Elon Musk: The Story of a Maverick

Elon Musk's successful career, personality, and way of doing things make him one of the great inspirational leaders of the 21st century.
Susan Fourtané

Elon Musk founded his first company when he was 23 years old. Then, he sold it for $307 million dollars when he was 28 and became a millionaire.

Any other human would have been happy with that early accomplishment, perhaps retire to live a quiet life on a paradisiac island and invest, but letting others do all the work.

However, that's not part of Elon Musk's character. His curiosity, determination, strong will, and desire to disrupt the industries which he believes are in need of something different have taken him to a place no human has gone before.

"If something is important enough, even if the odds are against you, you should still do it."- Elon Musk 

Elon Musk has transformed several industries. Up to date, he counts with five companies that are changing the world; they will change the future of the younger generations and the generations to come. In total, he has invested in 19 companies. 

Each and every one of Elon Musk's companies have the same goal: to change the world. He is a successful entrepreneur, an inventor, innovator, explorer, and engineer. 

One of the reasons to Elon Musk's success can be attributed to his personality, perseverance, critical thinking, analysis, and risk-taking with an added high doses of hard work.

Elon Musk is a maverick. 

The real Iron Man 

Elon Musk is an engineer with a fascination for physics. His insatiable appetite for constantly and consistently read and learn new things has helped him start and develop some of the world’s most ingenious and exciting companies. 

"An engineer is the closest thing to a magician that exists in the real world." -Elon Musk

With no formal training in aeronautical engineering, Elon Musk has been able to create and lead his rocket science team at SpaceX. He took his aerospace company to the level of NASA and international space associations. He accomplished what no space association and government have been able to deliver.

It can be said that he did this in a considerable record time. Elon Musk seems to have some superpowers which he secretly puts into action when no one is looking. 

Elon Musk dreams big. However, he doesn't stop there. He goes ahead and beyond. He takes assertive steps to disrupt industries and change the world. Anything is very much possible for this ultra self-confident risk taker, the man himself.

Setting the bar high

Elon Musk sets the bar high in everything he does. In 2011, he said he was going to transport humans to Mars in 10 to 20 years. That means that today, in 2018, we are talking about taking humans to Mars in three to 13 years. 

At the same time that his Mars exploration and colonization plan becomes a reality, back on Earth he continues his work toward his goal to end the world's dependence on fossil fuels. He wants to make solar energy the world's prime energy source. 

Risk Taker 

Only an extraordinary risk taker can envision and achieve as much as Elon Musk in just a short period of his life. Pretty much he can be considered a genius entrepreneur, someone with a great capacity and a vision to see beyond the present and way into the future.

Elon Musk is someone who dares to take risks, someone who is assertive in his way of thinking. He believes in the importance of ethics, which makes his formula for success even more powerful. Elon Musk has been ranked 25th by Forbes among The World’s Most Powerful People  


Elon Musk founded Zip2 as a Web software company to create an Internet city guide for the newspaper publishing industry. This was almost a decade before Google Maps was created. 


Elon Musk started  X.com, a company that allowed people to send money over the Internet or email. Later on, the company was renamed PayPal and merged with Confinity. He was the largest Shareholder of the company. PayPal revolutionized e-Commerce and changed the way financial transactions work. 

When eBay acquired PayPal, for $1.5 billion, he gained $165 million from the deal. Instead of doing what normal people do and go buying an island, retire, and spend the rest of his life enjoy life itself, he went on investing all his capital on Tesla to save the company. 


Tesla car
Tesla Model S electric semi-autonomous car/Source: Susan Fourtané for Interesting Engineering  

Elon Musk is the co-founder, CEO, and product architect at Tesla Motors. The company is dedicated to producing affordable, mass-market electric cars as well as battery products, and solar roofs. Elon Musk personally oversees all product development, engineering, and design of the all company's products. 

The company was founded in 2003. In 2008, Tesla unveiled the Roadster, a sports car capable of accelerating from 0 to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds. It was able to travel nearly 250 miles between charges of its lithium-ion battery. With a stake in the company taken by Daimler and a strategic partnership with Toyota, Tesla Motors launched its initial public offering in June 2010, raising $226 million.

In 2020, the new Tesla Roadster is expected to be one of the most popular sports cars. It will become the fastest production car ever made with its 0 to 60 time of 1.9 seconds

The Model S, the company's first electric sedan, is capable of covering 265 miles between charges. The Model S was honored as the 2013 Car of the Year by Motor Trend magazine. 

"Some people don't like change, but you need to embrace change as the alternative is disaster." -Elon Musk

In April 2017, Tesla became the most valuable U.S. car maker after announcing that it had surpassed General Motors in sales. The news ramped up production and release of Tesla Model 3 sedan later that year.

Elon Musk made then another announcement with the unveiling of the new Tesla Semi and Roadster at the company's design studio. The Semi truck is scheduled to enter into production in 2019. The space grey electric truck boasts 500 miles of range as well as a battery and motors built to last 1 million miles.

In the beginning, Tesla aimed to produce 5,000 new Model 3 cars per week by December 2017. However, Elon Musk pushed that goal back to March 2018. Finally, a new date was set to June 2019.

Tesla's delay is due to some production problems that the company is experiencing. Some industry experts have questioned how long investors would remain patient with the process. 

“You want to be extra rigorous about making the best possible thing you can. Find everything that’s wrong with it and fix it.”- Elon Musk 

Those who know Elon Musk's modus operandi and infinite capacity to come up with last-minute solutions trust that this is just a small stone on the road. 

When the news announced that Tesla is expected to fall short of first-quarter production forecasts, it was also known that Elon Musk had pushed aside the head of engineering and had decided to personally oversee efforts in that division. Just as he has done many times when his companies experience times of trouble. He is back to sleeping at the factory. 

In June, Elon Musk announced that Tesla was laying off nine percent of its workforce. However, its production department would remain intact. In an email to employees, Elon Musk explained his decision to eliminate some duplication of roles as an understandable way to cut costs. He admitted now it was time to take serious steps toward turning a profit.

After the restructuring, Tesla announced that the company had met its goal of producing 5,000 Model 3 cars per week by the end of June and another 2,000 Model S sedans and Model X SUVs.

In September of 2018, Musk stepped down as chairman of Tesla but remains as CEO. The decision was pertaining to matters related to taking the firm private.


Tesla charger
Tesla charger, free to use for life by all Tesla car owners/Source: Susan Fourtané for Interesting Engineering 


In August 2016, Elon Musk closed a $2.6 billion dollar deal that solidified the combination of his Tesla electric car and solar energy companies.

His desire to promote and advance sustainable energy and products for a wider consumer base took a step forward when Tesla Motors Inc. announced an all-stock deal purchase of SolarCity Corp. SolarCity, in the beginning, was a company that Elon Musk had helped his two cousins start in 2006, and where he is the major shareholder.

According to a statement on Tesla's Website, solar and storage are at their best when they're combined. By merging Tesla (storage) and SolarCity (solar) the company created a fully integrated residential, commercial, and grid-scale products that improve the way that energy is generated, stored, and consumed. 


In 2002, Elon Musk founded Space Exploration Technologies or SpaceX in Hawthorne, California. His goal was to make rockets for space travel more affordable. In April 2016, he historically launched and re-landed a Falcon 9 rocket. 

In 2012, the Dragon spacecraft became the world's first commercial spacecraft with a mission to shuttle cargo between the International Space Station (ISS) and planet Earth. 

One of Elon Musk's greatest ambitions has been to use the Dragon capsule to send humans to space. After succeeding in this, his goal is to send humans to Mars to colonize the Red Planet. 

 In September 2017, through presenting an updated design plan for the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), a 31-engine behemoth topped by a spaceship capable of carrying at least 100 people. 

"I care about the truth of things and try to understand the truth of things. If you're going to come with some solutions, then the truth is really important." - Elon Musk

Elon Musk then announced that SpaceX was aiming to launch the first cargo missions to Mars with the vehicle in 2022. This would be the first mission part of his major goal of colonizing the Red Planet.

In March 2018, at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, Elon Musk announced that he hoped to have the BFR ready for short flights in early 2019. In April 2018, the company announced that SpaceX would construct a facility at the Port of Los Angeles.

The facility is going to be used to build and house the BFR. The port property presented an ideal location for SpaceX due to the size of the rocket. The spacecraft will only be movable by a large barge or ship when completed. 


In yet another innovative idea characteristic of Elon Musk, in January 2017, the entrepreneur suddenly decided he was going find a way to reduce traffic by devoting resources and building tunnels.

He then launched his venture, named The Boring Company, with a test dig on the SpaceX property in Los Angeles. In October, he said the 500-foot tunnel, which would generally run parallel to Interstate 405, would reach a length of two miles in approximately four months.

Elon Musk also reportedly found a market for the Boring Company's flamethrowers; after announcing they were going on sale for $500 a piece in late January 2018.   

Neuralink and Artificial Intelligence (AI) 

Elon Musk has pursued an interest in Artificial Intelligence for a long time. In 2015, he made a statement to advance digital intelligence to benefit humanity. Then in 2017, Elon Musk secretly backed a venture called Neuralink.

It was the start of yet another mission to improve humanity and prepare for the future.  

"We are, all of us, already cyborgs," - Elon Musk

The company intends to create devices to be implemented in the human brain. This will help people merge with software and computers.

Neuralink, the brain-computer interface and neuroprosthetics company started by Elon Musk and others in 2016 is now developing ultra-high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers. Elon Musk is also the CEO of the company. 

The neurotechnology company headquartered in San Francisco, California is expected to develop implantable brain-computer interfaces (BCIs).

Neuralink aims to make devices that initially would treat serious brain disease and brain damage that was caused by a stroke in the short-term. In the long-term, the company's goal is to develop the technology for human enhancement.

Part of Elon Musk's inspiration for the creation of Neuralink is a science-fiction concept called Neural Lace that is part of the fictional universe in Scottish author Iain M. Banks' series of novels The Culture.

Ad Astra

Elon Musk's non-profit Ad Astra School aims at disrupting education. The current syllabus and education in traditional schools around the world face a gap. What is still taught in schools today and the usefulness of such knowledge and skills in a world is questionable.

Future generations are going to witness the colonization of Mars. They should be prepared for the jobs and technologies that are going to be mainstream in 2030 and beyond. 

Ad Astra comes from Latin and it means To the Stars. The inspirational statement is about achieving great things. Elon Musk created the school for his five children and for the children of SpaceX's employees.


The phrase as astra per aspera means that the accomplishment of great things comes through the endurance of hardship. Based on this, Elon Musk has embarked himself in yet another magnificent project: The education of the generations that will colonize Mars. 

The Ad Astra school is only available to students between the ages of 7 and 14. The school prefers flamethrowers and robots to traditional classes. The experimental Ad Astra school is at Elon Musk's SpaceX company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California. 

Elon Musk started the school after pulling all of his sons out of Los Angeles private schools. He hired one of his son’s teachers to act as the school's principal. 

At Ad Astra, the kids work together in teams and explore non-traditional topics, which include robotics and how to handle artificial intelligence that could ultimately turn evil. 

"It's important to teach problem solving." -Elon Musk 

Students don't receive any grades at the school. If the children don’t like a particular class they’re taking, they are free to simply opt out. There are fewer than 40 students at the school, including Elon Musk's own kids. The other students are children of SpaceX employees and other people from the Los Angeles area.

The school focuses its education on STEM. It doesn’t teach music, sports, language, or arts. Elon Musk believes that computers can and are going to take up the task of translating language in the future.

Students discuss the ethical and political implications of artificial intelligence. They also work with and build technologies such as robots and weather balloons. 

ad astra
Image taken from page 274 of 'Finland in the Nineteenth Century" by Finnish authors. Illustrated by Finnish artists in 1894.  /Source: Flickr-British Library 

Elon Musk's life behind the scenes

Elon Musk was born on June 28, 1971, in Pretoria, South Africa. He moved to Canada and obtained his Canadian citizenship in 1989. In 2002, he became a U.S. citizen.

His mother is a Canadian actress and his father a South African engineer. Elon Musk spent his early childhood with his brother Kimbal and sister Tosca in South Africa. His parents divorced when he was 10. 

At that age, Elon Musk developed an interest in computers. He taught himself how to program. When he was 12, he made his first software sale of a game he created. He called it Blastar.

Elon Musk has been married twice. He first married Justine Wilson in 2000. In 2010, he married actress Talulah Riley. They split in 2012 and married each other again in 2013. They finally got divorced in 2016. Elon Musk also got involved with actress Amber Heard in an on-off relationship. 

With ex-wife Justine Wilson, Elon Musk has five sons: Twins and triplets. In 2002, their first son died at 10 weeks old from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), something that devasted him. 

Elon Musk’s Nonprofit

Space exploration and the preservation of the future of the human race have become the cornerstones of Elon Musk's interests. Toward these interests, he founded the Musk Foundation, which is dedicated to space exploration and the discovery of renewable and clean energy sources. 

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