The Forbes 400 is out, and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk is Number 50 on the list of America’s richest people.
His net worth is listed by Forbes as $US9.2 billion, a far cry from Number One, Microsoft c0-founder Bill Gates at $US81.2 billion, or even a cluster of Wal-Mart heirs in the $US30-million-plus category. At Number Ten, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg ($34.7 billion) is almost four times richer than Musk.
But in the U.S. auto industry, Musk is the richest by miles. His closest competition in discount tire tycoon Bruce Halle (#107, $US4.7 billion). At 43, he’s also the youngest automotive billionaire on the list. In fact, the only other billionaire in his forties is Dan Friedkin (#171, $US3.3 billion), a Houston-based businessman whose family controls Toyota distribution in several southern states.
Musk earned his first big payout when eBay bought PayPal in 2002. His fortune has surged in the past few years, following the IPOs of both Tesla Motors and Solar City (he’s Chairman of the latter). He’s also CEO of SpaceX, and rumours have been bubbling of late that suggest that the private space startup could be worth as much as $US10 billion.
So he could be set for another massive payday. That said, Tesla and SpaceX have been volatile sources of wealth over the past few months.
If you look at Musk’s path to richness, it’s actually fairly impressive. The native of South Africa has essentially tried to re-invent banking, create the first successful electric-car company in human history, revive the species’ passion for interplanetary exploration, and wean us from our dependence on fossil fuels as an energy source.
Bill Gates marketed an operating system. Mark Zuckerberg developed a better way for us to like pictures of each other. Fine achievements, to be sure. And both men are sure to move mountains through philanthropy. But they aren’t trying to “back up the biosphere” or make humanity “multiplanetary” — two of Musk’s ambitious goals.
There’s a reason why Musk is such an object of fascination both inside and outside the worlds of wealth and technology.