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The Vector

NJIT's Student Newspaper

The Vector

NJIT's Student Newspaper

The Vector

Elon Musk: Brilliant Visionary or Lucky Duck?


Few would deny the impact “Genius, Billionaire, Playboy, Philanthropist” Elon Musk has had on the world of technology and entrepreneurship. Musk is, arguably, the most significant tech-entrepreneur of the modern era, as three companies of his co-founding are worth more than a billion dollars each.

More impressively, Musk was a pioneer in not just one or two industries, but three. He first led the way by creating a secure and free web transaction method, PayPal, which  was acquired by eBay for $1.5 billion in 2002. Using this money, Musk co-founded two companies, SpaceX and Tesla. These companies, too, became industry leaders and revolutionized their respective fields.

SpaceX, a company dedicated to creating and marketing affordable rockets has started a new space race. After meeting the goals of creating reusable, cheap, and reliable space hardware, Musk has marked a new target for mankind, Mars. SpaceX is expected to send the first humans to Mars by 2022.

More significantly, Musk’s initiative to privatize the space race has paved the way for other billionaires to do the same. Jeff Bezos and  Scott L. Webster have since invested in their own rocketry companies. By founding SpaceX, Musk has effectively reinvigorated humanity’s drive to reach the great beyond.

Tesla has been equally innovative in the automobile industry. When most established companies were pushing for fossil-fueled cars, Musk’s Tesla transformed the industry by showing that electric cars could be commercialized. Major car manufacturers like GM and BMW followed in Tesla’s footsteps and started producing electric cars. Since then, Tesla has also led the way by introducing self-driving functionality to their already futuristic electric vehicles.

Elon Musk’s intelligence and hard work is apparent in his wise investments and significant involvement in the planning and design of his products. But his childhood may contain clues to his intelligence and business prowess. Musk grew up in South Africa under a system of apartheid. The Musk family was of wealth and influence. In addition to owning half a share of an emerald mine, Musk’s father was a well-to-do engineer.

Being of Afrikaans (Dutch) descent, Musk was able to attend a white-only private school while millions of black South Africans were oppressed and exploited. While his intelligence may be a product of hard work, Musk was certainly fortunate to be born into wealth. Being of a white South African gave him access to privilege, private education, and abundant opportunities, while most people of color in his country were forced to endure racism, poverty, and oppression. 

Still, his childhood conditions were not all of ease. As a child of separated parents, he grew up with his father, Errol. Musk’s father was verbally and possibly physically abusive to his son. Musk has described feeling neglected, abused, and alone in his childhood. In those days, he developed a deep concern for humanity’s future.

Because of this concern, Musk has been pushing for advances in space travel. In his view, if a cataclysmic event were to occur on Earth, humanity could only survive by colonizing space. He has faced much adversity and criticism in his attempts to advance rocketry through privatization. Musk persevered through rejections from experienced investors of Silicon Valley. He reported being particularly devastated when his ambitions were criticized by his hero, Neil Armstrong. It was his character, intellect, and perseverance that allowed him to be the first to produce, launch, and relaunch reusable rockets.

However, Musk has been criticized for taking credit for other people’s work. In recent weeks, he has also been called a hypocrite for smoking marijuana on a live podcast while his employees were drug tested. His success has also been attributed to the cult personality that has developed around him. He is generally idolized for his success in his endeavors. This protects his companies even when they have repeatedly failed to meet expectations and deadlines.

Elon Musk’s name will likely be in bold when the history of the Silicon Valley is written. He brought about tremendous changes in an array of industries. The key to his success lies both in his brilliance and in his good fortunes. If he was not as intelligent, or was born into a different family in South Africa, it is unlikely that this tech magnate would have revolutionized cars, rockets, or internet transactions.



Photo credits: JD Lasica | flickr.com/JDLasica

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