PORTRAIT. Elon Musk: SpaceX, Tesla, Twitter… how the wealthy businessman made his fortune

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Born in South Africa, became at less than 50 years the richest man on the planet, who is really Elon Musk? The SpaceX and Tesla boss just got his hands on Twitter. Back on his journey.

With Jeff Bezos the founder of Amazon, Mark Zuckerberg the creator of Facebook or Bill Gates at the origin of Microsoft, he is one of the most famous business owners in the world. Elon Musk is the richest. With an estimated fortune of $188.5 billion*, he became the richest man in the world in 2021. At 49 years old.

For young Elon, it all started in 1971 in Pretoria, South Africa. Her father is a wealthy South African property developer who became the owner of an emerald mine in Zambia, her mother is a Canadian model and nutritionist. When she was 8, her parents divorced. The story goes that young Elon read two books a day and sold a video game program called Blastar for $500 when he was 12 years old. At 17, he left for Canada to study and obtained a diploma in administration. Four years later, departure for the United States to study physics and economics**. His father having cut him off, he worked on the sidelines of his studies in Canada and obtained a scholarship in the United States.

Elon Musk in 1994 when he was a student in Pennsylvania in the United States.
Photo MaxPPP

PayPal, the origin of his fortune

In 1995, Elon Musk founded his first company. Zip2 is a software company enabling media to grow on the internet. Computer giant Compaq bought it four years later for $341 million. Elon Musk then launched one of the first online banks: X.com. A few months later, it was acquired by its direct competitor to form PayPal, which allows individuals to exchange money. The sale brings him 180 million dollars.

SpaceX, the space adventure

In the early 2000s, Elon Musk found that NASA lacked ambition. So he founded the company SpaceX. Year after year, SpaceX develops and produces space launch vehicles, reusable rockets, a cargo ship with the ambition to eventually make the colonization of the planet Mars possible. Since 2012, SpaceX has been supplying the International Space Station. And nine years later, it was one of Elon Musk’s launchers, Falcon 9, which sent Thomas Pesquet to the ISS. On the sidelines of SpaceX, Elon Musk launched the Starlink project, a fleet of satellites in orbit intended to provide internet access to any place on Earth.

Elon Musk, founder of Space X, in Berlin, December 1, 2020.

Elon Musk, founder of Space X, in Berlin, December 1, 2020.
Photo MaxPPP

Tesla, the adventure of the electric car

In 2004, Elon Musk made the choice to enter the capital of the car manufacturer Tesla. The electric car, he firmly believes in it. Becoming president of Tesla at the end of the 2000s, he launched an electric sports car before offering an electric sedan on the car market. We have to wait until 2018 for the launch of the Tesla Model 3, a model sold around €50,000, much more accessible at the time than the competition.

A Tesla electric vehicle at a charging station in California on September 12, 2022.

A Tesla electric vehicle at a charging station in California on September 12, 2022.
Photo MaxPPP

Hyperloop, the subsonic train adventure

In 2012, Elon Musk chose to invest in passenger transport. He imagined a subsonic TGV capable of transporting passengers and goods at 1200 km/h in raised capsules thanks to air cushions. The company is called Hyperloop. A test track is planned in Texas. A research and development center is installed at Toulouse-Francazal airport with around thirty engineers in 2018. The announced test track does not ultimately see the light of day. This week the Hyperloop test tunnel at SpaceX headquarters in California was quietly dismantled. Last summer, Time wrote that Elon Musk’s only real goal with Hyperloop was to cancel the TGV project in California***.

A Hyperloop tube at Toulouse-Francazal airport, November 22, 2021.

A Hyperloop tube at Toulouse-Francazal airport, November 22, 2021.
Photo DDM archives, Laurent Dard

Twitter, the adventure of social networks

An avid Twitter user, Elon Musk first thought of creating a competing network, but finally decided to buy back 9.2% of the shares at the start of 2022. In the spring, he filed an offer to buy all the shares. Twitter sees it as a hostile takeover and activates a protection mechanism. The businessman offers an extraordinary price of 44 billion dollars. A controversy over the many fake accounts on Twitter and the financing of the takeover arose during the summer. At the end of October, Elon Musk finally buys Twitter for 44 billion and fires the leaders.

Telon Musk bought Twitter for $44 billion.

Telon Musk bought Twitter for $44 billion.
Photo MaxPPP

Behavior that detonates

Its investments – and those less known as artificial intelligence and neural implants – allow to know its centers of interest. Impulsive, provocative (he proposed on Twitter to Vladimir Putin “a man-to-man fight”), sure of being right, without limits or taboos, suffering from Asperger’s syndrome, Elon Musk shakes up the codes and clashes with his behavior in business. He relies on a small circle of about ten people including his younger brother Kimbal who approve of his decisions and carry out his orders, details the New York Times****.

Among the causes close to Elon Musk’s heart: libertarianism, a political philosophy according to which a just society must protect the freedom of each individual who must be able to enjoy maximum freedom. Hence his desire to give more freedom on Twitter. The businessman is worried about global warming despite his many private jet trips. Recently, he said he was concerned about the decline in the birth rate which, according to him, could make our civilization disappear.

Father of ten children

But who is the man behind the businessman? He is first of all the father of… ten children! Her first child died suddenly at the age of ten weeks. He had six children with Canadian novelist Justine Wilson. The couple divorced in 2008 after eight years of marriage. In 2010, he married British actress Taulah Riley. The couple divorced in 2012, married again in 2013 and divorced again in 2016. In 2017, Elon Musk lived with American actress Amber Heard, ex-girlfriend of actor Johnny Depp. A year later, he is dating Canadian singer Grimes The couple have two children. The relationship ends in 2021. That same year, his new companion, Canadian Shivon Zilis, gives birth to twins.

Jack of all trades, both adored and hated, brutal in his methods at Twitter in recent days, but at the origin of advances in many technological sectors, Elon Musk remains without a doubt one of the most talented businessmen of his generation.

* Estimate by US news agency Bloomberg in January 2021
** “Elon Musk: the entrepreneur who will change the world” by Ashlee Vance, Eyrolles editions
*** The article of Time is to be read in English by clicking here.
*** The article of New York Times is to be read in International mail by clicking here.

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