South African entrepreneur Elon Musk is known for founding Tesla Motors and SpaceX, which launched a landmark commercial spacecraft in 2012. Born in South Africa in 1971, Elon Musk became a multimillionaire in his late 20s when he sold his start-up company, Zip2, to a division of Compaq Computers. He achieved more success by founding X.com in 1999, SpaceX in 2002 and Tesla Motors in 2003. Musk made headlines in May 2012 when SpaceX launched a rocket that would send the first commercial vehicle to the International Space Station.
Elon Musk: 10 Secrets of the Craziest Billionaire
Now take a look at these untold secrets of this crazy billionaire:
He doesn’t know he can’t. No, you can’t launch an Internet bank. You don’t know anything about it. No, you can’t launch a new U.S. car company. Nobody’s done that successfully in 70 years. No, you can’t launch a company to build rockets and put them into space. Only governments can do that. What are you, crazy? Those ideas will never work. People kept telling him things were impossible, but he didn’t know any better so he just went ahead and did them anyway.
He reads. And reads and reads and reads. “You don’t know what you don’t know. You realize there are all these things out there,” he says. Musk spent his childhood with his nose in a book. He read the Encyclopedia Britannica from cover to cover. So much for the “post-text world.” He prepared for SpaceX by reading fun stuff like “Aerothermodynamics of Gas Turbine and Rocket Propulsion.” If you want to know what you don’t know, nothing beats reading.
Elon Musk works ridiculous hours. Musk wonders if he can spare “five to 10 hours” a week from his hectic schedule to date. When he was starting out, he slept in a bean bag next to his desk. “Maybe he showered on the weekends,” says a co-worker. “I don’t know.” Now that he’s got a private jet, it’s a little more comfortable, but he is always zooming from factory to meeting to the factory. Same principle. I get exhausted just thinking about it.
He’s a showman. You’re nowhere these days without the marketing. From his futuristic offices to the glitzy gala events that serve as product launches, Musk is adept at getting the exposure he wants and his companies need. Back when he was just starting his first Internet venture, he built a big, dramatic case for his PC so it would look more impressive to customers and potential investors.
He sets ridiculously tight deadlines. He took the future PayPal from a shell to a live operation in four months in 1999. And right from the start at Tesla and SpaceX, he was setting absurdly optimistic deadlines for launching prototypes and getting products to market. The bad? He ended up looking silly. The good: The pressure got things done as fast as possible.
He hires quality. If necessary, Musk will bypass industry and raid colleges — students and faculty alike — to find the best, smartest, hungriest engineers and other staff. He says he would rather employ one great engineer than three mediocre ones.
He understands work environments. He broke with tradition in his manufacturing operations by merging white-collar and blue-collar staff, placing desks on factory floors, and making engineers, computer programmers, machinists, and welders sit down and work side by side as a team. Simple, and effective. How can they solve problems in different buildings?
He improvises. When SpaceX was told to wait to launch rockets in the U.S., he went and found a Pacific island he could use straight away. He once jumped on his private jet and flew to England to shuttle a needed machine tool to a factory in France to speed up production. When Tesla needed to test a prototype in the cold, it hired an ice-cream truck with a big refrigerated trailer.
He goes all-in. Say this for Elon Musk: He puts his money where his mouth is. He basically risked all the money he made from his first venture into the future PayPal, and then all the money he made from that into Tesla and SpaceX. In 2008, and again in 2013, he was basically running on financial fumes.
He’s a jerk. Sorry, but there it is. Elon Musk can be ruthless, even heartless, with co-workers. He once reportedly berated an employee for missing a company event to witness the birth of his first child. (Elon Musk took to Twitter this May to rebut that charge as “total BS.”) He unceremoniously fired a long-standing aide to cut costs. “The longer you wait to fire someone, the longer it has been since you should have fired them,” he is reported to have observed. Like it? No. But who said the successful were always likable?