The Most Influential and Controversial Person in the 21st Century


Elon Being Elon: Looking Smug at a Company Meeting

Nicholas Spitz, Science & Technology Contributing Writer

Founder and CEO of Tesla, SpaceX, and a multitude of other successful companies, Elon Musk surpassed Jeff Bezos as the richest person in the world clocking at a networth of $196.5 billion. While his contributions to technology and science have been unprecedented, his eccentric personality has undermined his reputation. Through various acts such as spreading misinformation on social media, having a controversial love life, fighting with other successful entrepreneurs, and most recently buying Twitter for $44 billion only to try and back out of the deal. 

Although he now owns Twitter despite the shenanigans, his image as an “enfant terrible” only continues with day-to-day and often hour-to-hour headline news, mostly unflattering. Elon fired half the staff! Elon is making them work 80-hour weeks! Elon doesn’t care about regulators! Even his biggest fans are getting tired by seemingly childish and self-destructive antics. Despite all these problems, Elon Musk’s unique combination of amazing business instincts, relentless competitiveness, and proven ability to revolutionize entire industries is actually fueled by many of these perplexing eccentricities, making him a frustrating but intriguing genius. 

Pursuing a business career, Musk co-founded the online bank “” (now known as PayPal) which sold for $1.5 billion in 2002. The same year, Musk founded SpaceX, a space transportation, satellite communication, and aerospace manufacturing company. SpaceX has proven to be one of Musk’s most successful companies as it became the first private aerospace company to put a payload in orbit and retrieve it safely, send spacecraft/astronauts to the International Space Station, and create powerful rockets such as the Falcon 9.

In 2008, Musk became the chairman, product architect, and CEO of Tesla Inc. Tesla is an automotive and energy company that manufactures electric cars, battery storage, solar panels, and other related products. Tesla has completely revolutionized the auto industry through its self-driving cars and eco-friendly model. Due to its effectiveness, Tesla has become one of the most valuable companies in the world with a current market cap of $840 billion. 

While Musk is most known for SpaceX and Tesla, he is also the founder of the Boring Company, a infrastructure and tunnel construction company with the mission of fixing traffic through creating underground tunnels. The Boring Company is also notoriously known for design, developing, and making publicly available a functioning flamethrower. Created as a fun gimmick, the company made 20,000 flamethrowers and sold them at $500 each. Within a few days, it was completely sold out, increasing the price and rarity of the object.

In terms of controversies, the flamethrower was seen as a terrible idea used as a publicity stunt to gain attention. This product is a complete liability to the people using it, seeing that it is a literal flamethrower. Musk has stated in numerous interviews and videos that customers should not buy this product, but at the same time is seen using it joyfully and tweeting that it can roast nuts and help in a zombie apocalypse. His point: People should be allowed to make their own decisions without interference from the government, religious groups, or any organized entity trying to take away each of our personal liberties. 

While the flamethrower was definitely controversial, it doesn’t even come close to the numerous other things Musk has done. Smoking marijuana on Joe Rogan’s podcast (which immediate led to Tesla stock going down 9%, and two high-profile executives leaving), yet arguably Musk’s riskiest, most questionable, and no doubt boldest move was recently buying Twitter for $44 billion at $54.20 per share, the “420” a hat tip to what he did earlier on Joe Rogan. 

In order to pay for this risky deal, Musk sold his Tesla stock, used loans, and got funding from investors. Musk’s motivation for buying this controversial and under-performing platform was allegedly not for financial reasons, but to protect First Amendment rights. “By ‘free speech’,” Musk recently tweeted. “I simply mean that which matches the law. I am against censorship that goes far beyond the law. If people want less free speech, they will ask the government to pass laws to that effect. Therefore, going beyond the law is contrary to the will of the people.” 

Nonetheless, in July, Musk’s petulant child self (or was it his savvy negotiator self?) announced he was backing away from the deal due to a miscommunication involving the amount of users due to spambot accounts. Twitter fought back by filing a lawsuit that would make Musk pay billions in retributions. Even more confusing, Musk changed his position and said that he would move forward with the deal, making Musk the new owner and CEO of Twitter. Since Musk’s ownership of Twitter, he’s wreaked havoc on the company to the point where many experts think bankruptcy is inevitable. Meanwhile the political Right celebrates his removal of content moderation capabilities, and the Left does the opposite and warns of rampant abuse, bullying, and misinformation. 

Overall, Musk is currently one of the most polarizing figures in the world. Being the richest man on the planet, succeeding in the two hardest industries (automotive and aerospace), and owning a huge social media platform has put him on the map as a provocateur, genius, and visionary. However, with this success comes serious weaknesses, as his incredible mind and work ethic is destroyed by his seemingly infantile need for attention. Eric Adams, an American politician and policeman said it best: “There’s a pronounced tendency among certain incredibly-driven personality types to try and take the edge off their naked ambition by acting silly and doing crazy stuff—though always with delegitimizing calculation. To thumb their noses at standards of propriety, but with a self-consciousness that invariably lets all the air out of the effort. To scream “Look at me, I’m being irreverent,’ while skateboarding through the office. Yes, we’re talking about Elon Musk.”

The bottom line of the world’s richest man’s personal spreadsheet is something of a mess, mostly of his own making. On the one hand his accomplishments are unprecedented, transformative, and impressive by any standard. But on the other, his impulsiveness, abusiveness, and seemingly insatiable compulsion for provocation is unbecoming such a towering figure of technology, innovation, and creativity. Perhaps the mystery of Musk is tied to the complexity and confusion of the human mind and heart. As Eric Adams pointed out, arguably we can’t have Elon the Tech Genius without Elon the 10-Year-Old Preteen. And perhaps the one fuels the other, as if his horrible interpersonal skills aren’t a bug but a feature of such a gifted yet troubled human being.