When Twitter negotiated a sale to Elon Musk last month, the social network put out a book about the company’s takeover. Musk did not. He once told a close associate that he had no financial plan or managed Twitter.
To drive the success of the $44 billion deal, he reached out to a small team, including Jared Birchall, the chief executive officer of many of the companies Musk founded or co-founded, and Alex Spiro, his personal attorney. grandfather. And when Twitter denied his public statements, Musk pressured the company with a string of tweets — some sly, some sassy, and all impulsive.
Tech billionaires like Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Larry Page often make long-term plans and manage their affairs through a corporate apparatus of various lawyers, media specialists, and advisors. The world’s richest 50-year-old man is unlike any of them.
Far from other billionaires, this businessman acts on his own and thinks he is 100% right, according to interviews with more than 30 employees, investors and people who have worked with him. Although Musk has made successful bets on electric cars, space travel and artificial intelligence, he often improvises at decisive moments, does not need experts and relies almost exclusively on ideas. own opinion, they said.
To operate this way, Musk has built a world of his own with about 10 confidants who always agree with his ideas. They include his younger brother, Kimbal Musk, Mr Birchall, Mr Spiro and various “chiefs of staff”. To realize his ideas, Musk is constantly creating new companies, he takes control of most of them. Of course, his trusted associates all work in his business empire.
Alex Spiro, Musk’s personal attorney
Once Musk has identified each company’s key projects – known as the “critical road” – he takes over to ensure that his vision is met, controlling the tiniest aspects of how it is built. technology development and implementation. Musk works the way only “the most confident leaders do,” said Tim Draper, a venture capitalist.
At a 2018 conference, Musk admitted he behaved in an impulsive fashion. That’s a lesson he learned more than 25 years ago after founding his first startup, Zip2. “I don’t really have a business plan,” he said. “I used to make business plans in my Zip2 development days. But these things always go wrong, so I don’t bother with business plans anymore.”
Kimbal Musk, Musk’s younger brother
Musk’s way of working could have a big impact on Twitter. Last week, Parag Agrawal, Twitter’s chief executive officer, told the company’s more than 7,000 employees that once Mr Musk takes over, “we don’t know which direction this company is going to take.”
Stay in control
Born in Pretoria, South Africa, Elon Musk became interested in computers and programming languages at an early age. After attending college in Canada, he moved to the US in 1992, graduating with a degree in economics and physics from the University of Pennsylvania and then applying for a PhD in physics at Stanford University.
At a certain point, Musk suddenly dropped out of Stanford to pursue a career in business. His first start-up was in 1995, with a tour guide service called Zip2, in partnership with his brother, Kimbal. Computer maker Compaq later acquired Zip2 for more than $300 million.
In 1999, Mr. Musk helped found X.com, an online payments company, now known as PayPal. During a live TV appearance that year, Musk said the company would secure eBay transactions. Notably, this was the first time his engineers had heard of the feature, said a person who worked with him at the time. This person said they had to “race” to make this feature a reality.
Peter Thiel and Mr. Musk in 2000
In 2000, the board of directors of X.com and chief executive Peter Thiel ousted Mr. Musk over disagreements over the direction of the company. It was a shock to Musk that he embraced the idea early on that he alone would be in charge of future business ventures.
When he founded SpaceX in 2002 and invested in Tesla in 2004, he made sure that he could unleash his full potential at each company. He poured more than $100 million of his own money into SpaceX during its early years and took control of most of the company. At Tesla, Mr. Musk owns 16% of the shares and has put “familiar faces” on the board, including his younger brother and Antonio Gracias, a longtime friend and investor.
“You can put your eggs in one basket, as long as you control what happens to that basket,” he told Inc Magazine. in 2007. Today, Musk oversees or is affiliated with at least 10 companies, including public, private, and parent companies like Wyoming Steel, which he uses to manage real estate. His net worth is around $250 billion.
As Mr. Musk founded more companies, he “recruited” more associates. In 2002, Mr. Musk hired Gwynne Shotwell as SpaceX’s seventh employee. As president and chief executive officer of the rocket maker, Ms. Shotwell oversaw the company’s growth, becoming one of Musk’s longest-serving employees.
Gwynne Shotwell, President and CEO of SpaceX
At a conference in 2018, Ms. Shotwell explained how she manages Mr. Musk: “When Elon says something, you have to stop and not immediately say, ‘Wow, that’s impossible. , or “There’s no way we’re doing that. I don’t know how,” she said. “So you should hold back and brainstorm. And you find a way to get it done.”
A year full of changes
An unforgettable year for Musk is probably 2018, when his solo, impulsive style returns. At Tesla, he pushed to ramp up production of the company’s Model 3 sedan. Believing that only he could get the job done, he fired the executive in charge of production and decided to renovate the entire assembly line at his factory in Fremont, California.
“There were times when I didn’t leave the factory for three or four days,” Musk said. After the Model 3 overhaul, Musk grew tired of Tesla having to navigate the pressures of the market. On August 2, 2018, he drafted an email to the company’s board of directors with the subject line: “Offer to take Tesla private at $420 per share.”
Musk’s “comrades” are very excited. “I think Tesla in private mode would be awesome!” Kimbal Musk, a Tesla board member, texted his brother. On August 7, Mr. Musk announced the idea with the tweet: “I’m considering privatizing Tesla at $420/share. Capital secured.”
Despite cheers from insiders, Musk’s attempt failed. The funding he envisaged to take Tesla private did not materialize. Tesla shareholders filed a lawsuit against him in August 2018. A month later, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged Musk with securities fraud.
Deepak Ahuja, then Tesla’s chief financial officer, said: “Elon’s business approach is to have as little documentation as possible. He really does business based on verbal commitment and a handshake.” That year, Musk was fined by the SEC and had to pay $20 million.
Throughout the years of ups and downs, Musk has remained “faithful” to Twitter. He often tweets dozens of posts in a day to his more than 90 million followers. Often these posts comment on Tesla short sellers, share memes, and reflect on the pandemic, politics, and Dogecoin. In 2020, he scrapped Tesla’s communications department, in part because he felt he could reach fans and customers directly through Twitter, the former employee said.
Musk’s love for the social media company prompted him to buy it. To execute the deal last month, he asked Mr. Birchall to handle the logistics and conferred with Twitter, Mr. Spiro spoke to the media, according to financial documents. Musk also founded three new companies called X Holdings I, II and III, which aim to fund the Twitter trading, according to securities filings.
After winning last week, he celebrated with a tweet showing a heart emoji and a rocket. On this April 28, he wrote: “Make Twitter as fun as possible!”