Visionary or villain? The enigma of Elon Musk

Rocket man: The SEC claimed Musk sent the tweets as a joke to impress his girlfriend, singer Grimes. © Getty

Is he a role model? Elon Musk has blasted US regulators for forcing him to pay a $20 million fine after accusing him of fraud. His behaviour has grown increasingly erratic in recent months.

A thriving city on Mars with everything from “iron foundries to pizza joints”. An electric pod that catapults you between cities at 600 mph.

Welcome to the future according to Elon Musk, visionary entrepreneur and eccentric billionaire.

But recently, he has been hauled down to Earth with a bump.

In September, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) fined him $20 million (£15.3 million) and forced him to resign as chairman of Tesla, his electric car company, for three years.

He agreed to pay the fine but is still seething about what happened. In an interview yesterday he said he “no respect” for regulators, and that he only paid the fine out of “respect” for the justice system.

The fines relate to a series of tweets he posted which broke industry rules by misleading investors.

Musk’s emotional state has grown erratic, tearfully admitting that the toll of Tesla’s struggle to make a profit has left friends “really concerned” for him.

Most bizarrely, in July he groundlessly called Vernon Unsworth, a British diver who helped rescue 12 Thai boys trapped in a cave, a “paedo”.

Musk was an early figure in the internet boom and made his first billion when eBay bought his online payment company Paypal in 2002.

His greatest achievement came earlier this year with the launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket, which blasted a Tesla sports car into orbit using reusable launchers.

Is he a role model?

The mad scientist

No way, say some. While Musk’s ambition can’t be faulted, most of his goals are unrealistic and will see huge sums of money wasted. Besides, his behaviour shows him as spoilt, arrogant, irresponsible and cruel. What’s to admire?

We should all take inspiration from him, argue others. Elon Musk’s vision, dedication and boundary-pushing mark him out as a true genius. We should seek to emulate his open-minded ambition.

You Decide

  1. Should we admire Elon Musk?


  1. Come up with your own Musk-like ideas for the technology of the future. Let your imagination run wild, and produce a poster explaining your invention.

Some People Say...

“When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favour.”

Elon Musk

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The Securities and Exchange Commission fined Elon Musk $20 million (£15.3 million) and ordered him to resign as chairman of Tesla over “misleading” investors on Twitter. However, he has remained CEO.
What do we not know?
What the long-term impact of the Tesla tweets scandal will be on Musk. The future of the company is also uncertain as it continues to record losses.

Word Watch

Iron foundries
Factories where raw iron is melted and shaped so it can be used. The crust of Mars has about twice as much iron as Earth’s.
Last December, Musk was estimated to be worth £15.5 billion.
Securities and Exchange Commission
An independent US government agency responsible for enforcing laws relating to stock markets and trading.
A 60 Minutes interview with Musk that aired on CBS on Sunday night.
Musk made the comment after Unsworth dismissed Musk’s offer to rescue the boys using a SpaceX submarine.
Falcon Heavy
A mannequin is strapped into the car which could remain in orbit for millions of years.

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