A JOURNALISTIC PROFILE
Elon Musk: A Journalistic Profile
While the world rightfully acknowledges the contributions that such people as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and Mark Zuckerberg have made to the world of technology and science; one person whose contributions may significantly surpass these five leaders and influencers is Elon Musk.
Though Musk is widely known as the CEO and creative influence behind Tesla Motors, the auto manufacturer known across the world for its innovative and highly stylized electric sports cars, what few realize is that Musk has been operating at the intersection of science, information technology, entrepreneurship and consumer products and services since the earliest days of the original “technology boom” in the late 1990s. To be sure, Musk’s first venture was a software company, named Zip2, that founded with his brother which developed internet city guides, maps and business directories that were used the contracted out to newspapers (Stanford Engineering). While the services that Zip2 offered are now common and almost taken for granted, the reality is that Musk’s company was at the forefront of the revolution of online content manipulation and helped facilitate its growth. Eventually, the company was bought by the computer company Compaq which made Musk a millionaire. Shortly after the sale, Musk co-founded his second company, known as X.com. X.com was one of the first companies to offer online financial and payment services. Within a year after its start, X.com merged with another small firm, named Confinity, which was also trying to develop online banking services. Musk was named as the CEO of the new merged company which took the name PayPal, after Confinity’s service that allowed members to transfer money online. In 2002, PayPal was acquired by eBay for over a U.S. $1 billion, which made Musk a multi-millionaire. Again, while online money transfer services are increasingly becoming the means of choice for online shopping and business transactions, the company that provided and continues to provide the most influence in the financial technology services sector is PayPal. In other words, there is a good argument that without PayPal, there would be no financial technology services sector. With enough money to last the rest of his life after the sale of PayPal, Musk began to focus his efforts on matters that he was interested in personally rather than purely for financial reasons. One of the most important of those efforts was his decision in 2002, to start the space exploration firm SpaceX. His reasoning for this was his deep interest in human spaceflight and his belief that spaceflight would not advance quickly enough if exploration remained firmly in the hands of government agencies such as NASA. From its beginnings, SpaceX has focused on private developing and producing reusable rockets and space launch vehicles, as well as research and development of next generation rocket and rocket engine technologies. Interestingly, in 2008 NASA contracted the development and manufacture of rockets that would be used to travel to and from the International Space Station (De Selding). Currently, SpaceX is one of the largest and only private companies operating in the space exploration area. It is also one of the few organizations that is boldly pushing the boundaries of what humans can accomplish in space. Similarly, Musk’s efforts at Tesla Motors as well as in a number of his other ventures including SolarCity and Hyperloop focus on harnessing renewable energy such as electric and solar energies, to solve some of the world more complex environmental issues.
Musk’s varied efforts and disparate successes suggest that he is, what author Malcolm Gladwell would call, an “outlier” or someone that continually and significantly achieves so much more than others. Musk, as Gladwell also points out about any outlier, did not get to where he is without the help and influences of others (Gladwell). Indeed, nothing in Musk upbringing and early history showed him to be exceptionally talented. Musk was born in June 1971 in South Africa to a father who was an engineer and a mother who was a model. In his early teens, Musk, like countless children of his age and at that time, became very interested in computers and computer programming. It was an interest that has stayed with him to this day. After graduating from high school, Musk moved to Canada his mother’s native country. Eventually he applied to and was accepted in Queen’s University in Ontario but after two years transferred to the University of Pennsylvania where he studied physics and economics. In 1995, Musk moved to California to begin his PhD studies at Stanford University in applied physics and materials science. As with some many other Stanford students at the time, it did not take long before Musk abandoned his studies to try his luck in the burgeoning technology revolution that was overtaking Silicon Valley. Musk would not have been to start his first business, Zip2, but for a sizable investment from his father that helped the new start-up get up and running (Vance).
In 2016, Forbes magazine ranked Musk at 15 on its “The Richest People in Tech” (Forbes). According to Forbes, Musk has an estimated value of U.S. $12.3 billion (Forbes). Forbes also ranks him as the 37 and 94 on its list of “Global Game Changers” in the U.S. and the world respectively (Forbes). In addition to his entrepreneurial activities, Musk is also quite active in philanthropy, especially for causes that promote or advocate for recognizing and facilitating the advancement of science and technology, such as space exploration, renewable energy, and artificial intelligence. For instance, according to the Financial Directory Online, in 2001 Musk established a foundation, named the Musk Foundation whose purpose is to fund grants in support of the above areas as well as pediatric research as well as science and engineering education.
De Seding, Peter B. “SpaceX wins 5 new space station cargo missions in NASA contract estimated at $700 million.” Space News, 24 Feb. 2016. Web. http://spacenews.com/spacex-wins-5-new-space-station-cargo-missions-in-nasa-contract-estimated-at-700-million/
Financial Directory Online. “Musk Foundation.” Foundation Center, 22 Jul. 2016. Web. https://fconline.foundationcenter.org/grantmaker-profile?key=MUSK013
Forbes. “The Richest People in Tech.” Forbes, 08 Aug. 2016. Web. http://www.forbes.com/profile/elon-musk/
Gladwell, Malcom. Outliers: The Story of Success. New York: Penguin Books, 2008. Print.
Kumparak, Greg. “Here are 14 actual pictures of Tesla’s $35,000 Model 3.” TechCrunch, 01 Apr. 2016. Web. https://techcrunch.com/2016/04/01/here-are-14-actual-pictures-of-teslas-35000-model-3/ (cite for the photo on the cover page)
Stanford Engineering. “ECorner Videos: History of Zip2.” Stanford University, 08 Oct. 2003. Web. http://ecorner.stanford.edu/videos/397/History-of-Zip2
Vance, Ashlee. Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. New York: HarperCollins, 2015. Print.