Is he a menace, or a force for good?
What do his critics say?
The 50-year-old multi-squillionaire and self-styled “Technoking” of Tesla is a monster to work for, says Business Insider, routinely exploding at underlings and rage-sacking workers. Ahead of weekly executive meetings, attendees are said to joke about Musk’s lunch plans. “Who would he be devouring this week?”
How bad can it get?
On one occasion, when things weren’t going smoothly at one of his factories, he called a group of engineers into a conference room, told them their work was “complete s” and asked that they each tell him “who the f you are and what the f*** you’re doing to fix my goddamn [assembly] line”. One engineer quit on the spot. But if he demands a lot from his workers, at least he’s there in the trenches with them. He once told someone who was annoying him at a Tesla factory: “You know, I could be drinking mai tais with naked supermodels, but instead I’m here with you.”
What’s he like online?
He’s a prolific troll, tweeting from his “porcelain throne” (the loo) and taking pot shots at everyone from world leaders to fellow billionaires. He challenged Vladimir Putin to single combat over the fate of Ukraine. When the 80-year-old US senator Bernie Sanders tweeted that the rich should pay more tax, Musk replied: “I keep forgetting you’re still alive.” Suspecting that Bill Gates was betting against Tesla stock, Musk posted an unflattering picture of the Microsoft founder, captioned: “in case u need to lose a boner fast.” But Musk’s trolling has a darker side. He infamously called a British diver helping to rescue schoolchildren trapped in a cave in Thailand a “pedo guy” – then spent $50,000 on a private detective to try to dig up dirt on him.
What about his private life?
He has seven children and has been married three times, to two women. His first wife, Justine, mother of twins and then triplets, later accused him of trying to turn her into a trophy wife. “No matter how many highlights I got, Elon pushed me to be blonder.” Musk then married, divorced, remarried, then re-divorced his second wife, English actress Talulah Riley. He then briefly dated barmy actress Amber Heard while she was on a break from her turbulent marriage to Johnny Depp. Despite gruelling work schedules, the couple allegedly found time to have a threesome with barmy English model Cara Delevingne. And Musk is now in a “fluid” relationship with barmy pop star Grimes, with whom he has two children, X Æ A-XII and Exa Dark Sideræl.
Family aside, he seems to have little time for anything other than work, routinely putting in 120-hour weeks. He says he spent his 47th birthday fixing robots alone at the Tesla factory, “all night – no friends, nothing”. There were rumours he once attended a Silicon Valley sex party “wearing a black armour-like costume adorned with silver spikes and chains”, according to Brotopia, a book about California tech nerds. But when the New York Post asked about it, a Tesla rep said Musk left early, and that “his impression was that it was a corporate party with a costume theme”.
So he isn’t just another flashy billionaire?
Far from it. Last year, Musk announced he was “selling almost all physical possessions”, including his $100m-plus property portfolio. Though he’s held on to his $70m private jet – he finds it “convenient” – he mostly couch-surfs or stays in a tiny, $50,000 prefab home in Texas which he rents from SpaceX. “If I travel to the Bay Area, which is where most of Tesla’s engineering is,” he says, “I basically rotate through friends’ spare bedrooms.” There’s something endearing about a man worth $252bn eschewing the “usual accessories of wealth”, says India Knight in The Sunday Times, but it’s a bit rich to expect people to give you a bed. “Musk’s poor friends! I imagine him gaily ringing the doorbell and standing there with his backpack going, ‘Only me! I’ve come to stay for a while!’”
What has he achieved?
He single-handedly turned electric vehicles from an unloved industrial backwater reserved for hippies and milkmen into the undisputed future of automotives. And he did it in the best way possible, says Ezra Klein in The New York Times: “He made electric cars awesome.” He’s reinvigorated interest in space, this time by making rockets “more awesome” (and more affordable). He’s made huge investments in solar energy and battery innovation and co-founded OpenAI, “the most public-spirited” of the big artificial intelligence firms. Long-term, he’s also obsessed with building sustainable human colonies on Mars, to make human life “interplanetary” in case something goes catastrophically wrong here on Earth. He’s not in any rush, but his ultimate plan is to die on the red planet. “Just not on impact.”
🤳🇨🇳 Progressives sent into paroxysms of stress over Musk’s purchase of Twitter need to reassess their priorities, says Finn McRedmond in The Irish Times. Twitter gets just over 200 million active users on a good day; TikTok has 600 million in China alone and was the most downloaded app in 2021. And here’s the scary part: TikTok’s parent company is ByteDance, a Chinese firm subject to Chinese law and, therefore, in the bailiwick of the Chinese government. TikTok is known to censor mentions of Tiananmen Square and Tibetan independence. One 17-year-old was booted off the app for mentioning the Uighurs. So why the conniptions about Twitter? “One of these companies is in the purview of a genocidal regime that actively censors its own citizens and disallows dissent. And the other one isn’t. Let’s make sure we’re angry about the right one.”