Thoughts of moving to Mars and mapping tough distances in a fraction of seconds never seemed so realistic and achievable- thanks to one of the greatest living inventors of our times, Elon Musk whose vision and drive to take humanity forward is inspiring! Elon Musk is that genius who is bringing extraordinary revolution in the space of start-ups through his innovations.
Born on 28 June 1971 in Pretoria, South Africa, Elon Reeve Musk spent his early childhood in South Africa. The child prodigy showed an interest in computers from the age of 10 and just two years later taught himself computer programming languages. His first ever creation was a video game called ‘Blaster’ which he sold for $500 dollars at the age of 12. At the age of 17, he moved to Canada to pursue higher education. From there he headed to Stanford University to pursue Ph.D. in energy physics. It was while attending Stanford University, he dropped out to find his first company, Zip2 in 1995. He then went on to create PayPal, which he later sold to eBay. Using the profits from selling these first two companies, Elon Musk created Tesla Motors and SpaceX - companies which exemplify innovation by creating revolutionary products like, electric cars, rockets, and private spacecrafts. Musk is currently the CEO of both the companies and also acts as Chief Technology Officer for SpaceX and product architect for Tesla Inc.
Musk’s impressive portfolio doesn’t close here; Musk’s deep interest in Artificial Intelligence led him to co-chair one non-profit research company ‘OpenAI’ with the mission of advancing digital intelligence to benefit humanity. Additionally, Musk also supports a venture called Neuralink, which intends to create devices to be implanted in the human brain and help people merge with the software. He’s also parallelly working for ‘Hyperloop’ and ‘The Boring Company’ which if successful will usher a new dawn. Musk recently tweeted that ‘Godot’ the tunnel boring machine has just completed its first tunnel segment!
With his Juggernautish appeal, he is already taking world into his stride and bringing revolutionary disruptions. As of March 2017, he has an estimated net worth of $13.9 billion, making him the 80th wealthiest person in the world. In December 2016, Musk was ranked 21st on Forbes list of The World's Most Powerful People.
Some of his incredible ventures
- Zip 2 – In 1995, Musk and his brother started Zip2, a web software company and developed and marketed an Internet "city guide" for the newspaper publishing industry.
- X.com and PayPal – In March 1999, Musk co-founded X.com, an online financial service and email payment company, from the sale of Zip2. One year later, the company merged with Confinity which had a money transfer service called PayPal. The merged company was later renamed as PayPal in 2001. The same was later sold to eBay.
- Tesla – Founded in 2003, the company is dedicated to producing affordable, mass-market electric cars. This automaker and sustainable-energy company acquired SolarCity in 2016, to create a carbon-emissions-free world. Tesla builds fantastic electric cars that are compared with Benz and Lamborghini. In April 2017, it was announced that Tesla had surpassed General Motors to become the most valuable U.S. car maker.
- SpaceX – Founded in 2002, it is the first private company to launch a rocket to earth orbit and return to Earth. Musk started it with the goal of reducing space transportation costs and enabling the colonization of Mars. He wants to establish a space colony of 80,000 on Mars by 2040, envisioning it as an alternative to potential extinction on this planet.
- Hyperloop – Currently he is working on a high-speed transportation system known as the Hyperloop, which is supposed to transport people from one place to another in low-pressure tubes, using electromagnetic fields for fuelling the motion.
- The Boring Company – To solve the problem of soul-destroying traffic, Musk founded this company in 2016. The idea is to dig tunnels many levels deep to fix the problem of congestion.
Managing so many responsibilities is not easy and requires an extraordinary concoction of intellect, grit, passion and leadership abilities. And through the many successes and many more failures, Musk has demonstrated some interesting qualities which make him truly incredible. Let’s look at some of those traits which make Musk stand out in the crowd:
A leader with a purpose
What sets Musk apart from others is his vision to change the world and making it a better place for humanity. Some of his goals include reducing global warming through sustainable energy production and consumption (SolarCity and Tesla), and reducing the "risk of human extinction" by "making life multiplanetary" by setting up a human colony on Mars (SpaceX). Besides his extraordinary intellect it’s his will and ability to lead others in a way that they also believe in his vision and strive to transform his vision into a reality. His dedication to pursue his vision has inspired a generation of young engineers to work at his companies and believe in a shared vision.
Musk typically works tirelessly over one hundred hours a week, which leads to expression at SpaceX, “No matter how hard you work, someone else is working harder,” and that someone is Musk. As a result, employees of SpaceX and Tesla Motors are known to take initiatives, work extremely hard, innovate and deliver results within in tight schedule.
Musk is extremely task-focused and wants everyone to be 100% on board with his vision. He is known to set short deadlines with tight budgets and doesn't accept failure. He demands the best from every member of his teams and himself.
Problem solver and innovator
Most of Musk’s inventions are guided by his will to solve some of the big problems facing people. For an instance, he created Paypal because it was a problem waiting in lines to make payments and it took too long. Similarly, facing enormous traffic on his way to office gave birth to an idea of Hyperloop. Most of his current companies are cutting edge engineering firms, which solve difficult problems that no one else is taking on. When he sees a problem in his daily life, he doesn't just see it as a problem, he thinks about the opportunities he can do to solve that problem, and not only does he think about the solutions, he ensures that those solutions are implemented.
Musk and risk-taking go hand in hand! He has shown immense courage by launching an entirely new range of products in the market with minimal back-up. There were times when both Tesla and SpaceX were on the verge of failing and going bankrupt. But his courage and belief turned things in his favor.
Another compelling aspect about Musk is his underlying passion for contributing to society because of which he never hesitates to share his knowledge even with his competitors; he allowed other automobile manufacturers to freely make use of Tesla’s valuable battery technology to facilitate the use of clean energy.
In his own words, “If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal. Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology."
Musk has been fairly successful so far however fame and success do not come easy and it requires enormous efforts to maintain it. While managing his companies, Musk also encountered few hiccups which invited criticisms and apprehensions. It is often said that Musk’s big ambitions for Tesla put factory workers under considerable stress. Tesla delivered 80,000 cars in 2016 and would like to deliver 500,000 cars in 2018 which is bombastically ambitious and will demand huge efforts from everyone. Working conditions in the plant have been described as very difficult. A recent Worksafe report has analyzed the injury rates at Tesla’s flagship vehicle plant in Fremont, California and found them to be 31 percent higher than the industry average. In addition to that, the rate of serious injuries at the plant was found to be almost double (7.9 as against the industry average of 3.9) that of the overall industry which was alarming.
In response to the report, Musk stated that reducing excess overtime and improving safety are extremely important and that is why they hired thousands of additional team members to create a third shift, which has reduced the burden on everyone and that the injury rates have declined in the first quarter of 2017. Apart from the issues related to working conditions, recently there were allegations of discrimination and harassment owing to which Tesla’s HR head Arnnon Geshuri had to move out. It is a good sign that Musk is now addressing such issues more openly and taking appropriate actions, however, such efforts should happen in a sustained manner where employees and their well-being are kept at the core of every decision.
Elon Musk is one of the most talented entrepreneurs and innovative leaders of today’s world. He has achieved many accolades that many people just dream of. He has won many prestigious awards and he has been featured in films and TV shows; it is said that Robert Downey Jr. took huge inspiration from Elon Musk in preparation for his character as the successful billionaire and superhero Tony Stark/Iron Man. Elon Musk is interestingly called as ‘Real-life Iron Man’.
He is a visionary who is holding on to his belief tight and putting his maximum to get there. His passion, his persistence, and ability to not give up in the face of failures make him incredibly fascinating and inspiring -one can simply choose to love him or hate him but certainly cannot ignore him!
(Note: The sketches have been created by the author.)