When Twitter had to negotiate its takeover by Elon Musk last month, the social network unsheathed an arsenal straight out of the perfect little business acquisition manual.
This is the complete opposite of what Elon Musk, the richest man in the world, did.
Elon Musk had no idea how he was going to fund or run Twitter, according to a close aide. To complete this $44 billion transaction [41,2 milliards d’euros], he turned to a small circle of intimates, among them the director of his personal investment office, Jared Birchall, and his lawyer Alex Spiro. And when Twitter resisted his advances, it was through a series of tweets, sometimes mischievous, sometimes aggressive, but always impulsive, that Elon Musk put the pressure on.
Tech billionaires like Bill Gates [Microsoft]Jeff Bezos [Amazon] and Larry Page [Google] are more used to making long-term plans and surrounding themselves with an army of lawyers, communications officers and advisers of all kinds. Elon Musk, 50, does nothing like them.
Headbutts and improvisation
No business tycoon before him had done this: on a whim, on a whim, and with the certainty of being 100% right – this is the portrait that emerges from interviews with more than thirty employees, investors and collaborators of yesterday and today. Everyone agrees that this man who has bet successfully on electric cars, space flight and artificial intelligence is someone who very often, and in critical moments in particular, improvises, thwarts the expectations of experts, and does not trust anyone but himself.
To operate in this way, Elon Musk has built a very closed network of around ten people who, for the most part, approve his decisions and carry out his orders. Among them, his younger brother Kimbal Musk, Jared Birchall and Alex Spiro and several chiefs of staff [l’appellation, inspirée du chef d’état-major dans l’armée et du directeur de cabinet en politique, qui fait florès dans le milieu des start-up, désigne un bras droit]. To accompany his bubbling of ideas, Elon Musk constantly creates new companies, organized for the most part in such a way that he always remains at the helm. And in this vast empire of very diverse companies, he placed his trusted lieutenants almost everywhere.
Once he has identified what he himself calls the “critical path” of each company, his flagship project, he takes control to ensure that his vision materializes, by controlling the smallest details, from the design to the implementation of a technology. This brilliant mind gave birth to the highest valued automaker on the stock market and an ultra-innovative space company, earning the respect of its engineers – who also fear it.
With the support of this small team and drawing only on his own ideas, Elon Musk manages to decide alone and act as he pleases, to the point that he has become a sort of Howard Hughes [aviateur, producteur et réalisateur de cinéma, et homme d’affaires richissime, célèbre pour son excentricité] modern times – and too bad if his whimsical methods do damage.
The billionaire works as “only the strongest leaders know how to do it”, said Tim Draper, a venture capitalist who backed Tesla and SpaceX, Musk’s two flagships. “You think of JFK, George Washington and Ronald Reagan.”
During a conference in 2018, Elon Musk explained that he acted impulsively. A lesson learned more than twenty-five years ago, after founding his first start-up, Zip2. “I don’t really have a business plan, he said. I had one back in the Zip2 days, but that stuff is still wrong. After that, I didn’t bother with it anymore.”
This method could have repercussions on what he will do with Twitter. The San Francisco company, which the billionaire is expected to own within six months, has been upside down since the announcement of the takeover.
“We don’t know what direction the company will take” once Elon Musk at the helm, said [fin avril] Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal to his more than 7,000 employees. The social network did not wish to answer our questions.
Elon Musk, who has not responded to our requests either, is aware of the chaos he is wreaking. In 2018, in emails about a defamation lawsuit over one of his tweets, he called himself an idiot — in more flowery terms.
Born in Pretoria, South Africa, Elon Musk became interested in computers