to seven. Because of demand for a more inexpensive vehicle, the Model 3, a four-door sedan with a range of 220 miles (354 km) and a price of $35,000, began production in 2017.
The company also branched out into solar energy products. In August 2016, in Musk’s continuing effort to promote and advance sustainable energy and products for a wider consumer base, a $2.6 billion dollar deal was solidified to combine his electric car and solar energy companies. His Tesla Motors Inc. announced an all-stock deal purchase of SolarCity Corp.
“Solar and storage are at their best when they’re combined. As one company, Tesla (storage) and SolarCity (solar) can create fully integrated residential, commercial and grid-scale products that improve the way that energy is generated, stored and consumed,”.
Musk has reimagined public transit globally, with the goal of making the world more eco-friendly, sustainable and accessible to all. Elon Musk is changing the world one mode of transportation at a time.
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