Elon Musk is no unicorn

Art courtesy of  Alex Shute .

Art courtesy of Alex Shute.

We’ve got enough eccentric assholes to last a lifetime.

Elon Musk has made his mark as a business mogul and investor, through his role as founder, CEO, and lead designer of SpaceX; co-founder, CEO, and product architect of Tesla, Inc.; co-founder and CEO of Neuralink; and co-founder of PayPal. Despite the impressive résumé, however, in recent news he has rapidly shifted his public perception from prodigy to prick.

2018 has been a controversial year for Musk. In the space of under 12 months, Musk has taken aim at Wall Street analysts, calling them “boneheaded” for asking about Tesla finances - a move he rationalised initially by saying that they were looking to justify their “Tesla shorting thesis”, but really just undermined Tesla’s, and his, credibility on the stock market (1). He’s targeted those involved in the famous ‘soccer team rescue mission’ in Thailand, referring to Vernon Unsworth, one of the divers in the operation, as a ‘pedo’, in since-deleted tweets. Then, when confronted, Musk doubled-down instead of apologising, continuing to send emails to Buzzfeed News further alleging that Unsworth was a “child rapist” who took a 12-year-old bride. The British diver is now suing Musk for at least US$75,000 because of his claims.

And then to cap off the year, Musk smoked a joint while recording a podcast, resulting in Tesla shares dropping by nine per cent in value, in under one day. But perhaps what’s most troublesome of all was the tweet that led Musk to lose his position as chairman of his own company.

By tweeting that he had secured funding for Tesla to re-privatise and sell shares for $420, Musk bolstered the shares in his company by 11 per cent. Briefly. Before it came out that no funding had being secured, and the figure of $420 had simply been used to amuse his then- and perhaps now-girlfriend, Canadian singer-songwriter, Grimes, who is, ironically, 17 years his junior. There’s no happy ending here. After an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), a settlement was reached - Musk would be forced to step down as chairman of his own company for at least three years.

Art courtesy of  Nima Sotoudeh .

Art courtesy of Nima Sotoudeh.

But why is this such a big deal? Usually, when a public company decides to go private, there is a set procedure that they follow. Generally the company, would halt trading and make an official statement, which satisfies SEC guidance and doesn’t send a giant shockwave through the stock market. Musk’s instantaneous tweet violated the usual protocol, and the scramble to buy shares is estimated to have cost short-sellers more than $800 million, while Musk made approximately $851 million. Tesla stock was not frozen until 1.5 hours after the tweet, at which stage the share price had reached $370. While not entirely illegal, it does, according to CNBC, put Musk’s intent into question. Long-term effects of this also include Tesla’s damaged reputation; who would want to invest into such a financially unpredictable company? By disobeying protocol and causing a worldwide frenzy, surely he must have known the consequences of his actions.

Musk is not a unicorn by any means. A genius, yes, and a visionary, most certainly. But also equally willing to shoot himself in the foot - a concept that is no stranger to many proclaimed (self- or otherwise) geniuses. Steve Jobs, for example, neglected his daughter for years, which meant that her and her mother had to live off welfare while he was living it up in Silicon Valley. Similarly, Mark Zucker-bot quite famously screwed his business partner, Eduardo Saverin, out of millions of dollars worth of shares.

Can you be a billionaire genius without being a dick? Guess we’ll have to ask Bill Gates.

(1) ‘Shorting’ means that the analysts were betting that Tesla stock would fall, whereby potential shareholders could buy it back from loan brokers at a smaller price.

This article appeared in The Comma’s 2018 Annual Edition. Read more here.

Finn Parker is a third-year Journalism student at UTS, and the UTSoC 2018 President. His notable achievements include finishing an entire McDonalds Family Dinner Box, creating a recipe for awesome waffles, and being the 2006 Time Magazine 'Person of the Year'.