Life and career biography of Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk

Kim Shiflett / NASA / Creative Commons 2.0

Elon Musk is one of the most well known Silicon Valley CEOs of all time, but many only know what makes the headlines about the Tesla executive. Dive deeper with Ladders into the life and career of Elon Musk.

Where is Elon Musk from?

pretoria south africa
SSchietekat / Shutterstock

Musk was born on June 28, 1971, making him 48-years-old at the time of publication. Musk was born in Pretoria, South Africa, where he lived until he moved to Canada at age 17. He holds South African, Canadian, and U.S. citizenship. As of 2019, he lives in Los Angeles, California.


Follow Ladders on Flipboard!

Follow Ladders’ magazines on Flipboard covering Happiness, Productivity, Job Satisfaction, Neuroscience, and more!


What is Elon Musk’s net worth* over the years?

September 2014: $10.3 billion

March 2015: $12 billion

September 2015: $13.3 billion

March 2016: $10.7 billion

October 2016: $11.6 billion

October 2017: $20.8 billion

March 2018: $19.9 billion

October 2018: $19.6 billion

March 2019: $22.3 billion

*According to Forbes

What is Elon Musk’s net worth in 2019?

Forbes last reported Elon Musk’s net worth to be $19.7 billion in July 2019.

When did Elon Musk reach millionaire/billionaire status?

Musk became a millionaire in 1999 at age 27 when he sold Zip2 (his web-software company) for over $340 million. With a 7% share of the company, Musk received $22 million for the deal.

He reached billionaire-status in 2012 at age 40, debuting on Forbes Billionaires List with a net worth of $2 billion. Musk’s estimated net worth was $680 million in October 2011. The jump had to do with Tesla Motors experiencing a 30% increase in stock price year over year. Tesla stock jumped when they introduced the Model X in February 2012. At the time, Musk’s 29% stake in Tesla was worth just over $1 billion.

Elon Musk’s career path

Zip2

 

Musk started his first company with his brother Kimbal in 1995 with money from a group of angel investors. The web software company developed and sold an Internet city guide for the newspaper publishing industry, gaining contracts with The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. Zip2 was acquired in February 1999 for $340 million.

X.com and PayPal

paypal
Ken Wolter / Shutterstock

Musk cofounded X.com in March 1999 using $10 million form the Zip2 sale. In 2000 the online financial services and e-mail payment company merged with Confinity, a company that had Paypal as a service. The company was renamed Paypal once the company decided to focus on that service. Musk was kicked out of his CEO role in October 2000. Paypal was acquired by eBay in October 2002 for $1.5 billion in stock. Musk received $165 million from the deal.

Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (aka SpaceX)

spacex
SpaceX

Musk decided to launch SpaceX when he attempted to buy a rocket but was told it would cost him $8 million. Seeing this as far too expensive, Musk started SpaceX in 2002 as a quest to develop and manufacture affordable space launch vehicles. SpaceX boasts to have completed more than 100 launches contracted, more than 6,000 employees, and three vehicles: the  Falcon, the Falcon Heavy, and the Dragon.

Musk remains the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Technology Officer of the company. The long-term goal of SpaceX is to make commercial space travel possible and relatively affordable.

SpaceX has had major achievements and pitfalls since its 2002 beginnings. Check them out here:

  1. SpaceX was awarded a contract from NASA to continue creation and testing of Falcon 9 and Dragon as cargo transport vehicles.
  2. In 2008, Falcon 1 became the first privately developed liquid-fuel rocket to reach Earth orbit.
  3. SpaceX was awarded a $1.6 billion commercial resupply services contract by NASA in 2008.
  4. In 2010 Dragon became the first privately developed spacecraft in history to reenter from low Earth orbit, making SpaceX the first privately funded company to successfully launch, orbit and recover a spacecraft.
  5. On May 25, 2012, the SpaceX Dragon vehicle became the first private spacecraft to visit the International Space Station. On October 7 Falcon 9 launches Dragon on a mission to bring 1,000 pounds of food and cargo to the astronauts on board.
  6. In October 2013, Grasshopper, a program announced in 2011 to create reusable rockets, completed a half-mile flight, hover, and landing. 
  7. Falcon 9 lands in the Atlantic Ocean, but is destroyed by heavy seas.
  8. Falcon 9 flies 1000 m (3,280 ft), completing the highest leap to date and lands safely.
  9. SpaceX awarded a $2.6 billion contract to fly American astronauts by NASA in 2014.
  10. In 2015 the Falcon 9 completed the first orbital-class land landing.
  11. On March 30, 2017, SpaceX completed the first re-flight of an orbital class rocket. Falcon 9 returned to Earth after the second time following the delivery of the payload.
  12. June 2017 saw the first Dragon re-flight.
  13. Falcon Heavy, the world’s most powerful operational rocket, launched in February 2018.
  14. Crew Dragon became the first American spacecraft to autonomously dock on the International Space Station on March 3, 2019.

Tesla

tesla s
Tesla

In February 2004 Musk led the Series A round of funding for Tesla, which was funded solely by cofounders Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning until that point. During this time, Musk joined Tesla’s board of directors as chairman.

Musk became CEO and product architect of Tesla after the financial crisis in 2008 when cofounder Martin Eberhard was ousted from the company.

In 2014 Musk announced that Tesla would release all of the company’s patents in an effort to fight climate change and advance sustainable transport.

Tesla has put four cars on the market: Model S, Model 3, Model X, and Model Y. The Tesla Roadster is expected to be released in 2020. Tesla also sells electric powertrain systems to Daimler and Toyota.

Musk ran into issues with the Securities and Exchange Commission (S.E.C.) after the organization accused him of lying. The trouble began on Aug. 7, 2018 when Musk tweeted that he was considering taking Tesla private and had the “funding secured” to do so. The S.E.C. subpoenaed Tesla, saying Musk’s tweet was “false and misleading.” The tweet sent Tesla’s stock price up, which benefitted investors. Because the deal never went through, those shareholders were harmed in the end.

The trouble continued on Feb. 19, 2019, when Musk tweeted conflicting numbers about the amount of cars Tesla would produce in 2019. Musk agreed to have more official oversight about his tweets involving Tesla. The S.E.C. investigated Musk further and came to a new agreement on April 26, 2019. According to the agreement, Tesla’s securities lawyer must now pre-approve any public, written communication involving Tesla.

SolarCity

solar city
Tesla

SolarCity was founded by Musk’s cousins, Lyndon, and Peter Rive, but the original concept and financial capital came from Musk himself. By 2013, seven years after the company’s founding, the company was the second largest provider of solar power in the country. In 2016, SolarCity was acquired by Tesla and remains a subsidiary of the company.

Hyperloop

Musk revealed the concept of Hyperloop, a high-speed transportation system, on August 12, 2013. Musk assigned 12 engineers from Tesla and SpaceX to create designs for the transportation system. The goal is to make transportation cheaper and more efficient.

While plans have been drawn and Musk announced in 2017 that he had received verbal government approval to build a Hyperloop on the East Coast, there has been no real moves to begin construction on a Hyperloop system.

OpenAI

Musk announced the creation of Open AI in December 2015. The not-for-profit artificial intelligence research company aims to create AI that will benefit all of humanity.

Neuralink

neuralink

Musk cofounded Neuralink in 2016. The neurotechnology startup company is working towards creating devices that will integrate the human brain with artificial intelligence. These devices will be implanted in the brain in hopes to help people keep pace with advancements in AI.

The Boring Company

The Boring Company
The Boring Company

The Boring Company was born from a frustrating day sitting in traffic. In December 2016, Musk tweeted “[I] am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging …” By January 2017, conversation with regulatory bodies was underway.

The company website explains that to reduce gridlock, traffic must either go up or down. Instead of investing in flying cars, The Boring Company believes that the answer lies in the creation of tunnels. Unfortunately, tunnels are expensive and difficult to create. The Boring Company is attempting to change the tunnel with innovative technology and smarter engineering.

Elon Musk’s education history

Musk avoided mandatory service in the South African military by enrolling in Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada, but didn’t finish his degree there. Instead, he left in 1992 to study business and physics at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. In 1996 he received an economics degree from the Wharton School and a physics degree from the College of Arts and Sciences.

Musk then went to Stanford University in California to get his Ph.D. in energy physics but dropped out after two days to launch Zip2 Corporation.

Elon Musk’s first wife

Musk met his first wife Justine Wilson, a Canadian author, while he was a student at Queen’s University. The couple married in 2000 and separated in 2008.

Elon Musk’s second wife

Musk met his second wife, British actress Talulah Riley, in 2008 at a London club. The then 39-year-old Musk married the 25-year-old Riley in 2010 and separated in January 2012. The couple remarried in July 2013 but divorced again in 2016.

Elon Musk’s children

Musk has five children, all of whom are boys and were born through In Vitro Fertilization. Musk’s first wife Justine Wilson gave birth to a set of twins in 2004 (Griffin and Xavier) and a set of triplets (Damian, Saxon and Kai) in 2006. Musk and Wilson share custody of their five sons.

Musk’s first son (Nevada Alexander Musk) was born in 2002, but died of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) at 10-weeks-old.

Elon Musk’s list of recommended books

elon musk books

  • “The Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams
  • “Benjamin Franklin: An American Life” by Walter Isaacson
  • “Structures: Or Why Things Don’t Fall Down” by J.E. Gordon
  • “Ignition: An Informal History of Liquid Rocket Propellants” by John D. Clark
  • “Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies” by Nick Bostrom
  • “Our Final Invention” by James Barrat
  • The “Foundation” trilogy by Isaac Asimov
  • “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress” by Robert Heinlein
  • “Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence” by Max Tegmark
  • “Merchants of Doubt” by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway
  • ‘Einstein: His Life and Universe’ by Walter Isaacson

Famous Elon Musk quotes

elon musk

Career advice

“When Henry Ford made cheap, reliable cars, people said, ‘Nah, what’s wrong with a horse?’ That was a huge bet he made, and it worked.”

“When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor.”

“Some people don’t like change, but you need to embrace change if the alternative is disaster.”

“It’s OK to have your eggs in one basket as long as you control what happens to that basket.”

Inspirational

“I could either watch it happen or be a part of it.”

“It is possible for ordinary people to choose to be extraordinary.”

“The first step is to establish that something is possible; then probability will occur.”

“You shouldn’t do things differently just because they’re different. They need to be… better.”

Elon Musk’s car collection

tesla
Tesla

Ford Model T

It is said that Musk owned a Ford Model T, a car produced by Ford from 1908 to 1927, at some point in his life.

1967 Jaguar Series 1 E

Musk bought himself a 1967 E-Type Jaguar when he received an initial bonus check of $40,000 for Zip2.

BMW 320I

This was the first car that Musk ever owned. He bought the car for $1,400 in 1994 and drove it for two years until one of its wheels fell off.

Hamann BMW M5

In 2007 Musk revealed in an interview with Vanity Fair that he owned a Hamann BMW M5.

Lotus Esprit S1

Musk bought the Lotus Esprit S1 at a London auction in 2013 for $997,000.

Audi Q7

Forbes discovered that Musk owned an Audi Q7 during a 2012 walkthrough of his house. His Audi Q7 inspired the Tesla Model S because he was frustrated at the difficulty of accessing the third row.

Porsche 911

Forbes spotted the Porsche 911 during the same 2012 walkthrough of his house.

McLaren F1

Musk bought himself this luxury vehicle after he sold PayPal. He later totaled the car while trying to show it off to Paypal cofounder Peter Thiel.

Tesla

Musk most likely owns each version that Tesla has released, including the Model S, Model X, Model 3, and Model Y.