Who is Elon Musk?
In 2023, Elon Musk is probably one of the most well known names in the world. Widely known for his extremely successful business endeavours, it’s difficult to come across anyone who has not heard of the business man.
Elon Musk is a South-African born entrepreneur who has been named the world’s richest man by Forbes in 2022 and the world’s second richest man in 2021 and 2023. His wealth stems from the six companies which he played a role in co-founding or co-owning. Most notably, these companies include the electric car company Tesla, spacecraft manufacturing company SpaceX as well as infrastructure and construction company The Boring Company.
Despite Musk’s never-ending success, the multi-billionaire has found himself in mountains of controversy time and time again. Whether that be in his business choices or his private life, Musk has always been apparent on headlines. This has brought up questions of what really led the Tesla Chief Executive Officer to the point of detrimental controversy. What is his story and how has he reached the heights he has?
The Humble Beginnings of Elon Musk
At the time this article was written, Musk, aged 51, proudly sits at the top of the list “Top 10 Richest People in the World”. Decorated with a myriad of achievements that pave the way for a brighter future, from revolutionising the electric automobile industry with Tesla’s futuristic electric cars to improving the accessibility of space travel to the public with Inspiration4, the futurist’s past is also worth revisiting, as his humble beginnings will surely inspire you.
On the 28th of June, 1971, Maye Musk, a model and dietician, gave birth to Elon Musk in Pretoria, South Africa. He may just have been like every other kid— playful and cheeky; but what really set him apart from the others was his curiosity to learn. At the mere age of 10, Musk learnt a six-month course about the BASIC programming language within the span of three days. While other children were playing with Lego blocks and running around the playground, this curious little boy was equipping himself with an important skill that would later play an important role in paving the way of his career path.
There is no denying that Musk’s successful career can be attributed to his great knowledge, curiosity and most importantly, the awareness of it; for he played his cards right as a smart businessman. Rewinding back to the age of 12, Musk already began to sharpen his axe in making money as he developed a video game which he later sold its code for $500. Surely, this boy knew exactly what he was doing.
During an interview with the Rolling Stone, when talking about his upbringing, Musk said “I just had a housekeeper who was there to make sure I didn’t break anything. She wasn’t, like, watching me. I was off making explosives and reading books and building rockets and doing things that could have gotten me killed. I’m shocked that I have all my fingers. I was raised by books. Books, and then my parents.” It is evident that Musk, today, isn’t that different from the child he was back then; in fact, he is still a kid at heart, just with greater aspirations, resources and money. Founder of a space technology company that aims to design innovative space vehicles which can one day realise his dream of colonising Mars, Musk’s company, SpaceX, has achieved commendable breakthroughs in the space industry by driving innovation and breaking barriers (it designed a fully reusable rocket known as the Falcon 9). And it shows no signs of slowing down.
Another notable part of his statement in the Rolling Stone interview is the last sentence: “I was raised by books. Books, and then my parents.” From this, we can see the profound impact of books in Musk’s childhood because it shaped his thoughts and provided him with an abundance of knowledge. Above all, the great heights that he has soared and reached today is testament to the power of knowledge and where it has led him today, in life.
However, it is also interesting to note that books had a greater influence on him than his parents, as this meant that simple yet vital lessons one might be taught by their parents during his or her upbringing, such as mannerisms and respect, might not have fully been absorbed by him. This may explain why Musk’s behaviour today is not always condoned by the public. Additionally, this could have also been the reason why Musk was bullied as a child, though the proper reason is unknown. There was even an instance, when Musk was shoved down the stairs by a group of boys and had to be hospitalised.
After high school, Musk went on to further his education at Queen’s University, Canada but later transferred to the prestigious University of Pennsylvania where he majored in Economics and Physics. As a self-funded student, he had to find ways to earn money and stay afloat financially. One of the crazy things that Musk did was rent a big fraternity house and turn it into a nightclub. Miraculously, the money that he earned was sufficient to cover a month of rent!
While Musk worked hard and focused diligently in his studies, he also kick started his career by creating his first ever startup, Zip2, which was an important stepping stone for his later success. Nevertheless, along the way during senior year, he caught feelings for a certain junior named Jennifer Gwynne and they spent a year together as a couple before Musk went on to Stanford University where he dropped out after just two days.
Part 3: Rise of Elon Musk’s Career
If there was a graph to represent the beginning of Musk’s career, it would be an exponential graph.
During the creation of his first startup, Zip2, things moved very slowly, as the beginnings usually do. Musk, the boss of his own company, had to sleep on the office’s couch and use the bathroom at a local YMCA. As Otto Lilienthal once said, “small sacrifices must be made”. However, as he persisted with developing this startup, some investors and clients eventually took interest in it; and that was when revenue began rolling in. By the time Musk was 27, he had sold his first startup for $307 million. Never settling for less, Musk then embarked on his next business endeavour by using his earnings from Zip2 to start a new financial services company, X.com, which would later on become PayPal as we know it today. It was bought over by eBay in 2002 for $1.5 billion.
At this point, the sky was the limit for Elon Musk. Moving on from his two startups, Musk began to dream bigger and bring his futuristic ideas to life, one of which was electric cars (According to his ex-girlfriend Jennifer, Musk always talked about electric cars during his UPenn days). Contrary to popular belief, Tesla was originally founded by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning in 2003. Musk only came into the picture when he became its CEO in 2008, after years of being the company’s biggest shareholder, also known as the company’s biggest fan. Beginning with the release of the Roadster sports car, Tesla improved on its innovative designs as it steered towards its mission of sustainable transport and energy. As of 2021, the Model 3, which has probably caught your attention on the roads before, was the world’s best selling electric car, as it accumulated to 1 million units of global sales.
The Failures of Elon Musk’s Twitter Takeover
In April 2022, Elon Musk found himself wrapped up in controversy as he announced his plans to acquire Twitter after beginning to purchase the company’s shares in January. Following the purchases, the entrepreneur was offered to be a part of Twitter’s board of directors.
On April 14th 2022, Musk made an offer of $44 billion to buyout the company which led to a whirlwind of discussion and discourse from the public. The conversations could be seen from opposite ends of the stick. Some were delighted by the news, hoping for good changes to be brought toward the social platform. Others were outraged, Twitter was already good as it was, the acquisition just seemed like a jump for monetary benefit by the Tesla co-owner.
Despite the varying opinions of the public, disagreements with the company and a lawsuit, the multi-billionaire successfully acquired and became the new CEO of Twitter in October 2022. These hurdles were only a sneak peek into the challenges and problems that the company and Musk were going to face in the future.
Despite Elon Musk’s promises to prioritise freedom of speech after his takeover of Twitter, it seemed like restrictions were tightened rather than loosened.
As many feared, the buyout resulted in an increase of hate speech by extremists as well as the usage of racial and derogatory slurs. While this could showcase that restrictions were reduced, the previous guidelines were able to create a safe space for user experience.
While many took to the platform itself to express their dissatisfaction and criticisms of these changes, they quickly learned what Elon actually meant by “freedom of speech”.
A handful of Twitter users started getting their accounts suspended due to “hateful conduct” after they posted tweets regarding Elon Musk’s changes to the platform. Not only that, those who hinted at their dislike towards the new CEO through their tweets were also banned from the site or forced to delete their tweets.
“Kinda weird that one dude gets to decide if like a billion of us can communicate or not.” was what Zack Bornstein tweeted before being requested to erase the comment due to violating the new rules of Twitter. While most of the accounts were unsuspended after appealing to the platform, many questioned if this would be the new norm for Twitter.
These accounts were not the only ones affected by suspensions after Musk’s Twitter takeover. While many accounts which were previously banned were taken out of “Twitter jail” by Musk, many were also added into this so-called imprisonment.
A major event which could showcase the significance of this occurrence, is the mass suspension of journalists on Twitter. In June 2020, a Twitter account by the name of @ElonJet was created by Jack Sweeney (a computer programmer from Central Florida) with the goal of tracking Elon Musk’s usage of his private jet. Although, the suspension of the ElonJet account was with good reason as it endangered the safety of Musk, the suspensions of mere journalists who only reported on the content were uncalled for.
A total of ten journalists were suspended from the platform temporarily after reporting on the issue of Twitter and Elon himself. Musk later clarified that the bans were due to the violations of the new policy of Twitter that disallows users from publishing “live location information” of an individual. However, as journalists, it is a part of their jobs to provide the most honest truth to the public. This caused many to question Musk’s decisions, and if they were to protect his safety or to abuse his power in censorship on Twitter.
One of the major changes of Twitter after Elon Musk’s takeover is the reintroduction of Twitter Blue to the platform. Twitter Blue was first announced in 2021 as a subscription service for Twitter users prior to Elon Musk’s takeover. Later on in November 2022, Elon Musk relaunched the program with more refined and drastic features. These features include, the ability to edit tweets, the ability to sort bookmarks into folders among others, which received praise from users. However, with the increase in price and the other features left avid Twitter users scratching their heads.
Primarily, the new Twitter Blue introduced the verification of its subscribers. This new feature ignited heated discussions on the platform from its users. Many believed that the new implementation defeated the original purpose of the verification badge. This meant that anyone who paid for the service could act as someone else, be it celebrities or influencers. It also resulted in other prominent figures losing their verification, which would previously ensure that these individuals would not be impersonated.
Initially, the verifications were sorted and differentiated between users who purchased the subscriptions and users who had the verification badge previously. The checkmarks had three verifications, blue for Twitter Blue subscribers, grey for official government accounts and gold for prominent business and company accounts.
These rules were then changed in April 2023, birthing more controversy among Twitter users. The segmentations of verifications were abolished and only Twitter Blue users would be able to keep their verification status. Business accounts were then required to pay a hefty fee to maintain their verified checkmarks. This caused a flurry of disappointed users, especially celebrities and businesses who would lose their verification.
This backlash ultimately resulted in the platform to reinstate the verification badge for certain celebrities without pay. However, this only led to more dissatisfied exclaims as these celebrities were listed as active subscribers of Twitter Blue. Many users accused the platform as falsely advertising the service, causing an increase of distrust between the users and the platform once again.
Mass Layoffs and Resignation of Employees
Following the acquisition of Twitter by Elon Musk in October 2022, a large number of employees were laid off from their jobs at the company. This was due to Musk’s visions to cut costs of the business.
The layoffs extended to the international headquarters of the company, with employees finding out about their new employment statuses through various outlets. Some were informed via formal email while others were surprised by the news when they were unable to log into their work accounts. This inconsiderate way of “cost-cutting” by the new owner left a flurry of outrage by those outside of the company as well.
Soon after, Musk delivered an ultimatum to the remaining staff via email, stating that he expects high commitment from the staff and to prepare themselves for “extremely hardcore” work. Those who felt that they were personally incapable of following through were requested to leave the company. Following this, many employees handed in their resignation letters, leaving the company in shambles as notable employees decided to end their time at Twitter.
Later on in April 2023, Musk revealed that the number of employees in the business after his takeover had been reduced from 8000 to about 1500. This shocking number piled on with the other controversies concerning the Elon Musk Twitter takeover, has ultimately led to Elon’s abrupt ending as Twitter’s CEO.
In December 2022, Musk took to Twitter to ask users if he should step down from the CEO position via poll. A sum of 17.5 million users took part in the poll and the results showed an agreement for the Tesla owner to resign. Thus, in May 2023, Elon Musk formally stepped down from the position as CEO and appointed Linda Yaccarino as the next in line.
Despite the lawsuits filed against Tesla or the colossal amount of criticism on Musk’s leadership style at Twitter, the fact still remains that Musk’s career has positively impacted the lives of many today, and the future as well.
Tesla has accelerated the transition from gas-powered vehicles to electric vehicles (EV’s), drastically reducing the carbon dioxide emissions contributed by the transport industry, and has paved a path in the development of electric vehicles where we now see a rise in successful EV companies such as China’s BYD (Build Your Dreams) which makes affordable EV’s. Furthermore, SpaceX has reduced the previously costly price of space travel and improved its accessibility through its space vehicles, and introduced Starlink satellites which aims to form a global network that delivers broadband Internet to all regions, including rural areas. When the telecommunications network of Ukraine was disrupted during the invasion of Russia, a Ukrainian politician tweeted to request Musk to send in his Starlink satellite services, and it was done.
As for Twitter, it may seem difficult to see the silver lining of this cloud but given Musk’s successes at SpaceX and Tesla, it is clear that he has the potential to bring even this social media company, Twitter, to greater heights; but for now, he has to put away his troll behaviour, roll up his sleeves and fix the mess he has caused, because Twitter is in deep trouble. Musk may have once been painted as a hero after working his way up the ladder in his career, but the Twitter turmoil has caused his reputation to spiral and the future of Elon Musk does not look so bright.
Written by: Trezshur and Caitlin
Edited by: Poorani