Elon Musk is at turns ingenious, impulsive and infuriating. He is also a corporate maverick, unafraid to tackle myriad industries by his own rules.
After revolutionizing the auto industry, sending his own rocket to space — with his car on board — and building the world’s biggest fortune, the eccentric billionaire is the new king of social media after US news outlets reported he took charge of Twitter on Thursday and fired its top executives.
That will give him control of the network on which the world debates, mobilizes, bickers and throws shade, Musk often first among them.
The deal will also fuel the fire over his political views, business methods, outsized personality and unconventional personal life — flames he does nothing to douse.
He is libertarian, anti-woke and promotes himself as a champion of free speech. He has been accused of being autocratic and bullying.
“The reason I acquired Twitter is because it is important to the future of civilization to have a common digital town square” for healthy debate, Musk said earlier Thursday, while insisting it could not become a “free-for-all hellscape.”
His takeover of the social media juggernaut caps a months-long roller coaster of announcements, counter-announcements and legal maneuvering — which he characteristically punctuated by firing jabs at the company on its own platform.
It is the latest corporate conquest for Musk, after online publishing and payments, space travel and electric cars.
The 51-year-old is the richest person in the world, a title he took last year from Amazon’s Jeff Bezos following the meteoric rise of Tesla, his electric automaker founded in 2003.
– Newsmaker, for better and worse –
Musk’s businesses make headlines for the right reasons: his space transport firm SpaceX is a partner in a three-way venture that sent the first fully private mission to the International Space Station.
But his empire also makes news of a less flattering kind: Tesla has faced a series of lawsuits alleging discrimination against Black workers as well as sexual harassment.
In parallel with the whiplash-inducing stream of business news, Musk’s unconventional private life also keeps the world’s eyebrows raised.
Musk has had two children with his on-again off-again partner, the musician Grimes: a son, X AE A-XII, known as X, and a girl they named Exa Dark Sideræl Musk — although the parents will mostly call her Y.
He also fathered twins with a top executive in Neuralink, a company he co-founded.
One way or another, Musk has become one of the most ubiquitous figures of the era. So how did he get where he is today?
– To Mars… and beyond? –
Born in Pretoria, on June 28, 1971, the son of an engineer father and a Canadian-born model mother, Musk left South Africa in his late teens to attend Queen’s University in Ontario.
He transferred to the University of Pennsylvania after two years and earned bachelor’s degrees in physics and business.
After graduating from the Ivy League school, Musk abandoned plans to study at Stanford University in California.
Instead, he dropped out and started Zip2, a company that made online publishing software for the media industry.
He banked his first millions before the age of 30 when he sold Zip2 to US computer maker Compaq for more than $300 million in 1999.
Musk’s next company, X.com, eventually merged with PayPal, the online payments firm bought by internet auction giant eBay for $1.5 billion in 2002.
After leaving PayPal, Musk embarked on a series of ever more ambitious ventures.
He founded SpaceX in 2002 — now serving as its chief executive officer and chief technology officer — and became the chairman of electric carmaker Tesla in 2004.
After some early crashes and near-misses, SpaceX perfected the art of landing booster engines on solid ground and ocean platforms, rendering them reusable, and late last year it sent four tourists into space, on the first ever orbital mission with no professional astronauts on board.
Musk’s jokingly-named The Boring Company is touting an ultra-fast “Hyperloop” rail transport system that would transport people at near supersonic speeds.
And he has said he wants to make humans an “interplanetary species” by establishing a colony of people living on Mars.
To this end, SpaceX is developing a prototype rocket, Starship, which it envisages carrying crew and cargo to the Moon, Mars and beyond — with Musk saying he feels confident of an orbital test this year, possibly in November.
Musk, who holds US, Canadian and South African citizenship, has been married and divorced three times — once to the Canadian author Justine Wilson and twice to actress Talulah Riley. He has nine children. A tenth child died in infancy.
Forbes estimates his current net worth at $222 billion.