Musk was born to a Canadian mother and South African father and raised in Pretoria, South Africa. He briefly attended the University of Pretoria before moving to Canada aged 17 to attend Queen's University. He transferred to the University of Pennsylvania two years later, where he received bachelor's degrees in economics and physics. He moved to California in 1995 to attend Stanford University but decided instead to pursue a business career, co-founding the web software company Zip2 with his brother Kimbal. The startup was acquired by Compaq for $307 million in 1999. Musk co-founded online bank X.com that same year, which merged with Confinity in 2000 to form PayPal. The company was bought by eBay in 2002 for $1.5 billion.
In 2002, Musk founded SpaceX, an aerospace manufacturer and space transport services company, of which he is CEO and CTO. In 2004, he joined electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla Motors, Inc. (now Tesla, Inc.) as chairman and product architect, becoming its CEO in 2008. In 2006, he helped create SolarCity, a solar energy services company that was later acquired by Tesla and became Tesla Energy. In 2015, he co-founded OpenAI, a nonprofit research company that promotes friendly artificial intelligence. In 2016, he co-founded Neuralink, a neurotechnology company focused on developing brain–computer interfaces, and founded The Boring Company, a tunnel construction company. Musk has proposed the Hyperloop, a high-speed vactrain transportation system.
Elon Reeve Musk was born on June 28, 1971, in Pretoria, South Africa. His mother is Maye Musk (néeHaldeman), a model and dietitian born in Saskatchewan, Canada, but raised in South Africa. His father is Errol Musk, a South African electromechanical engineer, pilot, sailor, consultant, and property developer. Musk has a younger brother, Kimbal (born 1972), and a younger sister, Tosca (born 1974). His maternal grandfather, Joshua Haldeman, was an American-born Canadian, and Musk has British and Pennsylvania Dutch ancestry. After his parents divorced in 1980, Musk mostly lived with his father in Pretoria and elsewhere, a choice he made two years after the divorce and subsequently regretted. Musk has become estranged from his father, whom he describes as "a terrible human being... Almost every evil thing you could possibly think of, he has done." He has a half-sister and a half-brother on his father's side.
In 1995, Musk, Kimbal, and Greg Kouri founded web software company Zip2 with funds from angel investors. They housed the venture at a small rented office in Palo Alto. The company developed and marketed an Internet city guide for the newspaper publishing industry, with maps, directions, and yellow pages. Musk says that before the company became successful, he could not afford an apartment and instead rented an office and slept on the couch and showered at the YMCA, and shared one computer with his brother. According to Musk, "The website was up during the day and I was coding it at night, seven days a week, all the time." The Musk brothers obtained contracts with The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune, and persuaded the board of directors to abandon plans for a merger with CitySearch. Musk's attempts to become CEO, a position held by its Chairman Rich Sorkin, were thwarted by the board.Compaq acquired Zip2 for $307 million in cash in February 1999. Musk received $22 million for his 7-percent share.
In 1999, Musk co-founded X.com, an online financial services and e-mail payment company. The startup was one of the first online banks to be federally insured, and, within its initial months, over 200,000 customers joined the service. The company's investors saw Musk as inexperienced and had him replaced with Intuit CEO Bill Harris by the end of the year. The following year, X.com merged with online bank Confinity to prevent unnecessary competition. Founded by Max Levchin and Peter Thiel, Confinity had its own money-transfer service, PayPal, which was more popular than X.com's service. Within the merged company, Musk returned as CEO. Musk's preference for Microsoft software over Linux created a rift in the company and caused Thiel to resign. Due to resulting technological issues and lack of a cohesive business model, the board ousted Musk and replaced him with Thiel in September 2000.[note 3] Under Thiel, the company focused on the PayPal service and was renamed PayPal in 2001. In 2002, PayPal was acquired by eBay for $1.5 billion in stock, of which Musk—the largest shareholder with 11.7%—received over $100 million.
In 2017, Musk purchased the domain X.com from PayPal for an undisclosed amount, explaining it has sentimental value.
In 2001, Musk became involved with the nonprofit Mars Society. He was inspired by plans to place a growth-chamber for plants on Mars and discussed funding the project himself. In October 2001, Musk traveled to Moscow to buy refurbished Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that could send the greenhouse payloads into space. He met with companies NPO Lavochkin and Kosmotras; however, Musk was seen as a novice and was even spat on by one of the Russian chief designers. The group returned to the United States empty-handed. In February 2002, the group returned to Russia to look for three ICBMs. They had another meeting with Kosmotras and were offered one rocket for $8 million, which Musk rejected. Musk instead decided to start a company that could build affordable rockets. With $100 million of his early fortune, Musk founded Space Exploration Technologies Corp., traded as SpaceX, in May 2002. As of 2021, he remains the company's CEO and also holds the title of Chief Engineer.
SpaceX began development of the Starlink constellation of low Earth orbit satellites in 2015 to provide satellite Internet access, with the first two prototype satellites launched in February 2018. A second set of test satellites and the first large deployment of a piece of the constellation occurred in May 2019, when the first 60 operational satellites were launched. The total cost of the decade-long project to design, build, and deploy the constellation is estimated by SpaceX to be about $10 billion.[note 4]
Tesla, Inc.—originally Tesla Motors—was incorporated in July 2003 by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning, who financed the company until the Series A round of funding. Both men played active roles in the company's early development prior to Musk's involvement. Musk led the Series A round of investment in 2004, joining Tesla's board of directors as chairman. Musk took an active role within the company and oversaw Roadster product design but was not deeply involved in day-to-day business operations. Following a series of escalating conflicts in 2007 and the 2008 financial crisis, Eberhard was ousted from the firm. Musk assumed leadership of the company as CEO and product architect in 2008. A 2009 lawsuit settlement with Eberhard designated Musk as a Tesla co-founder, along with Tarpenning and two others.
In September 2018, Musk was sued by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for a tweet claiming funding had been secured for potentially taking Tesla private.[note 5] The lawsuit claimed that discussions Musk held with foreign investors in July 2018 did not confirm key deal terms and thus characterized the tweet as false, misleading, and damaging to investors, and sought to bar Musk from serving as CEO of publicly traded companies. Musk called the allegations unjustified and claimed he had never compromised his integrity. Two days later, Musk settled with the SEC, without admitting or denying the SEC's allegations. As a result, Musk and Tesla were fined $20 million each, and Musk was forced to step down for three years as Tesla chairman but was able to remain as CEO.
Musk has stated in interviews he does not regret the tweet that triggered the SEC investigation. On February 19, 2019, Musk stated in a tweet that Tesla would build half a million cars in 2019. The SEC reacted to Musk's tweet by filing in court, initially asking the court to hold him in contempt for violating the terms of a settlement agreement with such a tweet, which was disputed by Musk. This was eventually settled by a joint agreement between Musk and the SEC clarifying the previous agreement details. The agreement included a list of topics that Musk would need preclearance before tweeting about. In May 2020, a judge prevented a lawsuit from proceeding that claimed a tweet by Musk regarding Tesla stock price ("too high imo") violated the agreement.FOIA released records showed that the SEC itself concluded that Musk has subsequently violated the agreement twice by tweeting regarding "Tesla's solar roof production volumes and its stock price".
Musk provided the initial concept and financial capital for SolarCity, which his cousins Lyndon and Peter Rive co-founded in 2006. By 2013, SolarCity was the second largest provider of solar power systems in the United States. In 2014, Musk promoted the idea of SolarCity building an advanced production facility in Buffalo, New York, triple the size of the largest solar plant in the United States. Construction on the factory started in 2014 and was completed in 2017. It operated as a joint venture with Panasonic until early 2020 when Panasonic departed.
Tesla acquired SolarCity for over $2 billion in 2016 and merged it with its battery energy storage products division to create Tesla Energy. The announcement of the deal resulted in a more than 10% drop in Tesla's stock price. At the time, SolarCity was facing liquidity issues; however, Tesla shareholders were not informed. Consequently, multiple shareholder groups filed a lawsuit against Musk and Tesla's directors, claiming that the purchase of SolarCity was done solely to benefit Musk and came at the expense of Tesla and its shareholders. During a June 2019 court deposition, Musk acknowledged that the company reallocated every possible employee from the solar division to work on the Model 3, and, according to Musk, "as a result, solar suffered." This had not previously been disclosed to shareholders. Court documents unsealed in 2019 have confirmed that Musk was also aware of the company's liquidity issues. Tesla directors settled the lawsuit in January 2020, leaving Musk the sole remaining defendant.
Musk discussing a Neuralink device during a live demonstration in 2020
In 2016, Musk co-founded Neuralink, a neurotechnology startup company to integrate the human brain with AI. Neuralink's purpose is to create devices that are embedded in the human brain to facilitate the merging of the brain with machines. The devices will also reconcile with the latest improvements in artificial intelligence to stay updated. Such improvements could enhance memory or allow the devices to communicate with software more effectively.
At a live demonstration in August 2020, Musk described one of their early devices as "a Fitbit in your skull" that could soon cure paralysis, deafness, blindness, and other disabilities. Many neuroscientists and publications criticized these claims;MIT Technology Review described them as "highly speculative" and "neuroscience theater".
In 2016, Musk founded The Boring Company to construct tunnels. In early 2017, they began discussions with regulatory bodies and initiated construction of a 30-foot (9.1 m) wide, 50-foot (15 m) long, and 15-foot (4.6 m) deep "test trench" on the premises of SpaceX's offices as it required no permits. A tunnel beneath the Las Vegas Convention Center was completed in early 2021. Local officials have approved further expansions of the tunnel system.
Musk's managerial style and treatment of his employees has been heavily criticized. One person who worked closely with Musk said he exhibits "a high level of degenerate behavior" such as paranoia and bullying. Another described him as exhibiting "total and complete pathological sociopathy".Business Insider reported that Tesla employees were told not to walk past Musk's desk because of his "wild firing rampages".The Wall Street Journal reported that, after Musk insisted on branding his vehicles as "self-driving", he faced criticism from his engineers, some of whom resigned in response, with one stating that Musk's "reckless decision making... ha[d] potentially put customer lives at risk".
In 2013, Musk announced plans for a version of a vactrain, assigning a dozen engineers from Tesla and SpaceX to establish the conceptual foundations and create initial designs. On August 12, 2013, Musk unveiled the concept, which he dubbed the Hyperloop. The alpha design for the system was published in a whitepaper posted to the Tesla and SpaceX blogs. The document scoped out the technology and outlined a notional route where such a transport system could be built between the Greater Los Angeles Area and the San Francisco Bay Area at an estimated total cost of $6 billion. The proposal, if technologically feasible at the costs he has cited, would make Hyperloop travel cheaper than any other mode of transport for such long distances.
In June 2015, Musk announced a design competition for students and others to build Hyperloop pods to operate on a SpaceX-sponsored mile-long track in a 2015–2017 Hyperloop pod competition. The track was used in January 2017, and Musk also announced that the company started a tunnel project with Hawthorne airport as its destination. In July 2017, Musk claimed that he had received "verbal government approval" to build a hyperloop from New York City to Washington, D.C., stopping in both Philadelphia and Baltimore.
In December 2015, Musk announced the creation of OpenAI, a not-for-profit artificial intelligence (AI) research company aiming to develop artificial general intelligence intended to be safe and beneficial to humanity. A particular focus of the company is to "counteract large corporations [and governments] who may gain too much power by owning super-intelligence systems". In 2018, Musk left the OpenAI board to avoid possible future conflicts with his role as CEO of Tesla as Tesla increasingly became involved in AI through Tesla Autopilot.
In July 2018, Musk arranged for his employees to build a small rescue pod to assist the rescue of children stuck in a flooded cavern in Thailand. Named "Wild Boar" after the children's soccer team, its design was a five-foot (1.5 m)-long, 12-inch (30 cm)-wide sealed tube weighing about 90 pounds (41 kg) propelled manually by divers in the front and back with segmented compartments to place diver weights to adjust buoyancy, intended to solve the problem of safely extracting the children. Engineers at SpaceX and The Boring Company built the mini-submarine out of a Falcon 9 liquid oxygen transfer tube in eight hours and personally delivered it to Thailand. However, by this time, eight of the 12 children had already been rescued using full face masks and oxygen under anesthesia and Thai authorities declined to use the submarine.
Vernon Unsworth, a recreational caver who had been exploring the cave for the previous six years and played a key advisory role in the rescue, criticized the submarine on CNN as amounting to nothing more than a public relations effort with no chance of success, and that Musk "had no conception of what the cave passage was like" and "can stick his submarine where it hurts". Musk asserted on Twitter that the device would have worked and referred to Unsworth as "pedo guy". He subsequently deleted the tweets, along with an earlier tweet in which he told another critic of the device, "Stay tuned jackass." On July 16, Unsworth stated that he was considering legal action.
Two days later, Musk issued an apology for his remarks. Then, on August 28, 2018, in response to criticism from a writer on Twitter, Musk tweeted, "You don't think it's strange he hasn't sued me?" The following day, a letter dated August 6 from L. Lin Wood, the rescuer's attorney, emerged, showing that he had been making preparations for a libel lawsuit.
Around this time, James Howard-Higgins emailed Musk claiming to be a private investigator and with an offer to "dig deep" into Unsworth's past, which Musk accepted; Higgins was later revealed to be a convicted felon with multiple counts of fraud. On August 30, using details produced during the alleged investigation, Musk sent a BuzzFeed News reporter who had written about the controversy an email prefaced with "off the record", telling the reporter to "stop defending child rapists, you fucking asshole" and claiming that Unsworth is a "single white guy from England who's been traveling to or living in Thailand for 30 to 40 years... until moving to Chiang Rai for a child bride who was about 12 years old at the time." On September 5, the reporter tweeted a screenshot of the email, saying that "Off the record is a two-party agreement," which he "did not agree to."
In September, Unsworth filed a defamation suit in Los Angeles federal court. In his defense, Musk argued that in slang usage "'pedo guy' was a common insult used in South Africa when I was growing up... synonymous with 'creepy old man' and is used to insult a person's appearance and demeanor." The defamation case began in December 2019, with Unsworth seeking $190 million in damages. During the trial Musk apologized to Unsworth again for the tweet. On December 6, the jury found in favor of Musk and ruled he was not liable.
2018 Joe Rogan podcast appearance
On September 6, 2018, Musk appeared on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast and discussed various topics for over two hours. One of the highest-profile and controversial aspects of the program was Musk's sampling a single puff from a cigar consisting, Joe Rogan claimed, of tobacco laced with cannabis. The Washington Post observed that, "In the media's hands, it became a story about Musk's growing instability."
Tesla stock dropped after the incident, which coincided with the confirmation of the departure of Tesla's vice president of worldwide finance earlier that day.Fortune wondered if the cannabis use could have ramifications for SpaceX contracts with the United States Air Force, though an Air Force spokesperson told The Verge that there was no investigation and that the Air Force was still processing the situation. In a 60 Minutes interview, Musk said of the incident: "I do not smoke pot. As anybody who watched that podcast could tell, I have no idea how to smoke pot."
On March 30, 2019, Musk released a rap track, "RIP Harambe", on SoundCloud as Emo G Records. The track, which is an allusion to the killing of Harambe and the subsequent "tasteless" Internet sensationalism surrounding the event, was performed by Yung Jake, written by Yung Jake and Caroline Polachek, and produced by BloodPop. On January 30, 2020, Musk released an EDM track, "Don't Doubt Ur Vibe", featuring his own lyrics and vocals. While Guardian critic Alexi Petridis described it as "indistinguishable... from umpteen competent but unthrilling bits of bedroom electronica posted elsewhere on Soundcloud",TechCrunch said it was "not a bad representation of the genre".
Donations and non-profits
Musk is chairman of the Musk Foundation, which states its purpose is to provide solar-power energy systems in disaster areas as well as other goals. Since 2002, the foundation has made over 350 contributions. Around half were to scientific research or education nonprofits. Notable beneficiaries include the Ethereum Foundation, his alma mater the University of Pennsylvania, and Kimball's Big Green.Vox described the foundation as "entertaining in its simplicity and yet is strikingly opaque", noting that its website was only 33 words in plain-text. The foundation has been criticized for the relatively small amount of wealth donated. From 2002 to 2018, it gave out $25 million directly to non-profits, nearly half of which went to Musk's OpenAI, which was at the time a non-profit organization.
At the start of 2020, Musk had a net worth of $27 billion. Throughout that year, his net worth increased by $150 billion, largely driven by his ownership of around 20% of Tesla stock. During this, Musk's net worth was often volatile. For example, it dropped $16.3 billion in September, the largest single-day plunge in the history of the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. In November of that year, Musk passed Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg to become the third-richest person in the world; a week later he passed Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates to become the second-richest. In January 2021, Musk, with a net worth of $185 billion, surpassed Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to become the richest person in the world. Bezos reclaimed the top spot the following month.
Around three-quarters of Musk's wealth derives from Tesla. Musk does not receive a salary from Tesla; he agreed in 2018 to a compensation plan with the board that ties his personal earnings to Tesla's valuation and revenue. The deal stipulated that Musk only receives the compensation if Tesla reaches certain market values. It was the largest such deal ever done between a CEO and board. In the first award, given in May 2020, he was eligible to purchase 1.69 million TSLA shares (about 1% of the company) at below-market prices, which was worth about $800 million.
Musk has repeatedly described himself as "cash poor", and has "professed to have little interest in the material trappings of wealth". In 2012, Musk signed The Giving Pledge and, in May 2020, Musk pledged to "sell almost all physical possessions". In 2021, Musk defended his wealth by saying he is "accumulating resources to help make life multiplanetary [and] extend the light of consciousness to the stars". He owns a private jet. The jet's heavy use of fossil fuels—it flew over 150,000 miles in 2018—has received criticism. According to ProPublica, Musk paid no federal income taxes in 2018.
In July 2020, Musk tweeted "Pronouns suck" to significant backlash on Twitter, including from his partner Grimes. The tweet has been perceived by some as transphobic and an attack on non-binary identities. In a series of December 2020 tweets, Musk again mocked the use of pronouns. The Human Rights Campaign, which had previously given Tesla the number one ranking on its Corporate Equality Index, criticized his tweets and called for him to apologize.
Musk has stated that he does not believe the US government should provide subsidies to companies but should instead use a carbon tax to discourage poor behavior. Musk says that the free market would achieve the best solution, and that producing environmentally unfriendly vehicles should come with its own consequences. His stance has been called hypocritical as his businesses have received billions of dollars in subsidies.
Also in March 2020, Musk offered to donate ventilators which Tesla would build or buy from a third party. Multiple hospitals noted that the devices eventually donated were BiPAP and CPAP machines, not the sought-after ventilators, but the machines could still be used to free up ventilators for the sickest patients. In 2021, findings of an antibody-testing program that Musk and a SpaceX medical executive worked with doctors and academic researchers to create were published in Nature Communications with Musk listed as a co-author.
Despite his companies dealing in various areas of transportation, Musk has criticized public transportation, a stance that has been called elitist. His comments have sparked widespread criticism from both transportation and urban planning experts.
In 2008, Musk began dating English actress Talulah Riley, and in 2010, the couple married. In 2012, Musk announced a divorce from Riley. In 2013, Musk and Riley remarried. In December 2014, Musk filed for a second divorce from Riley; however, the action was withdrawn. A second divorce was finalized in 2016. Musk then dated Amber Heard for several months in 2017; he had reportedly been pursuing her since 2012. Musk was later accused of having an affair with Heard while she was still married to Johnny Depp.
In May 2018, Musk and Canadian musician Grimes revealed that they were dating. Grimes gave birth to their son in May 2020. According to Musk and Grimes, his name was "X Æ A-12"; however, the name would have violated California regulations as it contained characters that are not in the modern English alphabet, and was then changed to "X Æ A-Xii". This drew more confusion, as Æ is not a letter in the modern English alphabet. The child was eventually named "X AE A-XII", with "X" as a first name and "AE A-XII" as a middle name.
From the early 2000s until late 2020, Musk resided in California where both Tesla and SpaceX were founded and where their headquarters are still located. In 2020, Musk moved to Texas, stating that California had become "complacent" with its economic success.
^Musk stated he was considering taking Tesla private at a price of $420 a share, an alleged reference to marijuana. Members of Tesla's board and rapper Azealia Banks alleged that Musk may have been under the influence of recreational drugs when he wrote the tweet.
^ abLaMonica, Martin (September 2009). "Tesla Motors founders: Now there are five". CNET. Retrieved April 17, 2020. Tesla Motors and co-founder Martin Eberhard announced an agreement over who can claim to be a founder of the company on Monday.
^ abSchwartz, Ariel (September 21, 2009). "Tesla Lawsuit Drama Ends as Five Company Founders Emerge". Fast Company. Retrieved April 14, 2020. Eberhard and Musk have reached a rather unexpected resolution–instead of agreeing to share the title of "founder", the pair has designated five people as company founders, including Musk, Eberhard, JB Straubel, Mark Tarpenning, and Ian Wright.
^Burns, Matt (October 8, 2014). "A Brief History of Tesla". TechCrunch. Archived from the original on July 17, 2015. Retrieved July 17, 2015. Tesla was founded not by Elon Musk, but rather by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning in July 2003. The two bootstrapped the fledgling auto company until Elon Musk led the company's US$7.5 million Series A financing round in February 2004.
^Vance, Ashley (2015). Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. Harper Collins USA. p. 147. ISBN9780062301239. Elon's worst trait by far, in my opinion, is a complete lack of loyalty or human connection. Many of us worked tirelessly for him for years and were tossed to the curb like a piece of litter without a second thought. Maybe it was calculated to keep the rest of the workforce on their toes and scared; maybe he was just able to detach from human connection to a remarkable degree. What was clear is that people who worked for him were like ammunition: used for a specific purpose until exhausted and discarded.