Visionary engineer and tech entrepreneur Elon Musk is best known as the chief executive officer (CEO) of electric car manufacturer Tesla, Inc. (TSLA), and as the founder and CEO of aerospace manufacturer SpaceX. This article explores Musk’s journey toward achieving success as one of the world’s top businessmen.

Early Life and Education

Born and raised in Pretoria, South Africa, Musk exhibited an active entrepreneurial spirit from an early age. He received tremendous support from his engineer father and his dietitian mother, who recognized their son's penchant for technology and nurtured his passion.

Musk bought his first computer at age 10 and taught himself how to write programming code. And at the early age of 12, the youngster built a fully functioning video game called Blastar, which he reportedly sold for $500.

After graduating from Pretoria Boys High School in 1988, Musk briefly attended the University of Pretoria for five months. He then moved to Canada, where he entered Queen's University in Ontario in 1889, enabling him to avoid South Africa's mandatory military service.

Musk later attended the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a bachelor's degree in economics. He was later accepted into the physics graduate program at Stanford University, though he dropped out after two days to pursue his entrepreneurial dreams.

Success Story

In 1995, Musk teamed up with his brother Kimbal to create Zip2, an IT company that licensed online city guide software to newspapers. Although the company struggled to gain traction in its first few years, local and national newspapers eventually began using Zip2 to offer additional services to their respective customers. In 1999, Zip2 was acquired by Compaq’s AltaVista web search engine for a whopping $340 million.

With business partners Peter Thiel and Max Levchin, Musk then launched X.com, an online financial services and email payment company. In 2000, X.com merged with American software company Confinity, best known for creating PayPal. In 2001, Musk was named Paypal’s chairman and CEO, shortly before that company was acquired by eBay for $1.5 billion. As a stockholder with roughly $180 million worth of shares, Musk finally had enough capital to leave internet businesses behind, and channel his energies towards engineering concerns .

Tesla and Beyond

In 2004, Musk joined engineers Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning to help run Tesla Motors, where Musk was integral in designing the first electric car: the Tesla Roadster. After Eberhard was ousted from the firm in 2007, following a series of disagreements, Musk seized management control as CEO and product architect. Under his watch, Tesla has become one of the world's most popular and coveted car brands.

With his space travel company SpaceX, Musk landed several high-profile contracts with NASA and the United States Air Force, to design rockets and conduct military missions. Musk has been vocal about his plans to send an astronaut to Mars by the year 2025 in a collaborative effort with NASA. 

Net Worth and Current Influence

The majority of Musk's $40.4 billion net worth is tied up in Tesla stock as of June 2020, of which he owns more than 34 million shares. In January 2018, Tesla, which was valued at roughly $11.6 billion, announced a compensation structure in which Musk would not receive an annual salary but would instead earn cash based on the increasing market caps the company hoped to achieve over the next ten years. The deal aims to assure shareholders and customers alike that Musk plans to remain embedded with the company over the long haul.

Influential Quotes

  • "If something is important enough, you should try. Even if the probable outcome is failure."
  • "Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough."
  • "I would like to die on Mars, just not on impact."
  • "Whenever I'd read about cool technology, it'd tend to be in the United States or, more broadly, North America...I kind of wanted to be where the cutting edge of technology was."