How can you manage multiple busy micromanaging companies
Ashlee Vance, Elon Musk
by b p
Bibliographic information from the German National Library The German National Library lists this publication in the German National Bibliography; detailed bibliographic data are available on the Internet at http://d-nb.de .. For questions and suggestions: [email protected] 2nd edition 2015 © 2015 by FinanzBuch Verlag an imprint of the Münchner Verlagsgruppe GmbH, Nymphenburger Straße 86 D- 80636 Munich Tel .: 089 651285-0 Fax: 089 652096 Copyright © 2015 by Ashley Vance. All rights reserved. The full original edition was published by Ecco Press in 2015 under the title "IRON MAN: Elon Musk’s Quest to Forge a Fantastic Future". Elon Musk. Copyright © 2015 by Ashlee Vance. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information address HarperCollins Publishers, 195 Broadway, New York, NY 10007. All rights reserved, in particular the right of reproduction, distribution and translation. No part of the work may be reproduced in any form (by photocopy, microfilm or any other process) or stored, processed, duplicated or distributed using electronic systems without the written consent of the publisher. Translation: Sascha Mattke Editor: Monika Spinner-Schuch Proofreading: Sonja Rose Cover design: Melanie Melzer Cover image: © Nigel Parry / CPI Syndication Typesetting: inpunkt [w] o, Haiger ISBN print: 978-3-89879-906-5 ISBN E- Book (PDF): 978-3-86248-722-6 ISBN E-Book (EPUB, Mobi): 978-3-86248-723-3 You can find more information about the publisher at www.finanzbuchverlag.de Please also note our other Publishers at www.muenchner-verlagsgruppe.de
CONTENT 1. Elon's world 2. Africa 3. Canada 4. The first start-up 5. Boss of the PayPal mafia 6. Mice in space 7. Everything electric 8. Pain, suffering and survival 9. Take off 10. The revenge of the electric car 11. The unified field theory of Elon Musk 12. Appendix Appendix 1 Appendix 2 Appendix 3 The best of both worlds My recommendation Appendix 4 13. Notes
For mom and dad - thank you for everything.
1. ELON'S WORLD "Do you think I'm crazy?" Elon Musk asked me this question towards the end of a long dinner in a fine fish restaurant in Silicon Valley. I went there first and made myself comfortable with a gin and tonic because I knew that Musk - as usual - would be late. He appeared in about 15 minutes, in leather shoes, designer jeans and a plaid dress shirt. Musk is about six feet tall, but everyone who knows him says he looks significantly taller. He has absurdly broad shoulders, is stocky and plump. One would assume that he would use his imposing appearance to make an alpha male appearance when he enters a room. But he comes quite differently, almost shyly - his head slightly lowered when walking, a short handshake and a hello to greet you and then your buttocks in the chair. At this point, it will take Musk a few minutes to warm up and appear relaxed. Musk had asked me to do some kind of negotiation with the meal. I had informed him 18 months earlier that I wanted to write a book about him. He, in turn, let me know that he didn't want to cooperate. His rejection hit me, but it also put me in the mode of persistent reporter - if I had to write the book without him, then so be it. There were plenty of former employees from Musk's companies Tesla Motors and SpaceX. And they would definitely tell about him, besides, I already knew a lot of his friends. One by one, and month after month, I conducted interviews, and after about 200 interviews, Musk got back to me. He called me at home and explained that there were now two options: he could make my life very difficult or he could support me with the project. He will cooperate if he can read the book and make footnotes in it before it is published. He does not want to change anything in my text, but he wants to be able to correct passages that he considers factually incorrect. I understood his motivation: Musk wanted some control over the story of his life. He also works like a scientist and suffers badly when he has to read something wrong. A mistake on a printed page would torment his soul - forever. I could understand this attitude, but for professional, personal, and practical reasons, I couldn't allow Musk to pre-read the book. Musk has his own version of the truth, and it's not always what the rest of the world believes in. He's also prone to rambling answers to even the simplest questions, and the danger of 45 page footnotes struck me as too real. Nevertheless, we arranged to meet for dinner to talk about it in peace and to see if we can find an agreement. Our conversation started with a discussion about public relations staff. Musk is changing his PR staff notoriously quickly and Tesla was looking for a new head of communications. "Who's the best PR guy in the world?" He asked, in a very Musk way. Then we talked about mutual acquaintances, Howard Hughes and the Tesla factory. When the waiter took our order, Musk asked for suggestions to go with his low-carb diet and then opted for fried lobster in squid sauce. Our negotiation still had
not started and Musk first served. He started with his greatest fear, which robbed him of sleep at night: that Larry Page, the co-founder and CEO of Google, could build a fleet of artificially intelligent robots capable of destroying humanity. "I really worry about that," Musk said. That he and Page are very close friends and that Musk actually thinks Page is well-meaning and not Dr. Evil, didn't make things any better for him. In a way, that actually posed the problem: Because Page is such a nice guy, he assumes that machines will always work well for us. "I'm not so optimistic about this," said Musk, "he could accidentally produce something bad." When the food came, Musk pounced on it - less ate it than he made it go away with a few huge bites. Because I wanted to keep Musk happy and chatting, I offered him a large piece of my steak. The plan worked - for a full 90 seconds. Flesh. Pieces. Path. It took Musk a while to finish his doom scenarios. As we got closer to our real topic, Musk began to feel with me. He wanted to know exactly what I planned to write about him and tried to figure out my intentions. When the opportunity arose, I took hold of the conversation. The gin in my body mixed with some adrenaline and I started a 45 minute sermon about all the reasons Musk should let me dig deep into his life without any of the controls he wanted. In my plea, I referred to the fundamental weaknesses of footnotes and explained that this could make Musk appear like a control freak; in addition, my journalistic integrity is in danger. To my great surprise, Musk cut me off after a few minutes and simply said, "Okay." One of the most important things he values is determination and he respects people who don't give up when they get a "no". Dozens of other journalists had asked him to take part in a book, but I was the only pesky pain in the ass who carried on after Musk's first refusal. He seemed to like that. The meal ended with a nice chat where Musk let his diet be diet. A waiter brought him a huge dessert sculpture made of yellow cotton candy - Musk dipped in and tore the sweet mass out with his hands. The matter was settled. Musk gave me access to the executives of his companies, his friends, and his family. He would meet me for dinner once a month for as long as necessary. For the first time, Musk was ready to show a reporter his world from within. Two and a half hours after his arrival, he put his hands on the table, seemed to want to get up, then paused. He looked me in the eye, then asked this strange question, "Do you think I'm crazy?" The strange situation left me speechless for a moment. Meanwhile, each of my synapses fired to find out if this was supposed to be some kind of puzzle, and if so, how to cleverly answer it. It was only after meeting Musk several times later that I realized he was asking the question more to himself than to me. My answer didn't matter at all. Musk just paused one last time, wondering aloud if I was trustworthy; to find out, he looked me in the eye. A split second later we shook hands and Musk drove off in a red Tesla Model S.
*** Any engagement with Elon Musk must begin at SpaceX's headquarters in Hawthorne, a suburb of Los Angeles a few miles from LAX Airport. If you are visiting here, you will see two huge posters from Mars on the wall on the way to Musk's office corner. The left of it shows Mars as it is today - a cold, barren red giant. On the right poster, on the other hand, the planet is shown as a huge green land mass, surrounded by oceans - it has been made warmer and rebuilt so that people can live there. Musk is determined to try just that. Enabling people to colonize space is his declared aim in life. "I would like to be able to think, as I die, that mankind still has a bright future ahead of them," he said when I visited Hawthorne.“If by then we have solved the problem of renewable energies and are clearly on the way to becoming a multi-planetary species with a self-sustaining civilization on another planet - for a worst-case scenario in which human consciousness is extinguished - then, "and here Musk paused for a moment," that would be really good in my eyes. "Some of what Musk says and does sound absurd. In part, that's because, in a way, it actually is. On that occasion, for example, Musk's assistant had just brought him some cookies and ice cream with sprinkles, and when he was talking very seriously about saving humanity, a bit of dessert stuck to his lower lip. Musk's relaxed approach to seemingly impossible things has made him a deity in Silicon Valley, where fellow CEOs like Page speak of him in awe and respect, and where young entrepreneurs want to "be like Elon" - as they once emulated Steve Jobs. However, the reality in Silicon Valley is distorted and outside of the common illusion that prevails there, Musk is much more controversial. For some, he's the guy who sells false hopes with electric cars, solar panels, and rockets. Because of Steve Jobs. Musk is just the sci-fi version of a fairground swindler, and he made a huge fortune by exploiting people's fear and self-loathing. Buy a Tesla and you can forget what you did to the planet for a while. For a long time I felt more like belonging to this second camp. Musk felt like a well-meaning dreamer - an official member of the Silicon Valley techno utopian club. These people are mostly a mix of Ayn Rand adherents and tech absolutists who think their hyperlogical worldview is the answer to everything. If we only paved the way for others, they would solve all problems for us. Before long, we would be able to load our brains into a computer, relax, and leave everything else to the algorithms. For the most part, these ambitions are inspiring and working on them is useful. But with their platitudes about technology and their ability to talk for hours without saying a lot of substance, the techno-utopians are also a little tiresome. Also downright unsettling is their implied message that humans are full of flaws and humanity is an annoying burden that has to be done at the right time. When I met Musk at events in Silicon Valley, his grandiose speeches often sounded like they were straight out of the handbook of these techno-utopians. What I like most about it
bothered: his companies, which were supposed to save the world, didn't even seem to be doing very well. In early 2012, however, cynics like me had to take note of how far Musk had actually come. His once struggling companies have succeeded with unprecedented projects. SpaceX had sent a supply capsule to the International Space Station and brought it safely back to Earth. Tesla Motors delivered the Model S, a chic, all-electric sedan that took the auto industry's breath away and sobered it up in one fell swoop. With these two accomplishments, Musk had risen to entirely new, extremely rare heights among the titans of business. Only Steve Jobs could claim to have made a similar difference in two very different industries - sometimes in the same year he brought out a new Apple product and a blockbuster film from Pixar. With Musk, that wasn't all. He was also chairman and largest shareholder of SolarCity, a booming solar energy company prior to going public. Somehow he had managed to realize the greatest advances in space, cars, and energy in decades. In 2012, I decided to find out firsthand what Musk really is and wrote a cover story about him for Bloomberg Businessweek. At the time, his entire life was in the hands of Mary Beth Brown, his assistant and loyal supporter. She invited me to visit what I have been calling Muskland for some time. Anyone who comes to Muskland for the first time will be amazed at first. He is previously told to park in One Rocket Road in Hawthorne, at SpaceX headquarters. It is hard to imagine that there could be anything good to be found in Hawthorne. It's a desolate part of Los Angeles, with clusters of derelict houses, derelict shops, and derelict restaurants surrounding huge industrial complexes that appear to have originated in an architectural era called Boring Rectangles. Did Elon Musk really choose this dingy area as the home for his company? Only when you see the main SpaceX building does the picture become more coherent again: a 50,000 square meter rectangle, demonstratively painted in a white that stands for the unity of body, soul and spirit. It wasn't until I stepped through the front doors of SpaceX that I realized the greatness of what Musk had done. He had built a real rocket factory in the middle of Los Angeles. And this factory didn't make one rocket at a time. No, she built many missiles at the same time - from scratch. The factory was a huge shared work area. Near the far end there were enormous delivery bays where metal blocks could be picked up, which were then transported to two-story welding machines. On the one hand, technicians in white coats worked on computer boards, radio systems, and other electronics. Other employees were in a special airtight glass chamber and built the capsules that are to be brought to the ISS by missiles. Tattooed men in bandanas listened loudly to Van Halen and wrapped wires around rocket engines. Finished rocket hulls were on display, lined up one behind the other for loading onto trucks. In another part of the building, more missiles were waiting to be painted white. It was difficult to see the entire factory at once.
Hundreds of people were constantly on the move, buzzing around a multitude of bizarre machines. And that was just building number one in Muskland. SpaceX had bought several buildings that used to be part of a Boeing factory that made fuselages for the 747 jumbo jet. One of them has a curved roof and looks like an aircraft hangar. Today it serves as a studio for research, development and design at Tesla - this is where the company designed the Model S and its successor, the SUV Model X. Tesla has set up one of its charging stations in the parking lot in front of the studio, where drivers from Los Angeles have theirs Can charge batteries for free. The station is easy to recognize because Musk had a white and red obelisk with the Tesla logo installed in the middle of a rimless water basin. My first interview with Musk was in this design studio. This was the first time I got a feel for how it works and how it works. He's a confident guy, but not always very good at showing that too. When you first meet, Musk can seem shy and almost a little weird. His South African accent can still be heard, even if only slightly, and the charm it contains is insufficient to cover up his hesitant speech. Like so many engineers and physicists, Musk often pauses to look for the right words, and likes to chat extensively on out-of-the-way scientific topics without simplifying explanations to help the listener understand - Musk just assumes that you can follow him. None of this is off-putting. In fact, Musk makes a lot of jokes in between and can be downright charming. But there is a feeling of pressure and urgency hanging over every conversation with him - if you just want to chat a little, you have come to the wrong address with Musk (for me it should take 30 hours of interviews to really loosen up him and another, deeper level of his psyche and develop personality). Most famous CEOs have watchdogs around them all the time. Musk, on the other hand, moves largely through Muskland alone. Here he is not the man who slips into a restaurant, but the one who owns the shop and exudes authority there. While Musk and I spoke, he worked his way down the main aisle of the studio, inspecting prototype parts and vehicles. At every stop, employees rushed to him and provided him with information. He listened carefully, processed what he had heard and nodded when he was satisfied. Then the staff carried on and Musk went to his next station. At one of them, Tesla's head of design, Franz von Holzhausen, wanted to hear his opinion about the new tires and rims for the Model S that had just arrived, and about the seating arrangement for the Model X. The two men had a short chat, then they went inside Back room where high-ranking employees of a supplier of high-end graphics computers had prepared a presentation for Musk. They wanted to introduce a new 3D rendering technology with which Tesla could change the paintwork of a virtual Model S and examine in great detail how shadows or street lights would look on it. Tesla engineers really wanted the system and needed Musk's approval for it. The visitors did their best to convince the boss while fighting the noise from drills and giant industrial fans. Musk wore leather shoes, designer jeans, and a black t-shirt, which is roughly his work uniform. He had to put on 3D glasses for the demonstration and didn't seem impressed. He told visitors he would
think about it, and then went to the source of the greatest noise - a workshop deep in the design studio where Tesla engineers built the scaffolding for the ten-meter-high towers that decorate the charging stations. "This thing looks like it could weather a Category 5 hurricane," Musk said. “Let's make it a little thinner.” In the end, Musk and I hopped into his car, a black Model S, and hissed back to the main SpaceX building."Probably too many smart people are into internet stuff, finance, and law," Musk said along the way. "That's one of the reasons why there isn't so much innovation left." Muskland was a revelation. I had come to Silicon Valley in 2000 and soon moved into an apartment in Tenderloin - an area of San Francisco that local people say should be avoided. Without much effort, you can find someone here, for example, who drops his pants and relieves himself between parked cars, or a confused person who bangs his head against a bus shelter. In cheap bars near the local strip clubs, transvestites meet curious businessmen and as part of their lazy Sunday ritual, drunks fall asleep on couches or on the floor. It's the gritty, razor-piercing part of San Francisco - and a great place to watch the dot-com dream die. San Francisco has a long history of greed. It became a city in the wake of the gold rush, and not even a devastating earthquake could slow down its economic momentum for long. Don't be fooled by the eco flair - booms and crises determine the rhythm of this city. Back then, in 2000, San Francisco was caught in the boom of all booms and the whole city was gripped by greed. It was a wonderful time to live there with a population that had almost completely succumbed to a fantasy: the crazy dream of fast internet fortune. The energy flows of this common illusion could be felt physically, because they produced a constant buzzing that made the whole city vibrate. So here I was, in the middle of the poorest part of San Francisco, watching how high people rise and how low they can fall when excess has taken hold of them. The stories of the craziness of the economy during this period are well known. To start a booming business, you no longer had to offer anything that other people wanted to buy. You only needed an idea for some Internet project, and you announced it to the world - and enthusiastic investors wanted to finance the thought experiment. The only goal was to make as much money as possible in the shortest possible time, because at least subconsciously everyone knew that reality would return at some point. Valley residents took the stereotype that they party as hard as they work extremely seriously. People in their twenties, thirties, forties, and fifties were expected to work through the night. Office corners have become temporary homes and personal hygiene has been neglected. Oddly enough, producing nothing seemed to be a lot of work. Then, when it was time to relax, there were plenty of options for extreme debauchery. The hip companies and powerful media of the time seemed to want to outdo each other with better and better parties. Traditional companies operating on
Wanted to be up to date, they regularly rented concert halls, which they filled with dancers, acrobats, free bars and bands like the Barenaked Ladies. Young people from the technology scene would appear there, pour free whiskey-colas and pull cocaine in the mobile toilets. Greed and selfishness were the only things that made sense at the time. The good times were described intensely, while the bad times that followed were ignored. It's no surprise: it's just more fun to deal with irrational exuberance than with the mess it leaves behind. For the record it should be noted in any case: The collapse of the fantasy of the rapid Internet wealth left San Francisco and Silicon Valley in a deep depression. The endless parties were over. There were no more prostitutes on the streets of Tenderloin offering sex at 6 a.m. before going to work ("Come on, honey, that's better than coffee"). Instead of the barenaked ladies, there were occasional trade fair appearances by Neil Diamond cover bands, a few free T-shirts and plenty of shame. The tech industry had no idea what to do with itself. The stupid venture capitalists who got carried away in the bubble didn't want to look any dumber, so they stopped funding new businesses entirely. Big ideas from entrepreneurs have been replaced by extremely modest projects. It was like Silicon Valley had started a mass withdrawal. That sounds melodramatic, but it's true. A population of millions of intelligent people had developed a belief that they could reinvent the future. Then there was a loud bang and suddenly it was fashionable to rely on safety again. The companies and ideas that arose from them provide evidence of this sad time. At some point, Google appeared on the scene and from 2002 it was doing very well, but that was the exception. There was a long dry spell with uninteresting companies between Google and Apple's introduction of the iPhone in 2007. And the few hot new things that emerged after the bubble - mainly Facebook and Twitter - no longer had much in common with their predecessors, Hewlett-Packard, Intel or Sun Microsystems, which still made physical products and required thousands of employees to do so. During this time it was generally no longer about taking enormous risks in order to create new industries and big new ideas, but rather about making money as safely as possible with end consumer products such as simple apps or advertising. "The brightest minds of my generation think about how to get people to click on ads," Jeff Hammerbacher, an early Facebook programmer, told me. “That's bullshit.” Silicon Valley began to look uncomfortable with Hollywood. The consumers he served had turned inward and were obsessed with their virtual lives. One of the first to recognize that this innovation slump could herald a much bigger problem was Jonathan Huebner, a physicist at the Pentagon's Naval Air Warfare Center in China Lake, California. Huebner is something like the "one should be an adult" version of a weapons developer. Middle-aged, slim and with thinning hair, he wears an earthy combination of khaki pants, a shirt with brown stripes and a sturdy khaki jacket. Since 1985 he has been developing weapon systems, giving him direct insight into the newest and hottest
Technologies for materials, energy and software. After the dot-com bubble burst, he was increasingly annoyed by the unsophisticated nature of the innovations that landed on his desk. In 2005 he wrote a technical article on the subject entitled »Possibly declining trend in innovations worldwide«, to be understood either as a devastating judgment on Silicon Valley or at least as an ominous warning. Huebner used a tree metaphor to describe the situation with innovations. Man has already left the trunk of the tree behind and ventured onto its main branches, where he has already grazed the majority of the really big, transformative ideas - the wheel, electricity, the telephone, the transistor. Now he clings to the top of the tree near the end of the branches and is almost entirely occupied with refining old inventions. To support this point, Huebner showed in his paper that the frequency of inventions that change life had recently decreased. With his data, he also proved that the number of patents per person had decreased over time. "I think the chances of getting another invention into the Top 100 are getting smaller and smaller," he told me. "Innovation is a finite resource." It would take five years for his ideas to reach other people, Huebner predicted when he published his essay, and he was almost exactly right. Around 2010, PayPal co-founder and early Facebook investor Peter Thiel began spreading the idea that Silicon Valley had let people down. "We wanted flying cars, what we got were 140 characters," became the slogan of his venture capital firm Founders Fund. In an essay entitled "What happened to the future?", Thiel and his followers described why Twitter, the 140-character messages that are common there and similar inventions have little to offer the population. Science fiction, he argued, once celebrated the future. In the meantime, however, this genre has become a dystopia, because people have lost the optimistic hope that technology can improve the world. By the time I went to Muskland for the first time, I found this point of view quite convincing. Musk was far from hesitant about his plans, but few people outside of his businesses were able to see his factories, research centers, and workshops and experience firsthand what he was up to. Here was a man who had learned a lot from the Silicon Valley principle of acting fast and running companies without a bureaucratic hierarchy - and he was applying it to improve big, fantastic machines and tackle projects with the potential, again delivering the sorely missed real breakthroughs. Musk should have been part of the problem. In 1995, he jumped right into the dot-com frenzy by starting a company called Zip2 - a primitive mix of Google Maps and Yelp - right out of college. That first project ended up being a big, quick hit: Compaq acquired Zip2 in 1999 for $ 307 million. Musk earned $ 22 million in the process and put almost all of it into his next project, a start-up that would later become PayPal. Then, as PayPal's largest single shareholder, Musk got fantastically wealthy when eBay acquired the company in 2002 for $ 1.5 billion.
Instead of hanging out in Silicon Valley and falling into the same lows as his fellow entrepreneurs, Musk moved to Los Angeles. At the time, it was widely believed that it was best to take a deep breath and wait for the next big thing to begin.Musk defied that logic by investing $ 100 million in SpaceX, $ 70 million in Tesla, and $ 30 million in SolarCity. With the exception of a special money-destroying machine, he could hardly have found anything that would destroy his fortune faster. Musk became a one-man venture capital firm that not only showed extreme risk-taking, but also wanted to create hugely complex physical products in two of the world's most expensive locations, Los Angeles and Silicon Valley. Whenever possible, Musk's companies developed things from the ground up, questioning much of what was considered to be foreground in the aerospace, automotive, and solar industries. With SpaceX, Musk competes against the giants of the military-industrial complex in the USA, including Lockheed Martin and Boeing. At the same time, he takes on entire states - especially Russia and China. The company has already made a name for itself in the industry with low prices. But that alone is not enough. In the space business, you have to deal with a web of politics, favors, and protectionism that undermine the principles of the market economy. Steve Jobs faced similar forces when he took on the music industry to bring iPods and iTunes to market. But compared to Musk's opponents, who build weapons and rule states full-time, the quirky tech enemies in the music business were pleasant company. SpaceX has already tested reusable rockets that can take cargo into space and land back on Earth, right from where it launched. If the company can perfect this technology it would be a devastating blow to all of its competitors, and it would almost certainly put some long-established vendors out of business as the US regains a world leadership position in moving cargo and people into space. This threat, in his own estimation, has earned Musk bitter enemies. "The list of people who wouldn't mind if I was gone is getting longer," he says. “My family is afraid that the Russians will attack me.” With Tesla Motors, Musk wants to redefine the way cars are produced and sold and, at the same time, build a global electricity distribution network. Instead of hybrid cars, which in Musk's eyes are only suboptimal compromises, Tesla is building pure electric cars that arouse the desire to buy and push the boundaries of technology. These cars are not sold through traditional dealers, but via the web and Apple-like showrooms in expensive shopping centers. In addition, Tesla does not expect to be able to earn a lot of money with the maintenance of its vehicles, because they get by without oil changes and other regular work like with traditional cars. The direct sales model chosen by Tesla is a massive affront to car dealers who are used to haggling with customers and then making a lot of money with inflated workshop bills. Tesla charging stations can now be found on many of the major highways in the US, Europe and Asia and they donate enough power for hundreds of kilometers within 20 minutes. These so-called supercharger stations are operated with solar power and Tesla drivers have to charge them
actually pay nothing. So while the US infrastructure is falling apart, Musk is building all the elements of a futuristic transportation system with which the US could take the lead again. With his vision and, for some time now, his skill in implementation, he seems to combine the best of Henry Ford and John D. Rockefeller. Finally, with SolarCity, Musk has financed the largest installation and financing company for solar modules for private and business customers. He helped develop the idea for SolarCity and is chairman of the company, which is run by his cousins Lyndon and Peter Rive. SolarCity has managed to undercut dozens of utility companies in terms of price for its solar power, and has become a utility itself. At a time when other green companies have been failing with worrying regularity, Musk has built two of the most successful cleantech companies in the world. Musk’s empire of factories, tens of thousands of workers and industrial strength is arousing the impetus to flee established providers and has made Musk one of the richest people in the world with a net worth of $ 8 billion. My visit to Muskland set the stage for a better understanding of how he could do all of this. His talk about people on Mars may sound crazy to some, but it also gives him a unique battle cry for his businesses. The very ambitious goal forms the unified basis for everything Musk does. Employees at all three of his companies are very clear about this, as well as the fact that they try day in, day out to create the impossible. When Musk sets unrealistic goals, puts people down, or lets them work to the point of exhaustion, they see it - in a way - as part of the Mars colonization agenda. Some employees love him for it. Others hate him but remain strangely loyal to him because of their respect for his energy and mission. Musk has something that many of the entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley lack, namely a meaningful purpose in life. He is the possessed genius behind the greatest mission anyone has ever dared. He is less of a CEO on the hunt for wealth than a general who commands his troops to victory. Mark Zuckerberg wants to help you share baby photos, but Musk wants to ... well, save humanity from self-induced or accidental obliteration. The life Musk has established to work on all of his endeavors is absurd. A typical week begins for him in his villa in Bellaire. Montage are completely dedicated to working at SpaceX. On Tuesdays, Musk starts at SpaceX, then he jumps on his jet and flies to Silicon Valley. He spends a few days at Tesla, which has offices in Palo Alto and a factory in Fremont. Musk doesn't own a house in Northern California, so he mostly sleeps at the luxury Rosewood hotel or with friends. To organize stays with friends, Musk's assistant sends an email asking, "Room for a person?" And if the friend answers "Yes," Musk will be at the door sometime late at night. Most of the time, he's given a guest room, but he's also known for just falling asleep on the couch on occasion after relaxing with a few video games. On Thursday it's back to Los Angeles and SpaceX. He shares custody of his five sons - twins and triplets - with his ex-wife Justine; the children are with him four days a week. Every year, Musk calculates how much time per week he spent on the plane - it gives him a sense of
how much things are getting out of hand. When asked how he survived this tight schedule, Musk replied, "I had a tough childhood, that may have helped." During one of my visits to Muskland, he had our interview shortly before leaving for a camping holiday at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon laid. It was shortly before 8 p.m. on a Friday evening, so Musk would soon be putting his sons and their nannies in his private jet, after the flight, having drivers take them to his friends at the campsite, who then help the Musk clan unpack and set up should help at night. We had planned some hiking for the weekend and then it was time to stop relaxing. On Sunday afternoon, Musk wanted to fly back to Los Angeles with his boys, and then on to New York alone in the evening. Sleep. Take away morning talk shows on TV Monday morning. Meetings. Emails. Sleep. Tuesday morning back to Los Angeles. Working at SpaceX. Afternoon flight to San Jose for a visit to the Tesla factory. On the same evening to Washington D.C. for a meeting with President Obama. Back to Los Angeles Wednesday night. A few days of work at SpaceX, then to a weekend conference hosted by Google Chairman Eric Schmidt in Yellowstone. At the time, Musk had just split up with his second wife, actress Talulah Riley, and he was trying to figure out how to get some personal life on the side. "I think I'll devote enough time to the companies and my children," he said. “I'd like more time to meet up, though. I have to find a girlfriend. That's why I have to free up a little more time. Maybe even five or ten - how much time does a woman want a week? Maybe ten hours? Is that something like the minimum? I don't know. ”Musk rarely finds time to relax, but when he does, his parties are as dramatic as the rest of his life. On his 30th birthday, he rented a castle in England for about 20 people. From 2 a.m. to 6 a.m., Musk and guests played a hide and seek variation called sardines, in which one person runs and hides and the rest has to look for him. Another party took place in Paris. At midnight, Musk, his brother, and cousins were still up and running and decided to ride their bikes around town until 6 a.m. The day after they slept and then got on the Orient Express in the evening, where they stayed awake all night. On board the luxury train was the Lucent Dossier Experience, a group of avant-garde artists who demonstrated palmistry and acrobatics. When they arrived in Venice the next day, the Musk troop had dinner and then sat on the terrace of their hotel with a view of the Grand Canal until 9 a.m. Musk also loves masked balls. At one of them he appeared disguised as a knight and fought a duel with a parasol against a dwarf in Darth Vader costume. For one of his last birthdays, Musk invited 50 guests to a castle - or at least the most castle-like that the USA has to offer - in Tarrytown, New York.The motif of this party was Japanese steampunk, which is something like the wet dream of every science fiction fan: a mixture of corsets, leather and machine worship. Musk came as a samurai. Entertainment included a performance of The Mikado, a comic opera by Gilbert and Sullivan set in Japan, in a small downtown theater. "I'm not
sure the Americans got it, ”says Riley, who remarried Musk after his plan of ten hours a week for dating failed. What came after that, the Americans and everyone else present definitely liked: Back in the castle, Musk put on a blindfold, was pressed against a wall and had to hold a balloon and another between his legs in each hand. Then the knife thrower went to work. "I'd seen him before, but I was afraid he might have a bad day," says Musk. "At least I thought that if in doubt he would only hit one gonad instead of both." The audience was speechless and feared for Musk's health. "It was bizarre," says Bill Lee, one of Musk's good friends. "But Elon believes in the science of things." One of the best sumo wrestlers in the world and some of his compatriots also attended the party. A ring had been set up inside the lock and Musk took on the champion. "He was 350 pounds, and that wasn't sloppy pounds," says Musk. “I got on the adrenaline rush and managed to pick the guy up. He let me win the first round and then beat me. I think my back still hurts. ”Riley turned planning parties like this into an art form for Musk. However, she got to know him in 2008 when his companies were about to collapse. She watched as he lost all of his fortune and was ridiculed in the press. She knows that the sting of those years is still in her husband and that they were not the first traumatic experience in his life - combined with the tragic loss of a newborn son and a brutal childhood in South Africa, they mean a tormented soul. Riley goes to great lengths to ensure that Musk's escape from work and his past is refreshing, if not healing, for him. "I'm trying to think of interesting things he hasn't done so that he can relax," says Riley. "We're trying to make up some of his terrible childhood." Riley's efforts may be sincere, but they can help not always. A while after the sumo party, I met Musk again at work in Silicon Valley. It was a Saturday and the company parking lot was full of cars. Hundreds of young men were at work in the Tesla offices. Some designed car parts on the computer, others experimented with electronics on their desks. Every few minutes, Musk's roaring laughter could be heard spilling across the floor. When he walked into the conference room where I was waiting for him, I commented that it was impressive to see so many people in the office on a Saturday. Musk saw things differently and complained that fewer and fewer of his employees have been coming on weekends recently. "We've got the hell to be sloppy," he said. “I was just about to write an email about it. We're the hell else being sloppy. ”This attitude seems to fit well with the image one has of other visionaries. It is not difficult to imagine how Howard Hughes or Steve Jobs, for example, challenge their employees in a similar way. Building something new - especially something meaningful - is a dirty business. Musk has been an entrepreneur for two decades now, and in that time he has left a trail of people who either admire or despise him. In my journalistic work, I've had the opportunity to speak to many of them, hear their thoughts on Musk, and learn about all the filthy details of how he and his companies work.
My dinners with Musk and regular visits to Muskland, however, revealed other possible truths about this man. He's got up to something that is potentially far more significant than anything Hughes or Jobs ever created. Musk is active in industries like aerospace and automotive, which seemed almost abandoned in the US, and is reviving them as something new and exciting. At the core of this transformation is Musk's skill as a software programmer and his ability to apply it to machines as well. He brought atoms and bits together in a way that hardly anyone would have thought possible, and the results are spectacular. Of course, Musk does not yet have a hot mass product like the iPhone on offer and, unlike Facebook, it does not reach more than a billion people either. He still only produces toys for the rich and his nascent empire could collapse with an exploding rocket or a major Tesla recall. On the other hand, his companies have already achieved significantly more than his loudest opponents would have ever thought possible, and his promise of what is to come should make even bitter skeptics optimistic in weak moments. "For me, Elon is the shining example of how Silicon Valley could reinvent itself and become more relevant than if it were just looking for quick IPOs and the launch of products with incremental improvements," says Edward Jung, a respected software expert and Inventor. “These things are important, but they're not enough. We have to deal with other models for projects with a longer-term character and more technology integration. «Exactly the integration mentioned by Jung, ie the harmonious bringing together of software, electronics, the latest materials and computing power, seems to be a special talent of Musk. You just have to look at him a little differently and it looks as if he could pave the way into an age with impressive machines and science fiction dreams that have become reality with his special skills. In that sense, Musk is much more like Thomas Edison than Howard Hughes. He is an inventor, celebrated businessman, and industrialist who can turn great ideas into great products. He employs thousands of people who work metal in American factories, although that is actually unthinkable today. Originally from South Africa, Musk now looks like the most innovative industrialist in the United States, like its most unconventional thinker and like the person who is most likely to get Silicon Valley on a more ambitious course. Thanks to Musk, Americans will perhaps have the most modern highways in the world in ten years - a system of thousands of solar-powered charging stations used by silent electric cars. By then, SpaceX could also launch rockets every day that transport people and equipment to dozens of corners of space and prepare for longer journeys to Mars. These advances are hard to understand and yet seem inevitable if only Musk can buy enough time to make them work. As his ex-wife Justine says: “He does what he wants and he's merciless. It's Elon's world and the rest of us live in it too. "
2. AFRICA Elon Reeve Musk first appeared in public in 1984: The South African industry journal PC and Office Technologie published the program code for a video game he had developed called Blastar, which managed with just 167 command lines. The early computer users of that time still had to type in text commands to get their machines to do anything. With that in mind, Musk's program wasn't exactly a computer science marvel, but it was certainly far more than what most other 12-year-olds produced. The report in the magazine made Musk $ 500 and already revealed a bit of his nature. As you can read from page 69 onwards, like a science fiction writer, the young man wanted to be E.R. Musk and even then had great visions in mind. In a short explanation box it said: “In this game you have to destroy an alien space transporter that has deadly hydrogen bombs and state change machines on board. The game works skillfully with goblins and animation, so it's worth looking at the programming «(even the internet couldn't tell me what state change machines are supposed to be). A boy who is interested in space and struggles between good and bad is nothing special - but someone who takes these fantasies seriously is more likely. So it was with young Elon Musk. By the middle of his teenage years, he had mixed fantasy and reality so much that it was hard to tell them apart in his head. At some point, Musk saw securing a future for humanity in space as his personal obligation. If he had to develop cleaner energies or build spaceships to extend the range of the human species, then he would - somehow he would solve the problems. “Maybe I read too many comics as a kid,” he says. “Comics always seem to be about saving the world, somehow. I got the feeling that one should try to make the world a better place because it wouldn't make sense to do the opposite. ”At around 14, Musk got into a distinct existential crisis. He reacted to this, as many gifted young people do: by turning to religious and philosophical texts. Musk looked at a handful of ideologies and then ended up more or less where he came from. He adopted the science fiction lessons from one of the most influential books of his life - The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. "Adams explains that one of the hardest things is figuring out what questions to ask," says Musk. “Once you've found the questions, the answer is relatively simple.I came to the conclusion that we should definitely try to increase the breadth and depth of human consciousness so that we can better understand what the right questions are. "This is how the teenager Musk developed his ultralogical mission statement:" The only thing that makes sense is advocate for more collective education, «he says. The reasons for Musk's search for meaning are not difficult to see. Born in 1971, he grew up in Pretoria, a large city in northwestern South Africa, about an hour's drive from Johannesburg. For wealthy whites like the Musk family, life in South Africa was too
a certain poisoned stimulus at that time: whatever was needed was taken care of by a squad of black domestic helpers. Well-off South Africans were therefore mostly relaxed and known for their joie de vivre. They celebrated fantastic parties where they grilled lamb in the garden and drank plenty of wine, while nannies looked after the offspring and African dance groups provided entertainment until late at night. The nature around them was of incomparable beauty and vitality. And the population was much more generous with their time than was customary in the West. A popular expression in South Africa is "just now" for "right now" - and it can mean anything between five minutes and five hours. There was also a general feeling of freedom created by the raw, harsh energy of the African continent. Behind all these conveniences, of course, lurked the specter of apartheid. Time and again, South Africa boiled over with tension and violence. There were clashes between blacks and whites as well as between blacks of different tribes. Musk's childhood coincided with some of the bloodiest, most repulsive periods of apartheid. Musk turned four just a few days after the Soweto uprising that killed hundreds of black students in protests against white government decrees. Because of the racist politics there have been sanctions against South Africa by other states for years. Musk was still able to travel abroad in his childhood and should have got a feeling for how his homeland was seen in the rest of the world. White South African children who saw anything during this period clearly felt ashamed and knew that something was wrong with their country. Musk's idea that humanity needs to be saved has been confirmed time and again for him. But instead of just being interested in the immediate needs of South Africa, Musk focused his gaze on the entire species almost from the start. He saw the USA as clichéd as it gets: as the land of unlimited possibility and thus as the stage on which he was most likely to realize his dreams. And so it came about that a lonely, awkward boy from South Africa, who spoke completely seriously of the need for “collective enlightenment”, became America's most courageous industrialist. When Musk actually came to the US in his twenties, it was a return to his family roots. Family trees show that ancestors of his maternal side with the German-Swiss surname Haldeman moved from Europe to New York during the Revolutionary Wars. From there, they spread across the prairies of the Midwest, particularly the states of Illinois and Minnesota. "Apparently we had people on both sides in the Civil War and we were a family of farmers," says Musk's uncle Scott Haldeman, the unofficial family historian. Throughout his childhood, Musk was teased by other boys because of his unusual name. He owed the first part of it to his great-grandfather John Elon Haldeman, who was born in 18721 and grew up in Illinois before he left for Minnesota. There he met his wife, Almeda Jane Norman, who was five years his junior. In 1902 the couple had settled in a log cabin in the town of Pequot in central Minnesota and had their son Joshua Norman Haldeman, Musk's grandfather. He was to become an eccentric and extraordinary man and a role model for Musk.2 Joshua Norman Haldeman becomes more athletic and independent
Boy described. In 1907 his family moved to the Saskatchewan prairies, and shortly afterwards his father died. Joshua was only seven years old at the time but had to help with housekeeping. Rather, however, he was drawn to the wide, open country and he started rodeo riding, boxing and wrestling. Haldeman broke horses for local farmers, often injuring himself, and organized one of the first rodeos in Canada. Family photos show how he shows his skills in lasso throwing in chic cowboy pants. As a teenager, Haldeman left home and trained at the Palmer School of Chiropractic in Iowa. Then he returned to Saskatchewan to become a farmer. When the Great Depression broke out in the 1930s, Haldeman ran into financial hardship. He could no longer pay the bank loans for his machines and around 20.32 square kilometers of his land were seized. "From then on, Dad stopped believing in banking or saving," says Scott Haldeman, who would later graduate from chiropractic at the same school as his father and become one of the world's best experts on back pain. After completely losing his farm in 1934, Haldeman lived a nomadic life that his grandson would repeat decades later in Canada. 1.90 meters tall, he did odd jobs as a construction worker and rodeo rider before settling down as a chiropractor.3 By 1948, Haldeman had married the Canadian dance teacher Winnifred Josephine Fletcher (Wyn) and built a thriving chiropractic practice. That year the family grew around twin daughters Kaye and Musk's future mother Maye. They lived in a three-story, 20-room house that also had a dance studio so Wyn could continue teaching. Always looking for something new to do, Haldeman had started flying and bought his own plane. The family became a little notorious in the area when it became known that Haldeman and his wife loved to pack the children in their single-engine machine and explore all of North America. Haldeman also often traveled to political or chiropractic events on his plane. He later wrote a book with his wife called The Flying Haldemans: Pity the Poor Private Pilot. In 1950, everything seemed to be going well for Haldeman - and he decided to give it up. The doctor and politician had long fought against government interference in the lives of citizens and found the Canadian bureaucracy a nuisance. Haldeman, as a man who banned swearing, smoking, Coca-Cola, and white flour in his home, believed that morality in the country was in decline. He also had a constant desire for adventure. And so within a few months the family sold their house, dance school and chiropractic practice and decided to move to South Africa - where Haldeman had never been before. Scott Haldeman remembers how he helped his father dismantle the family's airplane, a 1948 Bellanca Cruisaire, and pack it into boxes for sea transport to Africa. When it got there, the family reassembled it and scanned the land from the air for a good place to live. Ultimately, the choice fell on Pretoria, where Haldeman worked as a chiropractor again. The family's thirst for adventure seemed to know no bounds. In 1952 Joshua and Wyn set off by plane on a 35,000-kilometer journey that took them across Africa to Scotland and Norway. Wyn made the navigator and took over, even though she didn't have a pilot's license,
also occasionally the steering wheel. The couple surpassed that trip in 1954 when they flew 48,000 kilometers to Australia and back. Newspapers reported, and the two are believed to be the only private pilots who have ever flown from Africa to Australia in a single-engine machine.4 When they were not in the air, the Haldemans made large expeditions lasting a month to explore the "Lost City" that should be found in the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa. A family photo from one of these excursions shows the five children in the middle of the African bush. They are gathered around a large metal pot warmed by the embers of a campfire. The children sit cross-legged in folding chairs, read books and appear relaxed. Behind them are the ruby red Bellanca plane, a tent and a car. The tranquility of this scene, however, hides how dangerous these trips were. Once the family's pickup truck drove over a tree stump, boring the bumper into the radiator. Stranded in the middle of nowhere with no means of communication, Joshua spent three days fixing the car while the family chased food. At other times their campfire was surrounded by hyenas and leopards at night, and one morning the family woke up to see a lion three feet away from their main table. Joshua grabbed the first thing he could find - a lamp - waved it and told the lion to go away. The animal obeyed.5 When bringing up children, the Haldemans relied on the principle of laissez-faire, which was to persist over the generations up to Musk. The children were never punished because Joshua believed that they would find the right behavior intuitively. When mom and dad went on one of their extravagant flights, the kids stayed home. Scott Haldeman cannot remember seeing his father once at his school, despite being the rugby team captain and stage president. "It was all just as expected for him," says Scott Haldeman. “We got the impression that we were capable of absolutely anything. You just have to decide and then do it. In that sense, my father would have been very proud of Elon. ”Haldeman died in 1974 at the age of 72. He practiced landings in his plane and overlooked a wire between two masts. The wire caught in the wheels of the plane, tipping it over, and Haldeman broke his neck. Elon was a toddler back then. But throughout his childhood he heard many stories about his grandfather's deeds and saw endless slide shows of his travels and expeditions in the bush."My grandmother told these stories about how she nearly died several times during her travels," says Musk. “They had an airplane with almost no instruments - not even a radio, and instead of aerial maps they had street maps and some of them weren't even correct. My grandfather had this urge to adventure, to go on expeditions, to do crazy things. ”Elon Musk is happy to agree that he might have inherited his unusually high risk tolerance directly from his grandfather. Many years after the last slide show, he wanted to buy the red Bellanca plane, but it could no longer be found. Elon's mother Maye Musk adored her parents. In her youth she was considered a nerd. She liked math and science and performed well. When she was 15 years old, they fell
but gradually also its other advantages. Maye was beautiful. She was tall, with light blonde hair, high cheekbones, and a smooth face that made her stand out everywhere. A family friend ran a modeling school and Maye took a few classes with him. At the weekend she appeared at fashion shows and had her picture taken for magazines, sometimes she was at a senator or ambassador's house for an event and at some point she also made it into the final for Miss South Africa. (Maye was still a model when she was over 60. She was featured on the covers of magazines like New Yorker and Elle, and Beyoncé in music videos.) Elon's father Maye and Errol Musk grew up in the same area. They first met when Maye, born in 1948, was around eleven years old. Compared to nerdy Maye, Errol was the cool boy, but he had a crush on her for years. “He fell in love with me because of my legs and teeth,” Maye says. During their studies, the two were together sometimes, sometimes not. And, according to Maye, Errol spent about seven years holding out for her hand and finally getting her to say yes. "He just kept proposing to me," she says. The marriage was difficult from the start. Maye became pregnant while on honeymoon and gave birth to Elon on June 28, 1971, nine months and two days after the wedding. The couple was not really happily married, but they managed to make a comfortable life in Pretoria. Errol worked as an engineer and was involved in large projects such as office buildings, shopping malls, housing developments, and an air force base. Maye opened a practice as a nutritionist. A little over a year after Elon's birth, his brother Kimbal was born, and soon afterwards their sister Tosca. Elon had all the hallmarks of a curious, energetic fellow. He understood easily, and like so many mothers, Maye found her son brilliant and precocious. "He seemed to understand things faster than the other kids," she says. What was confusing was that Elon sometimes seemed to go into a kind of trance. Someone was talking to him, but when he had a certain absent look nothing got through to him. This happened so often that Elon's parents and doctors thought he might be deaf. “Sometimes he just couldn't hear you,” Maye says. Doctors did a series of tests on him and decided to take out his polyps, which can improve hearing in children. "Well, it didn't change anything," Maye says. Elon's condition had more to do with his internal wiring than the functionality of his hearing aid. "He retreats into his own brain, and then you can just see that he's in another world," Maye says. “He's still doing it. Today I just leave him alone because I know he'll design a new missile or something. ”Other children didn't react nicely to these dreamlike states. You could jump a jack next to Elon or yell at him, but he didn't even notice. He just kept thinking and people around him believed he was either rude or really weird. “I think Elon was always a little different, but in a strange way. He didn't exactly make himself popular with his peers, ”Maye says. For Musk himself, those moments were wonderful. By the age of five or six he had found a way to lock out the rest of the world and focus on one task
focus. In part, this ability was due to the very visual workings of his brain. In his mind's eye he could see clear and detailed images, somewhat like today's computer construction drawings. "It's as if the part of the brain that is normally used to process visual impressions - that is, the part that processes incoming images from my eyes - is instead used for thought processes," says Musk. “I'm not so good at it now because there are so many things that require my attention, but as a child it happened a lot. The large part of the brain dedicated to incoming images participates in the thinking. ”In computers, the most difficult tasks are divided between two types of chips. There are graphics chips for processing the signals from television receivers or video games and computing chips for general tasks and mathematical operations. Over time, Musk came to believe that there was something like a graphics chip in his brain. With it he can see things from the outside world, replicate them mentally and imagine how they change or behave when they interact with other objects. "With pictures and numbers, I can see the connections between them and the algorithmic relationships," he says. "Acceleration, dynamics, kinetic energy - I see very clearly how these things are influenced by objects." The most striking thing about Musk's character as a young boy was his compulsive reading. From a very early age he always seemed to have a book in hand. "It wasn't unusual for him to read ten hours a day," says Kimbal. “At the weekend he could sometimes manage two books in a day.” During several trips to the shop, the family discovered at some point that Elon had been lost. Then Maye or Kimbal looked in the nearest bookstore and found him somewhere in the back corner, sitting on the floor reading in one of his trance-like states. As Musk got older, he went to the bookstore by himself after school at 2 p.m. and stayed there until about 6 p.m. when his parents came home from work. He worked his way through science fiction, then comics, and then nonfiction. "Sometimes they kicked me out of the store, but most of the time they didn't," he says. Some of his favorite books are The Lord of the Rings, the Foundation Cycle by Issac Asimov and Revolt on Luna by Robert Heinlein and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. “At some point there were no more books for me in the school library or the community library,” says Musk. “That was maybe third or fourth grade. I tried to persuade the librarian to order books for me. It was then that I started reading the Encyclopedia Britannica. That was very helpful. You don't know what you don't know. You can tell that there are all of these things out there. ”In fact, Musk was sucking up two complete reference books, each with a lot of volumes - which didn't exactly help him make friends. He had a photographic memory and the dictionaries made him a fact factory. He seemed like the classic know-it-all. Tosca once asked about the distance from the earth to the moon over dinner - and Elon immediately gave the exact number at the closest and farthest point in orbit. “When someone wanted to know something, Tosca always said, 'Ask the little genius,'” Maye says. “We could ask him anything. He just knew it. ”Elon's bookworm reputation was reinforced by his physical awkwardness. “He's not very athletic,” Maye says.
One evening, Maye says, Elon was playing outside with his siblings and cousins. When one of the children complained that he was afraid of the dark, Elon explained, "Darkness is just the absence of light," which did not help the fearful child very much. As a boy, Elon's constant urge to correct others and his rude manner led other children to avoid him, adding to his sense of isolation. Elon firmly believed that others would like to be explained where they were wrong. "But children don't like answers like that," Maye says. “Then they said things like 'Elon, we don't play with you anymore'. It made me very sad as a mother because I thought he wanted friends. Kimbal and Tosca brought friends, Elon didn't, but he wanted to play. But you know, he was weird. ”Maye urged Kimbal and Tosca to include Elon. They reacted in the same way as children react: "But mom, it's no fun with him!" However, as he got older, Elon developed strong, loving feelings for his siblings and cousins, the sons of his mother's sister. At school he stayed to himself, but he was very open in contact with family members and eventually took on the role of elder and chief rebel with the offspring. For a while, life in the Musk house was quite comfortable. The family owned one of the largest houses in Pretoria thanks to the success of Errol's engineering company. A picture of the three Musk children when Elon was about eight years old shows three blonde, healthy children sitting next to each other on a stone terrace, in the background the purple jacaranda trees for which Pretoria is famous. Elon has big round cheeks and a big smile. Not long after this picture was taken, the family broke up. The parents separated and divorced in less than a year. Maye moved with the children to the family's holiday home in Durban on the east coast of South Africa. After a few years, Elon decided that he wanted to live with his father. “My father seemed somehow sad and lonely. My mother had three children and he had none. I thought that was unfair, ”says Musk. Some members of his family believe that his logical thinking was actually behind the decision, others claim that Cora, his father's mother, put a lot of pressure on the boy. “I couldn't understand why he wanted to leave the happy home I made for him - this really happy home. But Elon has a mind of his own, ”Maye says.Justine Musk, his ex-wife and the mother of his five boys, argues that Musk identified with the alpha male in the house and cared little about the emotional aspects of his decision. "I don't think he was particularly close to any of his parents," says Justine, who describes the Musk clan as a whole as cool and the opposite of overly loving. Later, Kimbal also moved in with his father. A son would naturally want to live with his father, he just explained. As soon as the subject of Errol comes up, members of Musk's family close down. They all agree that he wasn't a pleasant person, but they don't want to elaborate on that. Errol later remarried and Elon has two younger half-sisters for whom he feels quite responsible. He and his siblings seem determined not to say bad things about their father in public so as not to cause problems for their half-sisters. In any case, the background looks like this: Errol Musk's family has deep South African roots. The Musk clan can trace its history back around 200 years in the country
and has an entry in the first Pretoria phone book. Errol's father, Walter Henry James Musk, was a sergeant in the army. "I remember he almost never spoke," says Elon. “He just drank whiskey, was in a bad mood, and very good at crossword puzzles.” Errol's mother, Cora Amelia Musk, was born in England to a family famous for their intellectual heritage. She loved the spotlight as well as her grandchildren. “Our grandmother was a very dominant personality and a very enterprising woman. It had a huge impact on our lives, ”says Kimbal. Elon saw his relationship with Cora - or Nana, as he called her - as particularly close. "She took great care of me after the divorce," he says. "She picked me up from school and we'd play Scrabble and stuff together." On the surface, life in the father's house seemed fine. He had plenty of books Elon could read cover to cover and enough money to buy a computer and other things Elon wanted. He took his children with him on many trips abroad. “It was an incredibly fun time. I have a lot of funny memories of it, ”says Kimbal. Errol also impressed his children with his intellect and gave them a lot of practical knowledge. "He was a good engineer," says Elon. "He knew how every physical object worked." Both Elon and Kimbal had to come to the construction sites where Errol was an engineer. There they learned how to build masonry, install sanitary facilities and lay electrical wiring. "Sometimes it was fun," says Elon. Kimbal describes his father Errol as "ultra-present and very intense". He was happy to have Elon and Kimbal sit down and give them three or four hour lectures during which the children were not allowed to say anything. He seemed to enjoy being tough on boys and making sure they didn't enjoy the usual childhood distractions. From time to time Elon tried to persuade his father to move to the United States and often spoke of wanting to live there later. Errol met such dreams by teaching Elon a lesson. He sent the housekeepers away and Elon had to do all the work himself - he should know what it is like to "play American". Elon and Kimbal don't want to go into any further details, but clearly they have experienced fundamentally terrible things in the years with their father. Both speak of having been subjected to some kind of psychological torture. “He definitely has some serious brain chemistry problem, and I'm sure Elon and I inherited that. Growing up was emotionally very difficult, but it made us what we are today, ”says Kimbal. Maye was irritable when I brought up the subject of Errol. "Nobody gets along with him," she says. “He's not nice to anyone. I don't want to tell stories because they are so terrible. You know, you just don't talk about it. It's about children and grandchildren, after all. "When I asked him to tell a little bit about Elon, Errol replied by email:" Elon was a very independent and focused child at home. He loved computer science before anyone in South Africa knew what it was, and by the time he was twelve his skills were widely recognized. As children and young men, Elon and his brother Kimbal engaged in so many and so diverse activities that it is difficult to pick one
to pick out. You have traveled extensively with me through South Africa and the whole world and from the age of six you have regularly visited all continents. Elon and his brother and sister were and still are exemplary in every way a father could ask for. I am very proud of what Elon has achieved. ”He also sent a copy of this e-mail to Musk, who warned me not to correspond further with his father. He insisted that his portrayal of the past could not be trusted. "He's a weird bird," says Musk. “He's completely insane.” But when I pressed for more information, he became evasive. “It would be fair to say I didn't have a good childhood. It may sound good. There was no shortage of good, but it was not a happy childhood. She was more likely to be unhappy. He's good at making life miserable - most definitely. He can take any situation, no matter how good, and make it bad. He's not a happy person. I don't know ... shit ... I don't know how to be like that. It would be too much of a problem if I told you more. ”Elon and Justine have vowed never to allow their children to meet their grandfather. When Elon was almost ten years old, he saw a computer for the first time in Johannesburg's Sandton City Mall. “There was an electronics store there that mostly sold hi-fi stuff. But then they started putting a couple of computers on display in a corner, ”Musk says. He was immediately carried away - "I thought 'man, holy shit'" - by the machine that could be programmed to carry out commands from people. "I had to have something like that and then whined my father to buy the computer," says Musk. Soon after, he had a Commodore VIC-20, a popular home device that hit the market in 1980. Elon's copy was delivered with 5 kilobytes of RAM and an exercise book for the BASIC programming language. "It should take six months to work through all of the lessons," says Musk. “I became completely obsessive about it and stayed awake for three days, then finished. It felt like the most compelling thing I had ever seen. ”Although he was an engineer, his father was more technophobic and dismissed the machine. "He said it was only there to play and you could never do real engineering with it," says Musk. “I only answered 'if you think so.'” While he was a bookworm and enthusiastic about his new computer, that didn't stop Elon from taking Kimbal and his cousins Russ, Lyndon and Peter Rive (Kaye's children) on frequent adventure tours respectively. For a season they tried door-to-door sales of Easter eggs in their neighborhood. The eggs weren't particularly nice, but the boys still charged their wealthy neighbors with a couple of hundred percent markups. Elon was also the leader in their experiments with homemade explosives and missiles. The Estes rocket kits popular with amateurs didn't exist in South Africa, so Elon mixed up his own chemicals and filled them into canisters. "It's amazing how many things you can explode," says Musk. “Niter, sulfur, and charcoal are the basic ingredients of gunpowder, and when you mix a strong acid with a strong base, a lot of energy is generally released. Chlorine powder with brake fluid is pretty impressive. I'm glad I still have all my fingers. ”When they weren't playing with explosives, the children put on several layers of clothing and goggles
and shot themselves with air rifles. Elon and Kimbal rode off-road bikes in sand pits until one day Kimbal was thrown off the bike and landed in a barbed wire fence. Over the years, the cousins took their entrepreneurial projects more seriously and even attempted to open a video arcade on one occasion. Without their parents knowing anything about it, they looked for a property for it, got a lease and started the approval process for their own business. Eventually they needed an adult to sign a document, but neither the Rives nor Musk's father Errol were willing to do so. It would take a couple of decades, but Elon and the Rives would later do business together. Perhaps the boys' most daring acts were their trips from Pretoria to Johannesburg. In the 1980s, South Africa could be an incredibly violent country, and the 55-kilometer train route between Pretoria and Johannesburg was considered one of the most dangerous in the world. Kimbal counts these train journeys among the most formative experiences for himself and Elon. »South Africa was not a carefree country and that leaves its mark. We saw really bad things. That was part of our atypical childhood - those crazy experiences that change how we look at risk. When you grow up in South Africa you don't think that it could be difficult to find a job. It's just not interesting enough. ”The boys were between 13 and 16 years old and in Johannesburg they looked partly for parties and partly for geek fun. Once they went to a Dungeons and Dragons tournament. "We were the master nerds at all," says Musk. They were all fans of the role-playing game, for which someone has to come up with a scene in a competition and then describe it, according to the pattern: »You come into a room and there is a chest in one corner. What do you do? ... You open the chest. You set off a trap.Dozens of goblins will be set free. ”Elon was an excellent dungeon master and knew the lyrics by heart, describing the abilities of the monsters and other characters. "Under Elon's leadership we played incredibly well and won the tournament," says Peter Rive. "It takes an incredible amount of imagination to win, and Elon really made sure people were captivated and intrigued." The Elon his schoolmates met was far less inspiring. In the middle and high school he changed schools several times. He finished 8th and 9th grades at Bryanston High School. One afternoon he and Kimbal were sitting at the top of a concrete staircase eating when a boy decided to tackle Elon. “I was more or less hiding from his gang who the hell chased me for god knows what shitty reason. I think I accidentally bumped this guy at the gathering that morning, and he found it a tremendous insult. ”The boy pulled himself up behind Elon, kicked him in the head, then pushed him down the stairs. Musk fell to the top, then a whole group of boys beat him; some kicked him in the side and the leader rammed his head on the ground. "That was a bunch of bloody lunatics," says Musk. "I passed out." Kimbal watched in horror, fearing for Elon's life. He ran down the stairs to where Elon lay with a bloody and swollen face. "He
looked like someone who just came out of the boxing ring, ”he recalls. Then Elon had to go to the hospital. "It took me about a week to get back to school," he says (at a press conference in 2013 he revealed that he later had his nose operated on as a result of the beating). For three or four years, Musk had to endure the merciless hunts of the thugs. They even beat up a boy he thought was his best friend until he promised to stop doing anything with Elon. “More than that, they got him - my bloody best friend - to lure me out of hiding so they could beat me up. That hurt a lot, ”says Musk. As he recounted this part of his story, his eyes moisturized and his voice trembled. “For some reason they came after me and chased me all the time. That made growing up difficult. For several years I had no respite. At school I was chased by gangs trying to beat the shit out of me, and when I got home it was just as horrible there. It was like non-stop terror. ”Musk later moved to Pretoria Boys High School, where a surge in growth and generally better student behavior made his life more bearable. Pretoria Boys is officially a public school, but has been run more like a private school for 100 years. Young men are sent to them to prepare them for study at Oxford or Cambridge. The boys in this class remember Musk as a personable, calm and inconspicuous student. "There were four or five boys who were considered the smartest of them all," says Deon Prinsloo, who sat behind him in some subjects, "but Elon wasn't one of them." note that Musk was isolated from his lack of interest in exercise in a sport-obsessed culture. "There really was absolutely no sign that he was going to be a billionaire," says Gideon Fourie, one of them. “He never had a position as a leader in the school. I was very surprised to see what became of him. ”Musk didn't have close friends at school, but his eccentric interests made an impression. One boy - Ted Wood - recalls that Elon brought model rockets to school and shot them down during breaks. And that wasn't the only indication of his ambitions. During a science class debate, Musk stood out because he railed against fossil fuels in favor of solar power - almost sacrilege in a country where the earth's natural resources are extensively mined. "He's always had very firm views," says Wood. According to Terency Beney, a classmate who stayed in touch with Musk over the years, Musk began dreaming of colonizing other planets as early as high school. Another hint from the future: During a break, Elon and Kimbal were chatting in the school yard when Wood came over and asked them what it was about. “'We are talking about whether branch banks are still needed in the financial industry and whether there will soon be paperless banks,' they told me. I remember thinking what an absurd remark that was. I just said, 'Yeah, that's great,' ”says Wood.6
Musk did not belong to the academic elite of his class, but he was among the handful of students who were given an experimental computer course because of their grades and self-expressed interest. Students from several schools were brought together and were supposed to learn the programming languages BASIC, Cobol and Pascal. Meanwhile, Musk expanded his technical inclinations with his love for science fiction and fantasy and he even tried his own stories with dragons and supernatural beings. "I wanted to write something like the Lord of the Rings," he says. Seeing these high school years through a mother's eyes, Maye shares countless occasions where Elon has shown spectacular academic performance. The video game he wrote, she says, impressed much older, more experienced experts. He excelled in math exams, which were intended for much higher age groups. And he had this incredible memory. The only reason he didn't leave the other boys far behind was his lack of interest in school-mandated work. Musk himself approached school as follows, according to his own account: “I thought about which grades I needed to get where I wanted to go. There were compulsory subjects like Afrikaans and I just didn't see the point in studying. It struck me as ridiculous. I just got through and was happy with it. In subjects like physics and computer science, however, I got the best grades there are. For me there has to be a reason for a grade. I wanted to play video games, write software, and read books rather than try to get an "A" when there was no reason to. I can still remember failing exams in some subjects in fourth or fifth grade. Then my mother's friend told me that if I didn't pass, I would sit still. I didn't even know that you had to pass to get to the next level. After that I got the best grades in the class. «At the age of 17, Musk left South Africa for Canada. He has already reported on this trip in many interviews and he usually mentioned two different motivations for it. The short version is that he wanted to go to the US as soon as possible and was able to use Canada as a stepping stone because of its Canadian ancestors. The second variant reveals more social awareness: In South Africa there was compulsory military service at the time and, as he says, Musk did not want to join the army because it would have made him part of the apartheid regime. It is seldom mentioned that Musk attended the University of Pretoria for five months before embarking on this great adventure. He began studying physics and mechanical engineering, but did not show much commitment and soon left the university. Musk describes the short study as a mere activity for the time in which he had to wait for his papers for Canada. So this phase of his life was on the one hand insignificant. On the other hand, the fact that he was lounging at university to avoid military service goes badly with Musk's portrayal of himself as a thoughtful and adventurous young man. This is probably the reason why the guest performance at the University of Pretoria is apparently never mentioned. There is no doubt, however, that Musk had been longing to come to the US for a long time. His early interest in computers and technology had him extremely curious about
Made in Silicon Valley and his travels abroad strengthened his belief that the US was the place to go to get something done. The homeland, on the other hand, offered far fewer opportunities for his entrepreneurial soul. As Kimbal puts it, "For someone like Elon, South Africa was like a prison." Musk's escape opportunity came with a change in law that allowed Maye to pass on her Canadian citizenship to her children. He immediately found out how to fill out the necessary forms. Canadian government approval and passport issuance took about a year. "When the time came, Elon said, 'I'm going to Canada,'" Maye says. In those days before the Internet, he had to wait three excruciating weeks for a plane ticket. When it was there, he turned his back on his homeland without hesitation, forever.
3. CANADA Musk's great escape to Canada was not well prepared. He knew about a great uncle in Montreal, so he got on a plane and just hoped for the best. On landing in June 1988, Musk found a pay phone and tried to use the information to find his uncle. When that didn't work, he called his mother on a collect call. She had bad news for him. Before leaving Musk, she had written to the uncle and received a reply while her son was away: The relative had moved to Minnesota, which meant Musk had no place to stay. With his bags in hand, he made his way to a youth hostel. After staying in Montreal for a few days and exploring the city, Musk tried to come up with a long-term plan. Maye had relatives across Canada and Musk began contacting them. For $ 100 he bought a national bus ticket that he could use to get on and off at will and opted for a ride to Saskatchewan, his grandfather's former home. After a 3,000-kilometer bus journey, he reached Swift Current, a small town of around 15,000 people.From the bus station he just called a second cousin and then hitchhiked to his house. Over the next year, Musk took on a number of quirky jobs in different locations. He sold vegetables and shoveled out granaries on a cousin's farm in the tiny town of Waldeck. He also celebrated his 18th birthday there with a cake for the family he had just met and a few strangers from the neighborhood. He then learned in Vancouver to cut tree trunks with a chainsaw. He got his toughest job after visiting the unemployment office. He asked about the best paid job - it turned out to be cleaning the boiler in a sawmill for $ 18 an hour. "You have to put on a protective suit and then crawl through a small tunnel that you can barely fit into," says Musk. “You have to use a shovel to remove sand, sticky stuff, and other debris that is still scorching hot, and shovel it through the same hole you came through. There is no escape. Someone else at the end of the tunnel has to keep shoveling the stuff into a wheelbarrow. If you stay in there for more than 30 minutes, it gets too hot and you die. ”At the beginning of the week, 30 people started this job, on the third day there were five of them, at the end of the week just Musk and two other men . As Musk worked his way through Canada, his brother, sister, and mother figured out how to get there as well.7 When Kimbal and Elon were indeed reunited in Canada, the two young men blossomed with idiosyncratic, playful characters. Elon enrolled at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario in 1989 (he chose Queens instead of the University of Waterloo because he thought there were more good-looking women in Queens8). While studying, Elon read newspapers with Kimbal - the two were looking for interesting people they could meet. They took turns calling these people, uninvited, and asking if they would like to meet for lunch. The harassed included the head of marketing for the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team,
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