He was already the highest-profile rich person in the world, but as we begin 2021, Tesla founder Elon Musk has climbed the mountain and become the richest human being on the planet. He’s taken the crown from Amazon’s Jeff Bezos after a recent re-appraisal of Tesla’s stock price and now controls a personal fortune that’s estimated to be in excess of $188bn. That’s an almost incalculable amount of money. If you spent ten thousand dollars every day, it would take you 2740 years to run out of money. That means Musk could spend ten thousand dollars every day for more than half a million years. To put it another way, he’s so rich he could probably afford to research and build technology that would allow him to live that long.
Musk, who is well-known for his eccentric public persona and his frequent social media outbursts, reacted in typical style when the news became public last week. Replying to a Tweet that tagged him, he wrote “How strange,” and then a few moments later added, “Well, back to work.” In other words, this is just another day at the office for Musk, and he has better things to do with his time than worry about how much money he’s making. We guess that not worrying about money is a luxury that’s available to you when you have so much of it that you could buy an entire country.
While Musk appears to be nonchalant about his new status, Amazon owner Jeff Bezos is likely to be unhappy about it. The two richest men on the planet don’t get along and have feuded in the press for several years. The battle reached new heights in the press last year when Musk suggested that Amazon had become too big for its own good and ought to be broken up, to which Bezos responded furiously. Companies owned by the two men have engaged in tit-for-tat battles in the past, with businesses competing on offices, branding, and even outer space. While Musk’s SpaceX company is better known than Bezos’ Blue Origin, Bezos has his own ambitions on sending vessels and people beyond the limits of the Earth’s atmosphere and has space flights planned for the next three years.
It isn’t so long ago that Musk wasn’t even in the top two richest people on the planet. Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, has occupied one of those spaces for most of the past three decades but has spent much of the past ten years giving away his wealth to charity and has stepped back from his business interests. Given that Musk is still aggressively expanding his own, it was inevitable that he’d catch and pass Gates eventually. That happened in November 2020 after another rise in the price of Tesla’s stock. Twenty percent of the company is owned outright by Musk, and so every time the stock rises, his personal worth balloons. The car company has dramatically increased the production of electric vehicles in the past two years and is now reaping the benefits of doing so. It’s attracting more investors in the process, which swells Musk’s coffers further.
Musk’s compensation package with Tesla is complex and difficult to follow, but extremely lucrative. He agreed to a new ten-year payment deal with the company in 2018, which sees him paid dividends and provided with new stock options every time Tesla hits specified performance targets. As it’s been passing those targets with ease recently, Musk’s made a lot of money in a short space of time. $800m of his wealth was delivered to him in Tesla stock options within the past twelve months, and if the company continues to perform well, there’s no reason to believe that he won’t earn the same again in the twelve months ahead. The most staggering fact – and the hardest for the average person to get their head around – is that $800m is a mere drop in the ocean when it comes to Musk’s riches. It amounts to significantly less than one percent.
Not all of his wealth is driven (if you’ll pardon the pun) by Tesla. He’s also making money through “The Boring Company,” which embarks on enormous drilling and construction projects. The company recently signed a series of lucrative contracts with casino companies in Las Vegas, with the intention of drilling tunnels below the city to transport customers from one venue to another. The entire casino industry has come under intense pressure from online slots websites in recent years and so has had to go in search of new ways to impress gamblers and persuade them that they’re still worth visiting in person to spend money. That means providing experiences that wouldn’t be available at an online slots website. While the tunnels aren’t yet complete, they’ll presumably do more than simply create transport links. No matter how much you might win while playing casino or how much you might enjoy it, it can’t provide the same experience as whistling along at high speed beneath the streets of Sin City in a luxury ride laid on by a casino, and that fact, by proxy, has caused money to pour into Musk’s least well-known business.
Elon Musk is now in the position of having so much money that he can’t help but earn more. The interest he makes alone ensures that he’ll always start each month with more cash than he had the previous month, and he’s still young enough to continue making more through his businesses for a long time yet. He won’t even turn fifty until the middle of 2021. That means he’s now the prime candidate to become the first person in recorded world history to amass a personal fortune of more than two hundred billion dollars. Only the most decadent kings, emperors, and pharaohs of ancient history might have been richer in their own lifetimes, and we can’t even know that for sure. The story of Musk’s life is one of success after success, and 2021 already looks like the year in which he’ll encounter more success than ever before.