When you consider the ranks of Australia’s billionaires, it’s hard to think of any entrepreneurs who you could classify as being “cool”.
Gina Rinehart doesn’t particularly fit the bill, nor does Gerry Harvey or Frank Lowy. James Packer has a bit of flair thanks to his love of rich toys, but is he really cool? Even our youngest billionaire, coal baron Nathan Tinkler, would struggle to fit snugly into the “cool” category.
Our local billionaires shouldn’t be embarrassed by their lack of coolness – in the main, the ranks of billionaires around the world are, well, decidedly daggy.
But one exception stands out – the world’s coolest entrepreneur is without question South African born, US-based Elon Musk.
While Mark Zuckerberg, Sean Parker and even Peter Thiel get all the plaudits as the leaders of the brave new world of wealth, Elon Musk is at least their equal.
Consider what he’s done in the last two weeks.
In late May, Musk’s space travel company SpaceX successfully launched its space cargo vessel Dragon, docked it with the International Space Station (the first privately-owned spacecraft to do this) and brought it back to earth.
“I don’t have words enough to express the level of excitement and elation we feel here at SpaceX for having done this work,” Musk said after the historic docking was achieved. “It’s just a fantastic day, and I think a great day for the country and the world. I think this really is going to be recognised as a significant step in space travel.”
If that wasn’t enough, Musk’s other company, the electric car maker Tesla, also announced that it would start deliveries of its new Model S sports car by the end of June, several months ahead of schedule.
Historic rocket missions? Electric sports cars? Is it any wonder the Musk, who is valued at $2 billion by Forbes and is likely to have seen his wealth rise since the SpaceX mission, was cited by the makers of the Iron Man films as part of the inspiration for the films’ billionaire super hero, Tony Stark?
While SpaceX and Tesla are the companies that will take Elon Musk to worldwide acclaim, they are only part of his incredible success story.
Let’s take a closer look at Musk’s path to becoming the world’s coolest billionaire.
The boy who devoured encyclopedias
Musk was born in the South African town of Pretoria to a Canadian-American mother (who was a dietitian and engineer) and South African father (an engineer).
His mother, Maye, described him as something of a nerd in a recent Forbes article.
“If I was walking with the three kids and Elon disappeared, he was in a bookstore. He’d be sitting on the ground in a world of his own. He read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica when he was only 8 or 9 – and he remembered it!”
Musk got his first computer at the age of 10 and by the age of 12 he had created (and sold for $500) his first game. But Musk must have been developing a very clear idea of what he wanted from life – and South Africa wasn’t it.
At the age of 17, and against the wishes of his parents, he left South Africa for good and settled in Canada.