What Makes Elon Musk Different: Walter Isaacson

(Walter Isaacson is an American professor and author. This column first appeared in New York Times on July 23, 2021)

  • In August of 2008, Elon Musk watched with delight and then horror as the Falcon 1 rocket built by his company SpaceX launched from an atoll in the Pacific and then, just after the first stage separated, tumbled out of control. Its payload, including a United States Air Force satellite and the remains of the late actor James Doohan, who had played Scotty on Star Trek, crashed into the ocean. It was the third failed attempt by SpaceX to launch a satellite into orbit. Musk had not budgeted for another. “I thought that if we couldn’t get this thing to orbit in three failures, we deserved to die,” he later said. A few weeks later, he gathered the top executives of Tesla, his troubled electric car company, and said they were about to run out of money. They had burned through much of the millions of dollars of deposits that customers had paid to get in line for the high-end Roadster the company had promised but not yet delivered. Musk fired the CEO, appointed himself to the role, and launched a plan to cut 25 percent of his workforce. Over dinner with one of his investors at a Beverly Hills steakhouse, he confided that the company had only three weeks of cash left…

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