By Matthew Lynn
Twitter was about to crash spectacularly as the engineers were fired. Tesla was about to implode, as production targets were missed and its sky-high prices deterred buyers. His rocket ships were going nowhere, he was in court over allegations he misled investors, his fortune was deflating and to cap it all, new children kept popping out of nowhere, which is always a distraction from the day job. The gloating of the liberal Left over the downfall of Elon Musk was undisguised. His mix of libertarian politics, disruptive entrepreneurship and ruthless management was meant to doom him to almost certain oblivion. They could not wait to celebrate his demise.
Yet over the last few weeks, Musk has staged a spectacular turnaround. Tesla reported record sales this week and its share price is roaring again. Twitter has steadied and may finally be on the path to profitability. His early investment in ChatGPT, the artificial intelligence tool that is taking the internet by storm, showed once again what an astute investor he is. Meanwhile, he continues to run multiple businesses with far more verve and ambition than most of his grey, suited rivals manage to run one. True, Musk doesn’t sign up to the “woke capitalism” package of inclusiveness, social responsibility and political activism that is considered compulsory for chief executives in the 2020s. But in terms of sheer ability, he trumps all his small-minded critics – and he does so again and again.
There is no question that the man who last year was, admittedly quite briefly, the richest man on the planet has had a rough few months. Tesla, the stylish electric vehicle manufacturer that is the core of his fortune, showed signs of slowing down dramatically. It was struggling to meet production targets, and its premium pricing was starting to deter buyers, especially as all the traditional giants finally caught up with their own range of battery-powered cars.
From a high of more than $US380 in April last year, by Christmas Tesla’s shares had slumped to just $US110, wiping billions of dollars from its market value. His personal losses came to a massive $US150 billion, earning him a place in the Guinness World Records as the person who had lost the most money ever. His rocket company SpaceX was going nowhere fast. It turned out he had fathered twins with a senior executive at one of his companies and by the end of the year, he had up to 10 children. He was in court facing a class action from Tesla shareholders over allegedly misleading tweets about taking the company private. Perhaps most seriously of all, he was forced to go ahead with a rash $USUS44 billion takeover of Twitter, only to find he had massively overpaid for a company that was bleeding cash, had no real business model and was staffed by political activists who were more interested in censorship and campaigning than running a business and who were in open rebellion against their new owner. At times it seemed as if everything that could go wrong had gone wrong – and all at the same time.
The liberal-Left establishment never liked Musk. That is partly because he is an entrepreneur, and they are never popular with the kind of people who believe that bigger government and more regulation are the only ways to create greater prosperity.
It is partly because like much of the PayPal mafia, named after the investors who made their first fortunes from the payment site, he sympathises with libertarianism, recommending the works of Ayn Rand, the writer and philosopher the Left hates the most.
And it is partly because his restless, workaholic ambition was a permanent rebuke to lesser mortals among us.
The final straw, however, was his takeover of Twitter, the Left’s favourite forum, and a site that made hysterical virtue-signalling liberalism a global phenomenon. Surely no organisation could survive the termination of the entire “human rights” department, the abrupt demand that everyone return to the office, or the insistence that staff be “hardcore” or else get out of the way? If it didn’t crash, every company in the world would have to re-examine its staffing.
True, there have been some wobbly moments, and Musk is not as rich as he was. And yet in the last few days, there are signs of a comeback. Last week, Tesla reported record results, with price cuts on its flagship models sparking a revival of demand. The shares are already up by 63pc since the start of the year, proving the bears wrong.
He was one of the early backers of OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT, and although he severed his ties with the not-for-profit a few years ago it showed once again how astutely he backs new ventures and spots the next big trend. SpaceX helped launch a Japanese mission that plans to be the first private company to reach the Moon in April this year, a fresh milestone in the commercial exploitation of space.
And Twitter, far from collapsing completely, or being abandoned by its users as a protest against its new owner’s staff cuts, shows signs that it has at least staunch the bleeding of cash. It may never be able to justify the price tag, but if anyone can turn it into a viable business, and one that allows the Right as much of a voice as the Left, then it is Musk.
There are two lessons to draw from that. The first is to never write off the irrepressible Musk. In reality, he is the most brilliant creator of new businesses alive today. The second is that restless, ambitious entrepreneurship will always triumph over the grey, deadening banalities of conventional wisdom. Musk might never be the richest man in the world again. He may still crash and burn.
But all the people who wanted him to fail, and fail both publicly and spectacularly, have been proved wrong. Indeed, perhaps a few of them should start trying to emulate his success, instead of gloating over his imminent downfall.
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Source: Thanks smh.com