Jeff Bezos has some catching up to do.
After three unchallenged years as the richest person in the world, the Amazon boss has fallen even further behind the man whose fortune was just a quarter of his just over a year ago (and his most bitter Twitter rival).
Elon Musk — the founder of electric car company Tesla —officially became the world’s richest man in January, booting Bezos off the top spot, and reports this week show he’s upped his lead even further, by quite some way. Thanks to a rocketing in shares, Tesla’s value has now hit the $1 trillion mark, boosting Musk’s net worth to £210 billion - £70 billion more than Bezos’. His characteristically blunt response on Twitter? “Wild $T1mes!” He is now the richest man in the history of the world.
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Musk knows it’s still to play for in the competition between the “cold-blooded” hedge-fund staffer who started an online bookshop from his garage and the “visionary” electric car boss with a popstar ex-girlfriend.
The pair have contrasting public personas but they have plenty in common. Both were gifted children with a passion for sci-fi who went on to launch their own space-travel companies — the subject of a decades-long feud. So who will win?
It’s been a record-breaking couple of years for both bosses. Bezos added $13 billion to his net worth on July 20 last year, believed to be the largest earnings for an individual in a single day, while Musk’s quadrupling in fortune in the seven months to January is believed to be the fastest wealth accumulation in history.
Bezos, a former hedge-fund employee launched his empire in 1994 after reading that the web had grown 2,300 per cent in a year. He opened an online bookstore called Cadabra in his Seattle garage and later changed the name to Amazon, the biggest river in the world, in a bid to make his the world’s biggest bookshop. The company’s value passed the trillion dollar mark for the first time last May. He holds a 10.6 per cent stake.
Musk’s rise to billionaire status has been more dizzying. He moved to the US from South Africa at 24 and founded a tech company, Zip2 (a sort of online Yellow Pages), with his brother in 1995. He claims they were so poor they couldn’t afford an apartment, sleeping in the office and living on just $1 a day by buying hot dogs and oranges in bulk.
Four years later, they sold Zip2 for $300 million and two years after that Musk sold his company PayPal for $1.5 billion, in 2002. He founded aerospace company SpaceX the same year, joined electric car company Tesla as a product architect in 2004 and became its chief executive in 2008.
Musk has never accepted a salary from Tesla. He owns 20 per cent of Tesla’s shares, which surged eight-fold last year as the company overtook Toyota to become the world’s most valuable carmaker.
Now, Musk enters an even more exclusive billionaire boys club, with Tesla joining tech companies Apple, Amazon, Google owner Alphabet, Facebook and Microsoft in passing the trillion-dollar mark, first achieved by Apple in 2018.
Bezos’ property portfolio includes a 300,000-acre ranch in Texas (with a rocket launchpad), a $58 million Fifth Avenue “mega-home” in New York (with a golf simulator), and his current home, a $25 million converted textile museum complex.
Last year he paid $165 million for the most expensive house in LA, previously owned by Dreamworks founder David Geffen and featuring the same wooden floor Napoleon stood on to propose to Josephine.
He has donated millions to support gay marriage, immigrant rights and fighting homelessness, but critics say his philanthropy has fallen short of most tech moguls. Last year’s $690,000 donation to the Australian bushfire appeal was called “stingy” and he has drawn criticism for not signing Bill Gates and Warren Buffett’s Giving Pledge initiative.
Musk, meanwhile, has spent $100 million on six adjacent properties in Bel Air, California and a mansion near his SpaceX HQ in Texas, but last year he tweeted that he was “selling almost all physical possessions”, choosing to focus on philanthropy and getting mankind to Mars.
He has said he will use half his wealth to “help problems on Earth”, donating to environmental charities and putting his own money ($20 million) on the line when Tesla was on the cusp of bankruptcy in 2015. He’s pledged to spend the other half “to help establish a self-sustaining city on Mars to ensure continuation of life (of all species)”.
The space race
Bezos was the first to launch his own rocket manufacturer, Blue Origin, in 2000. He dreams of enabling millions of humans to live in space on “affordable shuttles” with a ticket price of $200,000 per passenger — less than half of Musk’s estimated $500,000 ticket cost.
Musk’s aerospace dreams revolve around Mars. The Tesla boss founded his space exploration company SpaceX in 2002 and the battle between the billionaires has since gone intergalactic, clashing over rocket size (Bezos wins), the exclusive use of a Nasa launch pad (Musk wins) and being the first private company to place a person into orbit (Musk wins again).
Bezos was born in New Mexico in 1964 to teenage parents who divorced when he was 17 months old. His mother’s new husband, Cuban immigrant Mike Bezos, adopted him when he was four and he has two siblings.
Seven years later in 1971, Musk, 49, was born in Pretoria, South Africa to a wealthy engineer, pilot and sailor father, and a Canadian dietician and model mother, and also has two siblings. His parents divorced when Musk was nine and he is estranged from his father, who it is claimed physically and verbally abused his mother and later had a son with his stepdaughter, 40 years his junior. Musk describes his father as “evil” but remains close to his mother, Maye.
Both men showed signs of brilliance from an early age. As a toddler, Bezos is said to have dismantled his crib with a screwdriver and built an electric alarm to keep his siblings out of his room. He went on to major in computer science at Princeton.
Musk reportedly read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica aged nine and taught himself to write computer code at 12, creating a video game which he sold for $500. But he was so quiet as a child that his parents thought he was deaf. He was bullied horrendously, being hospitalised after a gang of boys pushed him down a flight of stairs. He studied economics and physics at the University of Pennsylvania and later began a physics course at Stanford but dropped out after two days.
Bezos’s analytical approach extends to dating. Working at a hedge-fund in New York, he took ballroom dancing classes in a bid to increase his “women flow”. Shortly after, he met Princeton graduate and future novelist MacKenzie Scott when he interviewed her for a job.
They announced their divorce in January 2019, saying they’d decided to “continue [their] shared lives as friends”. But illusions of an amicable split were crushed when leaked texts between Bezos and news anchor turned helicopter pilot Lauren Sanchez were published alongside allegations of an affair. Bezos and Sanchez have since confirmed their relationship.
Scott has kept a dignified silence, but dropped the surname Bezos and signed the Giving Pledge after being left with a quarter of Bezos’ shares in Amazon. It’s estimated she gave away $6 billion to charity in 2020.
Musk has been married twice (or technically speaking, three times): to sci-fi writer Justine Wilson, with whom he has five sons; and to actress Talulah Riley, who he married and divorced twice.
He now has a son with his ex-partner, the Canadian singer Grimes, who he was in a relationship with for three years until last month. The baby is reportedly called X Æ A-Xii or “Little X” for short.
“My Twitter is pretty much complete nonsense,” Musk wrote to his 42 million followers in 2019. That hasn’t stopped him weighing into online debates. Last year he famously wiped $14 billion off Tesla’s company value after tweeting that the “Tesla stock price is too high”. When another Twitter user reminded him another tweet had cost him $20 million, he replied: “Worth it”.
But Twitter has got Musk into trouble, notably in 2018 when he called British caver Vernon Unsworth, an adviser on the flooded Thai schoolboy cave rescue, a “pedo guy”. Musk later won the defamation case about it. He regularly berates Bezos on the platform, calling him a “copycat” for entering the self-driving car market and claiming that Bezos’ idea for how humans will eventually live in space “makes no sense”.
Bezos (1.8 million followers) has joined in — when SpaceX launched a rocket into space he sarcastically tweeted “Welcome to the club!” — but he has not been active on Twitter since last February.
He prefers Instagram. Recent posts include selfies with the singer Lizzo, congratulations to present-elect Joe Biden and sharing “sickening” emails from customers criticising Black Lives Matter.
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