Elon Musk net worth: who is Tesla and SpaceX CEO, how did he make his money - and why he wants to buy Twitter

The richest man in the world - ahead of Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates - is famous for his net worth as well as high-profile relationships with Amber Heard and Grimes

Elon Musk is arguably the most famous billionaire and entrepeneur on the planet.

Richer than Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates, Mr Musk’s electric car company Tesla and space exploration business SpaceX have seen him become known all around the globe over the last 10 years.

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Interest has not been confined to his fortune, with his private life also generating reams of headlines as a result of high profile relationships with the singer Grimes and actor Amber Heard.

Mr Musk’s romance with Ms Heard has become part of the ongoing defamation trial the actor is fighting against her ex-husband, fellow actor Johnny Depp.

Elon Musk has a vast business empire that includes Tesla and SpaceX (image: AFP/Getty Images)

Elon Musk has been generating even more news of late as a result of his attempted multi-billion dollar buyout of social media website Twitter - a move which could lead to major changes to the platform, including the return of controversial figures, like Donald Trump.

However, this Twitter buyout is currently up in the air after Mr Musk said the deal was “temporarily on hold”.

So, how did Elon Musk get so rich?

Here’s everything you need to know about the eccentric billionaire.

Elon Musk has put his Twitter buyout on hold (image: AFP/Getty Images)

What is Elon Musk’s background?

Elon Musk was born into a wealthy family in Pretoria, South Africa in 1971.

His mother, Maye, was a dietitian and model who had come from Canada, while his father, Errol, was an engineer.

In 2021, the entrepeneur revealed he has Asperger's syndrome - a condition which means he interprets the world around him differently to people who don’t have the condition.

Musk was reportedly good with computers when he was a child and designed a video game aged just 12-years-old.

Elon Musk is still close to his mother Maye - pictured right (image: AFP/Getty Images)

He left for Canada at the age of 17 to avoid military service under the Apartheid regime.

A period studying at Queens University, Ontario was followed by a transfer to the University of Pennsylvania in 1992, where he studied physics and business.

After graduating, he briefly enrolled for a physics PhD at Stanford University, California before setting up online business directory Zip2 with his younger brother Kimbal in 1995.

The pair sold the firm in 1999 for $307 million, with Elon Musk himself receiving $22 million from the deal.

A young Elon Musk pictured before Tesla had even put a vehicle into mass-production (image: Getty Images)

How did Elon Musk get rich?

Unlike most other billionaires, Elon Musk made the bulk of his wealth through several successful ventures rather one big success.

After selling Zip2, he went into online banking and payments with controversial businessman Peter Thiel - setting up what would eventually become PayPal.

His stake in the business netted him $180 million when it was bought by eBay in 2009.

In 2002, he founded SpaceX with an ambition to colonise Mars using affordable rockets.

SpaceX is now a key part of NASA’s operations having mastered making space flight more affordable (image: Getty Images)

The following year, he ploughed $6 million into Tesla despite the company having not even produced a real car.

Both firms struggled initially, but SpaceX took off in 2008 after penning a $1.6 billion deal with NASA and Tesla’s first vehicle - Model S - went into mass-production in 2012.

SpaceX is now a key partner in NASA missions, while you see increasingly Tesla cars on streets across the world as people have become more environmentally conscious.

Elon Musk’s fortune has grown to astronomical proportions as a result of Tesla’s share price, which tripled in value to more than $1 trillion (£801.7 billion) in 2021 - although it is now worth around $730 billion (£585.2 billion).

He held between 17% and 21% of the company’s shares before he bought Twitter - a stake currently valued in the region of $150 billion (£120.3 billion).

Tesla is currently worth more than $1 trillion (image: Getty Images)

However, he has sold roughly $8.5 million (£6.8 billion) of his Tesla stake to fund his buyout of the platform.

Meanwhile, Mr Musk’s 48% stake in $100 billion (£80.2 billion) firm SpaceX makes up most of the rest of his fortune.

Elon Musk has also set out with two other business ventures in the last five years.

The Boring Company is a firm that digs big holes in the ground, while Neuralink is aiming to develop telepathic links to machines - an innovation which could transform the lives of people who have neurological disorders or severe spinal injuries.

Elon Musk’s Twitter buyout explained

On 4 April, Elon Musk bought a 9.1% stake in Twitter before announcing a takeover bid a few days later.

Twitter appears to have changed its mind about an Elon Musk takeover (image: AFP/Getty Images)

The social media giant’s board initially sought to halt the takeover, but then performed an about-turn - agreeing sell the company to Musk for $44billion (£35.3 billion) on 25 April.

Twitter executives reportedly came under shareholder pressure to acept the deal after details emerged about how Elon Musk would finance his bid.

It’s likely to take six months for Mr Musk’s Twitter buyout to go through.

However, it seems to be hanging by a thread after Elon Musk said he had put the deal on hold on 13 May over fears there are more spam or fake Twitter accounts than had been officially stated by the company.

The billionaire appears to want to buy Twitter so he can implement changes to the site’s freedom of expression policies.

He suggested as much in a series of Tweets posted on 26 April.

Since then, he has also Tweeted that his buyout was a bid to “own the libs” - i.e. frustrate people who are politically central or left-of-centre.

It came after he attacked the Democratic Party - a political grouping he had previously backed - and said he would vote Republican at the next US election.

On 10 May, he revealed he would welcome disgraced former US President Donald Trump back to Twitter should his bid prove successful.

At a Financial Times Future of the Car summit, he described the decision to ban Trump as “morally wrong and flat-out stupid”.

Trump was permanently suspended from Twitter in January 2021 “due to the risk of further incitement of violence" after rioters attempted to overturn the result of the 2020 US election at the Capitol in Washington DC.

Activists, including anti-violence and anti-racism groups, have urged Twitter’s advertisers to consider their positions should Mr Musk’s buyout prove successful.

Why is Elon Musk controversial?

Elon Musk is a divisive figure - idolised by people who like his maverick streak, and detested by those who despise his views and his wealth.

As well as his Twitter free speech stance, recent controversies surrounding Mr Musk include his downplaying the severity of Covid-19 and reports of a poor working culture at Tesla - news Mr Musk denies.

Elon Musk’s business success is in no doubt, but his erratic personality has proved controversial in the business world (image: Getty Images)

Mr Musk has also argued against paying more tax, despite an investigation by news site ProPublica finding he paid a low rate between 2014 and 2018.

While his business success is in no doubt, Mr Musk’s erratic public behaviour in recent years has also led to several high profile gaffes that have cost both him and his investors millions of dollars.

One of the most famous was when he smoked weed during a filmed podcast interview with Joe Rogan in 2018 - something which crashed Tesla shares by more than 9%.

That same year, he also blamed marijuana for an announcement he made on Twitter about taking Tesla back into private ownership for $420 a share - the number 420 being a reference to weed.

Tesla shares rose 11% with the Tweet, but the subsequent marijuana revelation saw them dive 8.8% just a few weeks later.

It also led to a battle with the US Securities and Exchange Commission - a government body that regulates stockmarket activity - which accused Mr Musk of providing misleading information about his intentions.

Elon Musk has vastly increased the value of Tesla in recent years, but has also cost investors money with his public performances (image: AFP/Getty Images)

The SEC has since opened another investigation into whether Mr Musk and his brother broke insider trading laws after he published a Twitter poll in November 2021 asking his followers whether he should sell off some of his Tesla stake.

The poll came just hours after his brother had allegedly sold $108 million in Tesla shares.

Mr Musk has made an apparent reference to cannabis again in his bid to buy Twitter, as he cited a share price of $54.20.

What is Elon Musk’s net worth?

According to Forbes, as of 20 May Elon Musk was worth $218 billion (£174.8 billion) - a drop of over 14% compared to two weeks ago when his fortune was $253.7 billion.

The figure frequently changes as Mr Musk’s wealth is largely tied to his Tesla stake, which goes up and down depending on the markets.

To put his wealth into perspective, Elon Musk is worth more than the gross domestic product (GDP) of more than 150 countries and territories, according to the latest World Bank data.

This includes the entire GDPs of countries like New Zeland and Iran.

Musk’s wealth is almost 10% of the UK’s entire GDP.