Who is Elon Musk?

Who is Elon Musk?
Source: Lucy Nicholson, Reuters
Musk’s riches have skyrocketed over the past year, as the billionaire started 2020 with a net worth of about US$27 billion.

On Thursday, Elon Musk became the world’s richest person after the share price of Tesla, the electric car company that Musk cofounded and leads, shot up. Musk’s net worth is estimated at more than US$185 billion, greater than that of Amazon chief executive officer Jeff Bezos, whose net worth is around US$184 billion.

Musk’s riches have skyrocketed over the past year, as the billionaire started 2020 with a net worth of about US$27 billion.

This is largely thanks to Tesla. The electric car company’s first profitable year only came in 2019, so the company’s relatively unrestricted expansion over the past year allowed for growth in the midst of a pandemic that crippled so many other companies.

Early years

Elon Reeve Musk was born on June 28, 1971, in Pretoria, South Africa, where he grew up. His mother, Maye, is a professional dietitian and model who has appeared on the cover of Time magazine and received a number of high-profile modeling contracts. His father, Errol, is an electromechanical engineer and consultant. His younger sister, Tosca, is the CEO of Passionflix, a video streaming website. His younger brother, Kimbal, owns a number of restaurants in the United States and serves on Tesla’s board of directors.

When he was nine, Musk’s parents divorced. Elon and Kimbal decided to stay with their father in South Africa rather than go back with their mother to her home in Canada. Throughout his school days, Elon became proficient at computer programming and at one point even sold a video game to a computer magazine.

At 17, Musk left South Africa to go to Canada with his mother to avoid compulsory military service during apartheid. In Ontario, he attended Queen’s University, later transferring to the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. He graduated in 1997 with bachelor’s degrees in physics and economics. He initially enrolled in graduate school at Stanford University to receive a Ph.D. in physics, but dropped out after only two days.


In 1995, Elon Musk founded a company called Zip2, which provided maps and directories to online newspapers. Zip2 was eventually acquired by the computer company Compaq for US$307 million. Musk used this money to found a new company called X.com, which would later become PayPal, that specialized in online financial transfers. PayPal was bought by eBay in 2002 for US$1.5 billion.

In a series of trips to Russia in the early 2000s, Musk realized that rockets that could send payloads to space were highly expensive. In 2002, he created the Space Exploration Technologies Corp., also known as SpaceX, with the short-term intention of making cheaper and more affordable rockets. Musk’s stated long-term goal was to allow people to inhabit space so that, in the event of an extinction-level event on Earth, humanity would survive.

SpaceX has not had an initial public offering and, according to Musk’s tweets, the company does not plan to go public soon, saying that the situation is “only possible in very long term when Mars Colonial Transporter is flying regularly.”

Musk has plenty to occupy himself with back on Earth, however, thanks to his electric vehicle company Tesla.

The company was incorporated in 2003 by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning, but Musk came on during the series A round of investment in 2004. Tesla released the Roadster, an electric sports car, in 2008 and the Model S sedan in 2012. The Model X followed in 2015.

The Model 3 – which was originally named the Model E but was changed due to Ford owning the trademark, leading Musk to remark that Ford is “killing SEX” – was released in 2017 and has since become the world’s bestselling electric car.

Musk is also the owner and founder of a few smaller, but no less ambitious, businesses.

These include SolarCity, a solar power systems company that deals with the impact of rooftop solar power to the power grid, Neuralink, a tech company intending to connect the human brain with artificial intelligence to keep pace, and The Boring Company, a company intending to streamline traffic flow by boring underground tunnels.

Becoming the world’s richest person

At the start of the pandemic, Elon Musk’s net worth was about US$25 billion. This placed Musk at number 31 on Forbes’ 2020 billionaires list, between the candy magnates John and Jacqueline Mars and Giovanni Ferrero.

Though the economy plummeted as a result of the pandemic, those at the top still made a profit, with the 12 wealthiest people seeing their personal fortunes go up by nearly 40% between March 18 and August 21.

Federal Reserve data shows that the share of wealth in the top 1% in the US dropped by a point and a half, suggesting that it was only those at the very top, including Musk, who did better.

Much of Musk’s recent wealth comes from his stake in Tesla, of which he owns around 20%. Despite many companies struggling or even collapsing in 2020, the electric car company remained stable, seeing steady growth up until the November 3 US election. But since then, the company’s shares have more than doubled in value, with much of that coming after the successful campaigns of newly elected Georgia Senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, which gave Democrats control of the Senate.

Musk officially became the richest person in the world on January 7, when he passed Jeff Bezos in net worth. Bezos has also done extraordinarily well during the pandemic, but due to the divorce settlement with his ex-wife, his personal growth was not quite as high as Elon’s.

There is no telling how long Musk might remain on top, with some analysts anticipating a stock collapse in the relatively near future. But, however temporarily, Elon Musk is officially the world’s richest person, not that the title appears to mean much to him.

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