The Cult of Elon, and the rise of a new generation of ‘influencer CEOs’

Elon Musk likes to take huge risks, plays the long game, and watch as success builds in his favor. Is he a genius? Or just someone who knows how to manipulate today’s internet culture to grow his businesses?


Elon Musk is probably the biggest risk-taker on the planet. As CEO of Tesla, a company with the most shorted stock, shouldn’t he be more prudent with his decisions and actions? And why are so many people obsessed with him?

Now, we know you clicked to read this article because ‘Elon‘ was mentioned in the title. You are not alone. The internet is saturated with Elon Musk references. His name and likeness — is a tried and true clickbait.

As the heir to the “Steve-Jobs-Throne” of the most influential CEO, Elon Musk is a global sensation. But what is it about him that seems to have captivated the internet?



“After Steve Jobs passed. There was this hunt to find the next person that people were going to lash unto and Elon emerged as a cult-like figure that really stood out,” says Ashley Vance, the author of the book about Elon Musk. “He builds rockets, electric cars, high-speed tunnels — I mean, nobody really does that.”

cybertruck-back
The Tesla Cybertruck is an all-electric battery-powered light commercial vehicle in development by Tesla, Inc. Three models have been announced, with range estimates of 250–500 miles and an estimated 0–60 mph time of 2.9–6.5 seconds, depending on the model. 300,000 preorders have been made so far.

“He’s a force of nature … a cross-breed of something like Thomas Edison and Tony Stark,” says Neil deGrasse Tyson, an American astrophysicist author, and science communicator.

Elon Musk is probably the biggest risk-taker on the planet and each time one of his companies succeed, he seems to go all-in again and take another — even bigger risk. He seems to enjoy living on the edge at all times. Maybe that’s what people like about him.

Elon ultimately is a massive brand. Even more so are his companies.

Elon got his business and physics degrees from UPenn and later on started a Ph.D. degree at Stanford for a short time but changed course to pursue business opportunities.

He became a multi-millionaire when PayPal, a company of which he was a major shareholder, was bought out by eBay for $1.4 billion. Elon personally made about $170 million from the deal.

Now, for most people with such a large sum of money at the age of 31, they would likely check out for a bit, buy an island, get a boat or maybe retire. But not Elon.

Elon Musk
SolarCity co-founder Peter Rive (right), his brother and former CEO Lyndon Rive, and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, celebrate the company’s IPO at the NASDAQ Stock Market on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012. , The Canadian Press

He put in about $100 million of the money in SpaceX, $70 million in Tesla, and $30 million in SolarCity. Literally lighting his money on fire, as some analysts like to call it.

Both SpaceX and Tesla remained money pits, generating no profit for over a decade. Even more troubling, the financial crisis of 2008 hit the nation at a time when Elon was trying to raise money for his two companies. He ended up so desperate he started taking loans from family and friends.

Personally, Elon also went through a divorce at the same time. SO this was really a trying and dark part of his life. But what did Elon do? He didn’t quit. He kept his head up and played a long game.

This has come to be known as one of the greatest escape acts in business history. He, not only stemmed the tide, but he actually managed to keep both Tesla and SpaceX alive. He sent a rocket into space and got the Tesla roadster into production.

Today Elon Musk has a 54 percent stake in SpaceX which is valued at USD $33 billion and is the number one private space exploration company in the world. Tesla’s profitability has remained spotty over the years but in the third quarter of 2019, the company posted a quarterly profit of $143 million.

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Elon Musk personally delivers a Tesla Model 3 to a reservation holder (Devin Scott/Twitter)

Today Elon Musk’s net worth is about $23.6 billion. Alongside Tesla and SpaceX, Musk has also launched multiple future-facing side projects like the Boring Company, Open AI and Neuralink, all of which are fueled by a passion for making science fiction concepts a reality.

“There are a lot of negative things in the world,” said Musk during an appearance on a panel for HBO’s show Westworld. “There are lots of problems that need to get solved.”

Musk advises finding purposeful work and focusing on the positive change you can affect.

“Life can not just be about solving one miserable problem after another, that can’t be the only thing,” he says. “There need to be things that inspire you, that make you glad to wake up in the morning and be part of humanity.”

Elon’s intellect risk-taking and subsequent successes against all odds have come to inspire a new generation, of followers to do the impossible and with this, the Cult of Elon was born and since then, has grown exponentially.

“The thing that drives me is that I want to be able to think about the future and feel good about that,” Musk said in 2017 to the National Governors Association. “That we’re doing what we can to have the future be as good as possible, to be inspired by what is likely to happen and to look forward to the next day.

“That’s what really drives me, is trying to figure out how to make sure things are great.”

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Talking Tesla, tech and the future with Elon Musk. Marques Brownlee / Tesla

Elon Musk is now considered as the very first influencer CEO, that is, creating online spectacles as a business strategy. It’s possible to see Musk make decisions, revise decisions, and either charge ahead or backtrack in real-time.

In terms of spectacle and flamboyance, you can stack all other tech moguls (from Jeff Bezos, his billionaire space rival, Washington Post owner and Amazon CEO; Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, a company Tesla is frequently compared to; Mark Zuckerberg, who has been taking a beating for Facebook’s missteps; Marc Benioff, who bought a news magazine and inserted himself into a San Francisco business tax fight) together and they’re still less interesting than Musk.

That may be because they are certainly less available. This might explain why so many people are invested in Musk’s success.

That accessibility makes him have a lot in common with the rising generation of YouTube Content Creators, and influencer CEOs than a Wall Street CEO.

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