“How much does it cost ?” We are in 2017 and on Twitter, Elon Musk wonders about the price of the social network, which he loves. Five years later, the 50-year-old billionaire knows the answer: he announced on Monday April 25 that he was going to pay 44 billion dollars to rbuy 100% of the shares. After the stars (SpaceX), transport (Tesla, Hyperloop), infrastructure (The Boring Company), science (Neurolink) or cryptocurrencies, the man with a fortune estimated at 219 billion dollars (208 billion euros ), according to Forbes, therefore further expands his empire. On “a whim”argues the author of Elon Musk: the entrepreneur who will change the world (Eyrolles, 2017), Ashlee Vance, in Politico*.
“He usually follows his hunches, for better or for worse. It works out pretty well for him overall”portrays his biographer, who calls the billionaire “biggest risk taker in the world”. Nothing would be impossible in his eyes? Born June 28, 1971 in Pretoria (South Africa), son of a model and an engineer, grandson of an adventurer, Elon Musk lived in a wealthy environment, without barriers. “My dad used to say, ‘Live dangerously…be careful.’ He added: ‘There is nothing a Haldeman cannot do.’ That’s what I’ve always believed and I’ve probably shown it to my kids. Now it’s, ‘There’s nothing a Musk can’t do'”writes his mother, Maye Musk, in her memoirs A Woman Makes a Plan (PenguinLife, 2019).
Elon Musk was 18 when he flew to Canada with $2,500 in his pocket, as he tweeted. From Canada, he crosses the border and joins the prestigious University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia (USA), to study economics and physics, reports The World (paid item). But he is rather eyeing the West Coast and Silicon Valley, the epicenter of “tech” and innovation. The ideal place for those who confess to Challenges (paid item) : “I would not have never been able to create elsewhere what I did here.”
In California, he made a fortune thanks to the internet. He founds an online directory (Zip2) and a bank (X.com) which will lead to Paypal. In 2002, after eBay bought the payment service for $1.5 billion, Elon Musk hit the jackpot: $180 million. His fortune is made. He then embarked on the conquest of space with the ambition of revolutionizing everything. During a space show in 2005, he confidently declared to the leaders of Arianespace, ILS and Sea Launch: “In five years, you’re all dead.” His company Space X was then 3 years old. “Everyone laughed in his face and today, no one is laughing anymore”, remarks the astronaut Jean-François Clervoy, connoisseur of the sector who has carried out three flights in space for NASA. Even if his prediction did not entirely come true.
Elon Musk almost lost everything several times before dethroning Jeff Bezos on the list of the richest men in the world: SpaceX’s first three flights exploded, Tesla did not produce cars for two years and its bankruptcy has been repeatedly announced. “Entrepreneurship is a huge roller coaster, you can’t go all the way up without having gone all the way down”, analyzes Jade Le Maître, entrepreneur in robotics.
For Tesla, in which he invested in 2006, Elon Musk got wet, telling Business Insider* that he sometimes slept in his office. He doesn’t forget to say “thank you”. “Daimler invested $50 million in May 2009, which saved us. Without her, it would have been game over”, he reminds his shareholders in 2016. For SpaceX, he was able to count on NASA, while the American government wanted to save the costs of trips to the International Space Station (ISS). In December 2008, NASA allocated, on the basis of a first successful launch by SpaceX a little earlier in the year, 1.6 billion dollars to carry out twelve flights to the ISS.
“I’m incredibly indebted to NASA for supporting SpaceX when my rockets crashed. I’m NASA’s biggest fan”, thanks Elon Musk at the 2016 World Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara (Mexico). Chance or real know-how to create and seize opportunities? “In my opinion, you can’t reach your level without having succeeded in creating bonds of trust with the right people who allow you to realize your projects”, answers Nolwenn Germain, director of a consulting firm in innovation and marketing.
“Elon Musk likes to ‘disrupt’ the world, we must recognize that he manages to take the crowds with him, and that not everyone can do it, he knows how to make us dream.”Nolwenn Germain, director of an innovation and marketing consulting firm
Today, Tesla is posting a record $5.5 billion profit in 2021 and Space X has signed an exclusive $2.9 billion deal with NASA to send American astronauts to the moon.
But the return to reality can shatter some dreams, like this window of Tesla’s Cybertruck, presented as unbreakable by Elon Musk, and yet shattered by a steel ball.
Because the billionaire tends to promise very big, very early. At the risk of distorting reality. The Hyperloop, this super-fast public transport project in a depressurized tube? The first section designed near Los Angeles would cost at least ten times more than estimates given by Elon Musk in 2013, according to Forbes*. Neuralink, his human-machine interface project implanted in the brain? The company has never explained how the system could cure the ailments mentioned, from depression to insomnia.
“He’s someone who can afford to have whims, even if some come up against an impossible realization.”Jade Le Maître, general manager of a company specializing in robotics
This is nothing compared to its ultimate ambition: “create a self-sufficient city on Mars” and “allow humanity to become a space civilization”he explained to Time*. A project that has many obstacles in front of it. “It’s not insane in concept, says Jean-François Clervoy, but at the level of the calendar, it is totally. He promised in 2017 that he could send 40 people to Mars aboard Starship in 2024. His ship may become capable of this in the next few years, but other human factors will take much longer to master. “
This grandiloquence is also one of the reasons for its success. “He is caught in a gear. If he does not announce a new project or a new innovation every two or three months, he loses credibility”, considers Jade Le Maître. And if they don’t work, it doesn’t matter: “If it doesn’t work, he and all the people who accompany him will have learned things from it”, explains Nolwenn Germain. But it sometimes turns tragic, as for this dead Tesla driver and these 17 others injured between 2018 and 2021, in accidents involving “Autopilot”, Tesla’s automatic piloting system. The US Highway Traffic Safety Agency (NHTSA) opened an investigation last August.
It’s not Elon Musk’s only promise that has caught the eye of justice. In 2018, he claimed in a tweet that he had raised the funds to buy back all of Tesla’s shares at a price of $420 per share.
Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 7, 2018
The courses panic and the policeman of the American financial markets attack it in justice. He ultimately determines he lied, reports Bloomberg*: he didn’t have the funds. He will justify this tweet, which shook Wall Street, in an interview with New York Times*, claiming to be exhausted due to the difficulties encountered by Tesla. Like Donald Trump, Elon Musk has found a playground in Twitter where the consequences of his actions can overwhelm him.
For many critics, Elon Musk’s plans will also not solve the problems they target. Worse, they could create others. The first underground tunnel of The Boring Company, supposed to reduce traffic jams, also experienced its traffic jams, as noted by the site Mashable*. And while the official site mentions emergency exits, it does not explain how the tunnel could be freed in the event of an accident or flood.
He who affirms in Rolling Stone* that climate change is “the greatest threat facing humanity in this century” is not to a contradiction: thus he proposes solutions based on space colonization and individual vehicles… far from the sobriety recommended by the IPCC. His plans, however, are consistent with his definition of freedom, namely “the greatest number of possible future actions”as he writes on Twitter.
This individualistic behavior is reflected in his relationships. Elon Musk is often described as impulsive and changeable. After his second divorce, he asked his biographer: “How much time a week should you devote to a woman?”, cited The world. These problems of empathy are also manifested through his management. “In the hall of SpaceX, there is this poster: ‘If you don’t come on Saturday, don’t come back on Monday'”, reports Jean-François Clervoy. The workaholic intends to apply his philosophy to all his employees, even if it means infringing on their rights: Tesla was thus condemned for having dismissed a unionist employee, reports the New York Times*. The company has also been targeted by complaints of racial discrimination and sexual harassment.
By buying Twitter, Elon Musk will be directly confronted with a myriad of new rules, different depending on the country and the platform. Will he know “unblock” the “tremendous potential” social network, like he wrote it*, while respecting them? “I don’t have all the answershe said to RollingStone. I try to find a set of actions (…) that is more likely to lead to a better future. If you have any suggestions on this, please let me know.” On a certain platform, millions of people have already answered the call.
* All links followed by an asterisk point to content in English.