The tech bros move fast and break things, and none wield the hammer as aggressively as Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla who now owns Twitter. Within just days of ownership, Musk has laid off half the staff, alienated advertisers who provide most of the company’s revenue, and proposed several changes that could alienate users. Many regular tweeters fear that Musk will let anyone post anything, turning the platform into a spurt of nasty propaganda.
The Twitterverse may be in shock, but that’s nothing new for Musk. Since launching his first company in 1995, Musk has built a remarkable entrepreneurial career on bold decisions that sometimes seem reckless and unfiltered opinions for which he rarely apologizes, no matter who he offends.
An examination of Musk’s many heckles reveals that he has become cheeky as his hits have multiplied. Unlike most CEOs, Musk isn’t afraid of controversy and can even take advantage of it. He pushes the boundaries and usually gets away with it. When venturing beyond his areas of expertise, Musk’s opinions may seem naïve, but they reflect an unbounded confidence in his ability to solve any problem, which he now applies to Twitter. Here are some of Musk’s memorable dusts over the years:
The co-founder spat. Martin Eberhard, one of Tesla’s five co-founders, is suing Musk for his ousting two years earlier in a battle for control of the company. Musk and Eberhard agree on confidential terms.
“Trophy wife.” Musk’s first wife, Justine Musk, posts an article claiming that Musk tried to turn her into a “trophy wife,” along with other personal information about Musk’s education. Musk has been married to two women three times and dated celebrities such as Amber Heard and Grimes. He has at least nine children and jokes that he is “do my best to help the underpopulation crisis.”
In pursuit of criticism. Musk is hitting back after the New York Times ransacked Tesla’s first sedan, the Model S, claiming the car had crashed on a freeway. Musk personally refutes the review in a Tesla blog post, citing car data logs that supposedly refute the Times’ claims. The Times refutes the rebuttal, leaving the truth somewhat murky, but proving Musk’s toughness in the face of criticism.
Rocket though. Musk, also CEO of SpaceX, trolls Jeff Bezos, owner of space company Blue Origin, on which rocket is better.
Trim it down. Musk reveals he spends nights at the Tesla factory in a sleeping bag to help the company meet aggressive production targets. Analysts wonder if a CEO should do this.
Autopilot problems. The first fatality of a Tesla driver using the autonomous “autopilot” feature occurs in Florida. In 2022, there were more than 30 deaths in Tesla vehicles running on Autopilot, with critics saying Tesla is promoting the technology too casually. The government is investigating. Musk, always the pioneer of the technology, remains defiant, saying that Autopilot saves lives, on the net.
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The low. Musk challenges the scientific accuracy of Matt Damon’s blockbuster ‘The Martian’ and says he’d like to send people to Mars by 2025.
Cheap boss? Musk refutes a story of his assistant being fired when she asked for a raise. The journalist who reported it said that the anecdote was “very well sourced”. We don’t know who is right.
“Thick skin.Ex-employee files racial discrimination lawsuit against Tesla, citing, among other things, an email Musk sent to employees saying ‘it’s important to be thick-skinned’ if someone acts like a jerk but apologizes later. Some critics believe Musk is subtly telling workers to put up with racist behavior. Tesla, over the years, has faced dozens of accusations of racism and settled some cases for millions of dollars.
Immigration Mitigation. Musk tweets that President Donald Trump’s immigration ban “isn’t fair” – but then quickly deletes the tweet. Musk’s fans and critics are speculating about his true message.
Ha ha. April Fool’s Day, Musk tweet that “Tesla has gone completely and utterly bankrupt”. Everyone understands that’s a joke, but critics wonder if that’s the kind of thing a CEO should be doing. Of course, this is not the case.
“pedo.” Musk offers an experimental mini-submarine to help rescue children trapped in a cave in Thailand. A diver working on the salvage told CNN that Musk “can stick his sub where it hurts.” Musk counters by calling the diver a “pedo” or pedophile. Rescuers release Thai children. It’s still unclear if Musk’s mini-sub would have worked. The diver ultimately sues Musk for defamation. Musk wins.
$420. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) accuses Musk of securities fraud for claiming in a tweet that he plans to take Tesla private at $420 a share, when no such plan exists. Musk never deletes the Tweeter. But he settles with the SEC, paying a fine, stepping down as chairman and agreeing to have corporate-related tweets vetted by lawyers, tee-hee.
Puff. Musk takes a whiff of weed on Joe Rogan’s podcast. Moralists howl and Tesla stock drops 8%. But nothing happens and the stock recovers. Must later says that grass isn’t for him, because “it’s not very good for productivity”.
I laugh. Musk mocks the SEC, with whom he just signed a settlement agreement, as the “Shortseller Enrichment Corporation.” Critics say he should be more careful. But nothing happens.
Always here. In a tweet, Musk said he deleted his Twitter account. He did not do it.
I’m not a doctor but… Musk publishes a series of false information about the COVID-19 pandemic, such as predict that it will quickly disappear and say children are immune. Medical experts say Musk should stick to cars and rockets.
Trumpy. Musk goes Trumpy, reopening Tesla’s California factory in defiance of a local COVID shutdown order. Two months into the pandemic, Musk tweet, “FREE AMERICA NOW.” After telling Tesla workers they could stay home, he is firing some who say they don’t feel safe returning to work amid the pandemic.
Sale! Musk tweet, “Tesla stock price is too high”, never imitating any CEO. The stock fell 9%. Heads explode trying to figure out if it’s market manipulation when a CEO deliberately pushes his own stock down.
Duh. The Wall Street Journal reports SEC correspondence to Tesla claiming Musk violated the 2018 agreement requiring company lawyers to verify Musk’s tweets. Nobody knows what to do about it.
anti-union. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is ordering Tesla to reinstate a worker who was fired in 2017 while organizing for a union, with back pay. Musk had suggested that workers joining a union could lose stock options, which the NLRB interpreted as a threat.
Biden basher. In a Tweeter, Musk calls President Joe Biden “a wet sock puppet in human form.” Musk’s beef with Biden is apparently his reluctance to hype Tesla as an electric car pioneer because it’s not unionized. Business historians are trying and failing to find another example of a prominent CEO publicly stalking the US President with juvenile imagery.
Taiwan Peace Plan. Musk said in an interview that Taiwan could mitigate hostilities with China by ceding some control to the communist government in Beijing, which would contravene US policy. China’s ambassador to the United States praises the idea. A Taiwanese official declares: “our freedom and our democracy are not for sale”. Geopolitical experts tell Musk to stick to cars and rockets.
Ukrainian peace plan. Musk tweet a 42-word plan to bring peace to Ukraine, formalizing the permanent annexation of the Crimea region by Russia and allowing other regions under Russian occupation to vote for the country they prefer. Ukrainians go ballistic as Musk’s plan is similar to Russia’s own talking points. Musk may have spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin or his representatives before tweeting the plan. Geopolitical experts tell Musk to stick to cars and rockets.
Twitter subscription plan. After completing his purchase of Twitter on Oct. 27, Musk said Twitter would begin offering the desired blue-check “verification” badge to anyone who pays $8 a month. He also says he will repeal Twitter’s ban on Trump and suggests there will be looser rules on posting fake content. Many high-profile tweeters have threatened to leave, and social media experts say Musk should stick to cars and rockets. Except that Musk is now in charge of Twitter.
Rick Newman is a senior columnist for Yahoo finance. Follow him on Twitter at @rickjnewman
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