Behind Elon Musk, the Richest Person in the World

As CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, Elon Musk has grown his wealth to more than $220 billion and has recently overtaken Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos as the wealthiest person in the world. Musk is one of the most influential people in the world. Barely a day goes by when a news article is not written about something he said, tweeted or done, and these actions have seen dramatic fluctuations in markets. 

Although Musk is associated with America, he was born and raised in South Africa in Pretoria, one of the capital cities of South Africa, to his parents Maye and Errol Musk. In 1980, when he was nine, his parents divorced, Maye moved back to her native Canada, and Musk lived with his father in South Africa. Musk experienced a difficult childhood; as a self-described awkward and introverted child, he endured relentless bullying throughout his schooling. Furthermore, Musk has described his father as terrible and evil; in Maye’s memoir, she recalls Errol being “physically, emotionally and financially manipulative and abusive”. Wanting to escape from his father, Musk got a Canadian passport and went to study at Queen’s University; however, after two years, he transferred to the University of Pennsylvania. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in economics and a Bachelor of Arts in physics, Musk started a PhD at Stanford University; however, he attended for only two days before dropping out to enter into the growing world of internet startups. 

Musk’s first business was Zip2 which he co-founded with his brother, Kimbal, and Greg Kouri in 1995. Zip2 developed and marketed an internet city guide; although it took a few years, they eventually landed contracts with the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. It was during the foundation years of Zip2 that Musk’s famed work ethic first became known. He has said that he was so poor during these years that he couldn’t afford a second computer and had to share one with his brother. He would work seven days a week, coding the website at night so it could be running during the day. In 1999, Compaq acquired Zip2 and Musk received $22 million from his shares. 

Using the funds from the acquisition of Zip2, Musk founded, an email payment company. A year after it was founded, merged with online bank Confinity, founded by Max Levchin, Peter Thiel and Luke Nosek. Musk became the CEO of the newly merged company until Peter Thiel soon replaced him. Thiel focused on the most successful part of the company and renamed it PayPal to reflect this. eBay brought PayPal in 2002, and Musk received over $100 million from his shares. 

In May 2002, Musk founded SpaceX, where he is CEO and Chief Engineer. Their records include launching the Falcon 1, the first privately-developed liquid-fueled launch vehicle to orbit around Earth, in 2008. They were the first private enterprise to berth the ISS and, in 2020, became the first private company to put a person in orbit. Whilst, SpaceX might be Musk’s venture that generates the most public interest, he makes the majority of his wealth from Tesla, where he owns about 20% of the shares. Tesla was founded in 2003 by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning; in 2004, Musk invested $6.5 million in the company and has been the CEO since 2008. 

Musk first appeared on Forbe’s billionaire list in 2012; however, it wasn’t until 2020 that his wealth skyrocketed due to Tesla’s increasing stock price. The market will determine how long Musk remains as the richest person in the world. Maybe he will permanently tip Bezos off that pedestal.