The 48-year old South African born billionaire has been able to leverage his public profile into a social media following that is unprecedented, as his 31 million Twitter followers can attest, for a company of Tesla's size.
That social media celebrity has provided him with a megaphone to respond to critics, both real and imagined, in a way that has made the old Wall Street guard nervous.
The same factors that draw some people Musk and Tesla are the same factors that repulse others about the company. Here is a primer on everything Elon Musk.
What is Elon Musk's Net Worth?
Outside of Tesla, Elon Musk is the CEO of space exploration company SpaceX and mining company The Boring Company.
In spite of the fact that Musk currently draws a yearly minimum wage salary from Tesla -- he reportedly didn't want to draw any salary but he is prohibited from doing that due to California law -- Musk is worth about $43.2 billion, according to Forbes.
More on Tesla's future here.
Elon Musk's Salary
Elon Musk may choose to forgo a real salary at Tesla for now, but a big payday is coming if the company can reach its lofty disruptive goals.
In 2018, Tesla shareholders approved a compensation plan that is designed to award Musk $2.6 billion in stock option in 12 tranches, or portions, over the next 10 years. However, since the compensation will be based on the company's stock performance, Musk could bring home as much as $55.8 billion over the next 10 years.
To reach the top end of his tiered compensation package, Musk will have to guide the company to a valuation of more than $650 billion from its $50 billion current valuation.
"Tesla is in a curious spot right now, led by CEO Elon Musk, who seems to be in a strange place himself. One must understand that Musk embodies Tesla, and the company will only go as far as he can take it," Investing.com Senior Analyst Clement Thibault told TheStreet.
Musk's compensation packages at SpaceX and The Boring Company are unknown because those companies are privately held.
How Did Musk Make His Current Fortune?
Musk made his first million when he sold a software company called Zip2 that he owned with brother Kimbal Musk to PC company Compaq for nearly $300 million. Musk's share of that sale was $22 million, according to the New York Post.
Musk then used that money to co-found X.com, which after merging with a rival, was renamed PayPal Inc. (PYPL) - Get Report . PayPal was sold to eBay (EBAY) - Get Report in 2002, netting Musk another $180 million. Musk used his newfound fortune to lead an early round of financing for Tesla in 2004. While the company struggled to gain traction, Musk moved from the company's board to his CEO position in 2008.
That early investment in Tesla has paid off as the company's stock has jumped from $19 per share in 2010 to over $418 when 2020 began.
Musk has a history of putting his money into issues he cares about (see: Tesla, SpaceX), so his investment in DeepMind Technologies in 2010 makes sense. His money helped launch the artificial intelligence company which would eventually sell to Google (GOOGL) - Get Report for what was reported to be between $400 million and $600 million.
In late 2016, Musk founded The Boring Company, a tunnel construction project that aims to alleviate traffic congestion by moving it underground. To get the company off of the ground, Musk appealed to his followers who purchased $840,000 worth of The Boring Company hats and spent another $7.5 million on a limited edition The Boring Company flamethrower.
Musk is using that money to dig a 6.5-mile proof of concept tunnel beneath Los Angeles that he hopes will result in a government contract. In June of this year, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that The Boring Company will build and operate a multi-billion rapid transit link between the city's O'Hare International Airport and its downtown area.
Musk could get much richer soon as a result of Tesla's fortunes. Due to an incentive package, if Tesla holds a valuation of over $100 billion for six months, it triggers a $346 million payout for Musk. Tesla first reached over $100 billion in valuation in late January of 2020, at share prices of $566. In February, share prices spiked to over $900, valued nearly $141 billion.
Elon Musk's Education
Musk left South Africa in 1988 for the golden shores of Montreal, Canada. After a year of working odd jobs around the country, Musk enrolled at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario in 1990, according to an Esquire profile on him.
Musk didn't spend much time in class, however, telling Esquire "I had a roommate from Hong Kong, and he was a really nice guy. He religiously attended every lecture, which was helpful, since I went to the least number of classes possible."
In 1992, after two years at Queen's, Musk joined the Ivy League when he enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania. Two years later during the fall semester Musk was tasked with coming up with a business plan for one of his classes. He then wrote a paper entitled "The Importance of Being Solar."
In the paper Musk laid out his vision of the future of solar energy, detailing how solar panels work and why the technology had room to grow. Musk concluded the paper with a drawing of the "power station of the future," which in his description featured two giant solar arrays, each four kilometers in width, that beamed solar energy back to a seven-kilometer antenna back on earth.
Musk got a 98 on that paper, according to Esquire.
Musk graduated with a bachelor's degree in physics and economics from the Wharton School before he enrolled in Stanford's graduate program to pursue his Ph.D. He never finished the program, in fact not even lasting a semester, and decided instead to launch his first startup, Zip2, with his brother.
Elon Musk's Controversy
Elon Musk's personality is part of what has made him so wildly successful and produced the cult around him that is willing to purchase the hats and flamethrowers necessary to get his latest ideas off the ground.
But that same personality has gotten him into trouble as his presence on Twitter has resulted in numerous controversies in 2018.
Musk's antics hadn't sparked much backlash until an unusual earnings call after the company reported its quarterly results in May. Musk called a query from an analyst during the call "boneheaded," before moving on to the next question.
A couple of minutes later, Musk interrupted another analyst before saying "We're going to go to YouTube. Sorry. These questions are so dry. They're killing me."
Musk went on to tell an analyst, who had asked about the stock's volatility, saying that he had no interest in satisfying the desires of day traders.
"I couldn't care less. Please sell our stock and don't buy it. I mean, I think that if people are concerned about volatility, they should definitely not buy our stock. In note here to convince you to buy our stock. Do not buy it if volatility is scary. There you go," Musk said. The next day, Tesla's stock dropped by more than 5%, wiping off $2 billion from the stock's valuation.
Musk's battle with the media was just heating up, however.
Musk criticized Reuters for being "relentlessly negative about Tesla," suggesting that the news service published articles to "mislead the people." He also took CNBC to task for the quality of analysts that the business network brought on air to discuss Tesla. He wondered aloud whether viewers of the network were aware of the "low ratings & extremely bad prediction records," the analysts held.
Musk also frequently takes shots at the short sellers who have helped make the company's stock the market's most shorted.
Then in a completely avoidable controversy, Musk struck back at a cave diver who helped free 12 boys from a Thai soccer team who were trapped in a cave for two weeks. Musk offered to help the rescue effort by sending a "tiny, kid-size submarine."
The cave diver, Vern Unsworth, then told CNN that the submarine, which arrived in Thailand on the second day of the rescue mission but was not deemed useful, was a "P.R. stunt" and that Musk should "stick his submarine where it hurts."
At that point it was go time for Musk, who responded by tweeting that Unsworth was possibly a pedophile. Musk apologized and deleted the tweets shortly after their publication, however, seemingly after someone explained to him how libel laws work. Unsworth did sue Musk for defamation, but the jury ended up ruling that Musk was not liable.
How Does Elon Musk Spend His Money?
So how does the mercurial, South African billionaire spend his money? On real estate of course.
Musk owns residential property worth more than $70 million in the Bel-Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, according to The Real Deal and Variety. His latest purchase: a $24 million estate in the area.
Musk also has a $17 million 1.67 acre estate in Bel-Air that features 20,248 square feet, a two-story library, a home theater, gym and 1,000-bottle wine cellar, according to Variety.
In 2013, Musk purchased the Lotus Esprit submarine car used in a James Bond movie for $920,000, according to CNBC.