Elon Musk is the Greatest American Industrialist of the 21st Century

It has been fashionable to criticize Elon Musk as lacking the qualities of a true entrepreneur, or not being a genuine free market capitalist. His primary transgression: his companies have taken advantage of government subsidies.

Before considering whether or not these criticisms are fair or justified, or even terribly relevant, it might be a good idea to examine Musk’s body of work. Because so far, 20 years in, this 48 year old immigrant from South Africa is arguably the greatest American industrialist of the 21st century.

Musk’s early work, back in the 1990s, focused on software and online financial services, including PayPal. The sale of his stakes in these companies made Musk wealthy, but what he’s done since then is what already secures his place in history.

Tesla, Musk’s best known affiliation, has brought electric cars into the mainstream. It’s easy to forget the risk Tesla’s founders endured, Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning, when back in 2003 they literally bundled laptop batteries into a storage package capable of powering an electric sports car. Recognizing the potential, Musk invested millions in the company and eventually took over as CEO.

Today, seventeen years later, Tesla is valued at $151 billion. In 2019 Tesla reported sales of $26 billion and an operating cash flow of $2.6 billion in 2019. Its 2019 “levered free cash flow” (surplus cash after paying interest on debt) was $1.6 billion. According to investors, to whom all that matters is economic data, Tesla is the most […] Read More