In 2021, Time Magazine voted Elon Musk Person of the Year.
The choice was certainly daring but in view of the year that has just ended, it appears that the magazine may have been in the wrong year. 2022 belonged to Musk, the CEO or founder of at least five major companies: Tesla (TSLA) - Get Free Report, SpaceX, Twitter, Neuralink and The Boring Company.
No other person in the world has had as much influence as the billionaire last year. He has been at the center of everything: from politics to geopolitics to business. He has simply shaped the year, managing to find himself at the center of almost every conversation.
His influence kept growing. He has over 124 million followers on Twitter. Only former President Barack Obama, with 133.3 million followers, has more.
Some will say that Musk was everything that should not be done when you are a CEO or when you have as much power as he does. Others will say that he heralded a new era for business leaders. The latter have become everything and can deploy their many facets without having to fear being fired.
It's the era of the Everything CEO.
The billionaire arouses strong passions. Fans and admirers are die-hard. They do not hesitate to attack the authors of articles that do not praise their hero. Critics turn into haters and send mean emails to journalists who write any article showing Musk in a positive light. Since former President Donald Trump no other public figure has sparked so much heated debate, controversy and media coverage.
Musk became the owner of Twitter, defined as the Town Square of our time, on October 27. The platform is the place where opinion makers and trendsetters meet. He spent a colossal sum of $44 billion to get his hands on this important tool in the communication of the powerful and the work of journalists.
He embarked on a smashing revamp of Twitter 2.0. He fired nearly every top executive in a matter of hours in what appeared to be a purge. He eliminated half of the employees in one day, or 3,750 people, and managed to make more than a thousand more leave a few days later by giving them a tough choice: work long hours or quit.
Besides this exodus of talents, Musk has also done what few bosses will do: scare away advertisers, who accounted for 91% of social media revenue in the 2022 second quarter, by adopting a laissez-faire approach to content. He reactivated accounts banned by Twitter 1.0 for xenophobic or anti-transgender comments and got rid of the safeguards against misinformation linked to the pandemic.
His vision of free speech has also varied a lot, especially when it comes to criticism against him. Besides Twitter, all these events also affected Tesla because Musk now sees himself as the righter of the wrongs caused to conservatives by the progressives. This politicization of the billionaire, who called for voting Republican in the last midterm elections, had a significant impact on the Tesla brand.
Difficult to Sell Teslas to Democrats
"In the past year, we have seen Tesla's brand lose equity across every brand value, from foundational safety to refinement," said research-based consultancy firm Strategic Vision President, Alexander Edwards. "These problems are magnified in that battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are more often purchased by self-identified Democrats who have generally opposed Musk's actions with Twitter. It will become more difficult to sell Tesla vehicles as the narrative of Twitter makes the vehicles seem less fun and alienates the primary buyer."
Since Musk finalized the Twitter deal on Oct. 27, Tesla stock has lost 45.3 percent of its value, sparking outrage in the Tesla community. Individual investors have demanded that he be replaced as CEO, something never heard before.
To skeptics, the billionaire asks for time. He made the bet to transform Twitter into an everything app, that is to say a platform where it will be possible to carry out all the activities of daily life.
Musk has also had a significant influence on geopolitical affairs. He was one of the first major CEOs to break with neutrality after the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24. The tech tycoon presented this war as one of autocracies against democracies.
If he then made missteps, like his controversial plan to end the ongoing conflict that has already caused thousands of deaths, there is no doubt that by providing Starlink to Ukraine the billionaire was a game changer.
Starlink is a secure and independent satellite internet access service developed by SpaceX, a rocket company founded by Musk. The service has become the unique communication system for the Ukrainian forces at the front lines. It also allows Ukrainians to bypass Russian propaganda and tell their daily life in war.
Beyond Ukraine, Starlink has become a window of freedom for populations living under a dictatorship such as in Iran where protesters against the Ayatollahs' regime demand the service.
Musk promised to change the world. He wants to extend it to Mars where he claims humans will be living soon. In 2022, he gave the world an idea of the revolution he aspires to.
The question is whether it will be well received.