Elon Musk

elon musk

Elon Musk (b. 1971) is a Canadian-American designer, business magnate and inventor. He is currently the CEO & CTO of SpaceX, a space transport company headquartered in Hawthorne, California, and CEO & Chief Product Architect of Silicon Valley carmaker Tesla Motors. He co-founded SpaceX in 2002 and e-commerce pioneer PayPal in 1998, and joined Tesla in 2004.

Musk was born in South Africa to a Canadian mother and an South African-born British father. Elon taught himself computer programming and at age 12 sold the computer code for a video game called ‘Blastar’ for $500. He graduated from Pretoria Boys High School and moved to Canada in 1988 at the age of 17, after obtaining Canadian citizenship through his mother. He did so in advance of his South African military service because he concluded it would be easier to emigrate to the US from Canada than from South Africa.

In 1992, after spending two years at Queen’s School of Business in Kingston, Ontario, Musk transferred to the University of Pennsylvania where he received a bachelor’s degree in economics from the Wharton School and a second bachelor’s degree in physics a year later. He moved to California to pursue a Ph.D. in applied physics at Stanford but left the program after two days to pursue his entrepreneurial aspirations in the areas of the Internet, renewable energy and outer space. In 2002, he was naturalized an American citizen.

His first venture was Zip2, a web software company he started in 1995 with his brother Kimbal. The company developed and marketed an Internet ‘city guide’ for the newspaper publishing industry. The company obtained contracts with ‘The New York Times’ and the ‘Chicago Tribune’ and persuaded the board of directors to abandon plans for a merger with a company called CitySearch. Compaq acquired Zip2 for US$307 million in cash and US$34 million in stock options in 1999. Musk received 7% or $22 million from the sale.

In 1999, Musk co-founded X.com, an online financial services and e-mail payment company. One year later, the company merged with Confinity, which operated a subsidiary called PayPal. PayPal and X.com each had a person-to-person email-based payment system. The original intent was to merge the two systems, but it never happened. Many of the PayPal employees were later dubbed the ‘PayPal Mafia’ when they moved on to notable careers at other technology companies (including LinkedIn, YouTube, and Yelp). 

Elon strongly favored the PayPal brand over the X brand. After initially co-branding PayPal with the X brand, including making X.com a subdomain of PayPal he moved to officially remove the X.com brand for good. Following this, the board appointed former PayPal founder Peter Thiel as interim CEO. PayPal’s early growth was due in large part to a successful viral growth campaign created by Musk. In 2002, it was acquired by eBay for US$1.5 billion in stock, of which $165 million went to Musk. Before its sale, Musk, the company’s largest shareholder, owned 11.7% of the company.

Musk founded his third company, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), in 2002 and is the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Technical Officer of the Hawthorne-based company. SpaceX develops and manufactures space launch vehicles with a focus on advancing the state of rocket technology. The company’s first two launch vehicles are the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rockets and its first spacecraft is Dragon. SpaceX was awarded a $1.6 billion NASA contract in late 2008, for 12 flights of their vehicles to the International Space Station, replacing the Space Shuttle after it retired in 2011. Initially, Falcon 9/Dragon will replace the cargo transport function of the Shuttle and astronaut transport will be handled by the Soyuz. However, SpaceX has designed Falcon 9/Dragon with astronaut transport in mind and the Augustine commission has recommended that astronaut transport be handled by commercial companies like SpaceX.

Musk has stated that he was influenced by Isaac Asimov’s ‘Foundation’ series, and views space exploration as an important step in expanding—if not preserving—the consciousness of human life. Musk has said that multiplanetary life may serve as a hedge against threats to the survival of the human species. ‘An asteroid or a super volcano could destroy us, and we face risks the dinosaurs never saw: An engineered virus, inadvertent creation of a micro black hole, catastrophic global warming or some as-yet-unknown technology could spell the end of us. Humankind evolved over millions of years, but in the last sixty years atomic weaponry created the potential to extinguish ourselves. Sooner or later, we must expand life beyond this green and blue ball—or go extinct.’

He had plans for a ‘Mars Oasis’ project in 2001, which would land a miniature experimental greenhouse on Mars, containing food crops growing on Martian regolith. He put this project on hold when he came to the conclusion that the fundamental problem preventing humanity from becoming a true spacefaring civilization was the lack of advancement in rocket technology. He has sought to address this by founding SpaceX to create revolutionary new interplanetary rockets. Musk’s goal is to reduce the cost of human spaceflight by a factor of 10. He founded SpaceX with $100 million of his early fortune.

In seven years, SpaceX designed the family of Falcon launch vehicles and the Dragon multi-purpose spacecraft from the ground up. In 2009, SpaceX’s Falcon 1 rocket became the first privately funded liquid-fuelled vehicle to put a satellite into Earth orbit. In the coming years, Musk will focus on delivering astronauts to the International Space Station, but has stated his personal goal of eventually enabling human exploration and settlement of Mars. In a 2011 interview, he said he hopes to send humans to Mars’ surface within 10–20 years. In 2012, the SpaceX Dragon vehicle docked with the ISS, making history as the first commercial company to launch and dock a vehicle to the ISS.

Tesla Motors was founded in 2003 by California entrepreneurs Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning. Musk came on as Chairman of the Board of Directors in eight months later. As a result of the financial crisis in 2008, Musk assumed the leadership of the company and currently serves as CEO and product architect. Tesla Motors’ first production vehicle, the Tesla Roadster, was an all-electric sports car introduced in 2006. In 2012, Tesla began delivery of its four-door Model S sedan and unveiled its third product, the Model X, aimed at the SUV/minivan market (slated for 2014). In addition to its own cars, Tesla sells electric powertrain systems to Daimler for the Smart EV and Mercedes A Class, and to Toyota for the upcoming electric RAV4. Musk was also able to bring in both companies as long-term investors in Tesla.

Musk has also discussed offering a sub-$30,000 subcompact and building and selling electric vehicle powertrain components so that other automakers can produce electric vehicles at affordable prices without having to develop the products in house. Several mainstream publications have compared him with Henry Ford for his work on advanced vehicle powertrains. To overcome the range limitations of electric cars, Musk said in a 2013 interview that Tesla is ‘dramatically accelerating’ their network of supercharger stations, tripling the number on the East and West coasts during the month of June, with plans for more expansion across North America, including Canada, throughout the year. He is reported to have a 32% stake in Tesla, which is valued at $18 billion. Musk’s annual salary at Tesla is one dollar, and similar to Steve Jobs and others, the remainder of his compensation is in the form of stock and performance-based bonuses.

In 2006, Musk provided the initial concept for SolarCity, a provider of energy services; the company designs, finances and installs solar energy systems, performs energy efficiency audits, and retrofits and builds charging stations for electric vehicles. He remains the largest shareholder and chairman of the board. SolarCity is the largest provider of solar power systems in the United States. His cousin Lyndon Rive is the CEO and co-founder. Musk has said that the underlying motivation for funding both SolarCity and Tesla is to help combat global warming. In 2012, Musk announced that SolarCity and Tesla Motors are collaborating to use electric vehicle batteries to smooth the impact of rooftop solar on the power grid.

In 2013, Musk unveiled a proposal for a new form of transportation between Greater Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, after being disappointed with the approved California High-Speed Rail system. He named it ‘hyperloop,’ a hypothetical subsonic air travel machine that stretches approximately 350 miles (560 km) from Sylmar (a northern district of Los Angeles) to Hayward (east of San Francisco) and would theoretically allow commuters to travel between the cities in 30 minutes or less, providing a shorter traveling time than even a commercial airplane can currently provide. Musk’s proposal, if technologically feasible at his claimed costs, would be cheaper than any other mode of transport for such long distances. Musk estimated the total cost of the system at $6 billion, but this amount is very speculative. The system is proposed to use a partial vacuum to reduce aerodynamic drag, which it is theorized would allow for high speed travel with relatively low power, relying completely on solar energy.

Musk is chairman of the Musk Foundation, which focuses its philanthropic efforts on science education, pediatric health, and clean energy. He is a trustee of the X Prize Foundation, promoting renewable-energy technologies. He sits on the boards of The Space Foundation, The National Academies Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board, The Planetary Society, and Stanford Engineering Advisory Board. Musk is also a member of the board of trustees of the California Institute of Technology. 

He began a multi-million dollar program through his foundation in 2010 to donate solar-power systems for critical needs in disaster areas. The first such solar-power installation was donated to a hurricane response center in Alabama that had been neglected by state and federal aid. To make it clear that this was not serving Musk’s commercial interests, SolarCity noted that it had no present or planned business activity in Alabama. In a 2011 visit to Soma City in Fukushima, Japan, which had been devastated by tsunami, he donated a solar power project valued at $250,000 to this city.

Musk joined The Giving Pledge in 2012, offering an ethical commitment to donate the majority of his fortune to philanthropic causes. Musk became a member of the campaign first popularized by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates with a class of 12 of America’s wealthiest families and individuals, which included Arthur Blank and Michael Moritz.

Musk had been a supporter of the U.S. Political action committee FWD.us, which was started by fellow high-profile entrepreneur Mark Zuckerberg and advocates for immigration reform. However in 2013, Musk publicly withdrew his support in protest of advertisements the PAC was running that supported causes like the Keystone Pipeline. (it is common for PACs to support causes on both sides of the political spectrum in order to gain favor with lawmakers for the group’s primary cause.) Musk and other important members of the group, including David Sacks, pulled out of the organisation and criticized the strategy, calling it ‘cynical.’

Car blog ‘Jalopnik’ reported in 2012 that Musk was supporting an effort by Matthew Inman of ‘The Oatmeal’ webcomic to preserve the site of Nikola Tesla’s lab on Long Island, and turn it into a museum, the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe. Musk has described himself as a workaholic who sometimes invests up to 100 hours per week running Tesla Motors and SpaceX, often flying in a corporate jet. He has attended the Burning Man festival, and says that he first thought up the idea for SolarCity at the 2004 festival.

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