Is Elon Musk the New Steve Jobs?

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Steve Jobs is considered one of the most forward-thinking CEOs of our age. He was behind the birth of Apple in the '70s, the resurgence of Apple in the 2000s, and in his spare time he made Pixar into the first computer-generating movie studio. Any investor who bought into Jobs' companies would have done extremely well. We should always be on the lookout for similar visionary genius.

Today, there's one man who is trying to become the next Steve Jobs, an innovative leader who can turn an idea into a cultural revolution. That man is Elon Musk, and he's taking on three industries by turning conventional wisdom on its head.

Where it all began
Musk's initial public success came when he founded, acquired the company that ran PayPal, and eventually sold the company to eBay (NASDAQ: EBAY  ) for $1.5 billion. This gave him a fortune of over $100 million and the flexibility to grow his empire. Even before eBay finalized the deal he had already moved on and founded Space Exploration Technologies -- SpaceX.

Upward and onward
SpaceX is the biggest, riskiest, and maybe most forward-thinking of Musk's businesses today. The company develops and builds spacecraft with the intention of bringing cargo and astronauts to space. The company has put satellites into orbit and made the first commercial docking with the International Space Station.  

This is just the beginning for SpaceX, though. The company has a contract with NASA for 12 flights to the International Space Station, replacing the iconic Space Shuttle. Eventually, Musk wants to send humans to Mars.

Bringing solar to the masses
Elon Musk is also the chairman and largest shareholder of SolarCity (NASDAQ: SCTY  ) , the residential solar installer. The company has the largest market share in the residential solar market, a growing sector of the energy business, particularly in California.

Musk has led the company through a series of acquisitions that have expanded the company's reach, and now that solar is becoming more economical for home owners, the possibilities seem limitless. SolarCity offers free quotes to homeowners and in some cases a no-money-down solar installation that will reduce their electrical bills.

When SolarCity began in 2006 the plan was a little crazier than it seems today, but with a $1.2 billion valuation, even the stock market seems to think residential solar has a future.

SolarCity has even partnered with Tesla Motors (NASDAQ: TSLA  ) to provide solar energy storage to homeowners. This can be used to offset high energy rates, if utilities use time-of-use rate plans, or to guard against power outages.  

Reinventing the auto industry
What Musk is probably most known for is his job as CEO and major shareholder of Tesla Motors, the electric car company. Everyone from Nissan to General Motors has tried to build an electric car that could be accepted by consumers, but only Tesla Motors has actually managed to do it.

Musk has taken the approach of building a high-end vehicle for the upper echelon of the car market, then hopes to lower cost down the road to include more consumers. This contrasts with the efforts of Nissan and GM to build cars that had mass appeal but started with a high sticker price.

Tesla even has some big names onboard with its technology. Toyota Motors (NYSE: TM  ) has hired Tesla to build the drivetrain for the new electric Rav4, a partnership that could be expanded in the future.

If Musk is able to turn the auto industry on its head by creating a financially viable car company that only sells electric vehicles, then it would be the biggest shift in transportation since that envisioned by Henry Ford.

Near-faultless execution has led Tesla Motors to the brink of success, but the road ahead remains a hard one. Despite progress, a looming question remains: Will Tesla be able to fend off its big-name competitors? The Motley Fool answers this question and more in our most in-depth Tesla research available for smart investors like you. Thousands have already claimed their own premium ticker coverage, and you can gain instant access to your own by clicking here now.

Foolish bottom line
Elon Musk hasn't yet become the iconic entrepreneur and innovator Steve Jobs was, but he has as good a possibility of being mentioned in the same sentence as anyone else out there. He has already built a fortune through his ideas, now one or more of his companies needs to permanently redefine the industries in which they operate.

That's exactly what Jobs did with the PC, then the smartphone, and eventually the tablet. Time will tell if Musk can accomplish the same thing but I wouldn't bet against him.

Read/Post Comments (8) | Recommend This Article (39)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2013, at 3:50 PM, SteveTG3 wrote:

    picture it... it's early in December 1986. you look at the sports pages, and see this headline,

    "Is Michael Jordan the next Dr. J?"


  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2013, at 4:26 PM, Vismxr wrote:

    I've been a Fool since 1999 and I confess it's really simple to have a high conviction portfolio. I'm close to retirement and only bought 5 geniuses. Jobs, Bezos, Musk, Zuckerberg, & Brin. They see the future we cannot. Buy the 2015 leaps. Stop trading headlines. Turn off the TV and enjoy the other side of rainbow in a couple years.

  • Report this Comment On January 25, 2013, at 2:16 PM, InvesterFester80 wrote:

    How Does Musk's SolarCity Make money? They don't. RIght now they spend a hell of a lot more that they take in. The only income they have is from tax rebates. SolarCity does not make money. It's that simple. He's a fantastic marketer. SolarCity is robbing tax rebates

  • Report this Comment On January 30, 2013, at 2:04 PM, TMFVelvetHammer wrote:

    Fantastic article, Travis. I was planning a post on my blog, and you beat me to it! Musk is certainly a generational visionary. Time will tell if he's the businessman he seems to be. I think we will be watching movies about this guy in a decade or two.

  • Report this Comment On February 01, 2013, at 2:45 PM, DJDynamicNC wrote:

    "How Does Musk's SolarCity Make money? They don't. RIght now they spend a hell of a lot more that they take in. The only income they have is from tax rebates."

    Curious stance: SolarCity doesn't make money, other than the money it makes.

    Using tax rebate income to build a viable stand-alone business is the precise reason that tax rebates exist. This is how the government stimulates socially valuable investment (railroads, highways, etc) and it's a time-honoured technique.

    That Musk is taking advantage of it doesn't make him a thief who is "robbing" tax rebates. That doesn't even make sense.

  • Report this Comment On February 03, 2013, at 2:30 AM, AceInMySleeve wrote:

    I like Musk, but electric cars (specifically batteries) suck compared to gas, and solar on the roof makes no sense compared to centralized power sources. If he gets behind something with a future, watchout.

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2013, at 11:32 AM, Geezwad wrote:

    With a name like Elon Musk, he better be.

  • Report this Comment On April 25, 2013, at 10:57 PM, Nerdish11 wrote:

    I remember a time that the only people who could afford PC where businesses and those with extra cash to "throw away" on "useless" junk like the PC. A few years later my family memebers were saying it would be kinda cool to have one but we can't afford one. A few more years later we bought our first used PC. Not even a year later buying a new PC and eventually everyone had one and then... Here came the cellphones and we all said the same thing...

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