Silicon Valley showdown: Elon Musk vs. Jeff Bezos
Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are two of the most familiar names in the current business world, and the two have much in common. Each of these visionaries has leveraged modern technology to transform an industry, forsaking short-term profits in a quest to change the world. Both have a deep interest in space exploration, both have attracted loyal followings who share their visions, both are great philanthropists and of course, both have become rather wealthy.
Above: Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk (Image: Business Insider)
A recent article in Business Insider compared and contrasted the two entrepreneurs across a number of categories. There’s definitely a competitive vibe between them - their rivalry in the spaceflight field has occasionally resulted in some acrimonious Twitter exchanges (although Bezos graciously wished SpaceX “best of luck” with its historic Falcon Heavy launch). But we’ll leave the judgements about who has the biggest rocket to others, and content ourselves with comparing the impressive accomplishments of these two Titans of industry.
In one sense, to compare Amazon to Tesla would be unfair. Bezos founded the Seattle-based online retailer in 1994. Today it has a market capitalization of $690 billion, and employs some 542,000 people worldwide. Amazon has already changed the world. The younger Tesla was founded in 2003, and has grown to have a market cap around $58 billion and about 32,000 employees. Tesla has succeeded in showing us the path to its goal of electrifying the world’s transportation system, but with electric vehicles still making up a little over 1% of worldwide auto sales, we’d have to say that the world hasn’t been changed yet.
On the other hand, a comparison between the two companies’ stock market performance is very instructive. Legions of stock analysts claim to be bewildered by Tesla - How can a company’s stock price keep going up when it isn’t reporting any quarterly profits? They forget (or choose to forget) that the young Amazon followed a similar trajectory. It had plenty of competition from traditional booksellers, and defied Wall Street wisdom for years by choosing growth over profits. However, since its 1997 IPO, the company’s stock price has multiplied nearly 500 times.
Above: The rise of Amazon (Image: Business Insider)
Another thing Musk and Bezos have in common: their employees generally give them the thumbs-up. Bezos’s employee approval rating at Amazon is a healthy 87%. Musk enjoys similar standing at Tesla, where 84% of employees say they approve of their CEO. Over at SpaceX, relations are even more cordial - 96% of employees approve of Musk.
Both Musk and Bezos have given generously to a range of charitable causes - both have namesake foundations and have donated to disaster relief, technology and medical research, and scholarships. The Musk Foundation provides grants to support STEM education, renewable energy, and pediatric medicine. The foundation donated $250,000 after the Fukushima nuclear disaster to help the Japanese prefecture set up a solar power system. More recently, Tesla donated equipment to help restore power in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico. In 2015, Musk donated $10 million to the Future of Life Institute, which is dedicated to ensuring that AI benefits humanity.
The Bezos Family Foundation has likewise donated to a range of worthy causes, including $33 million to a scholarship fund for DREAMers, undocumented immigrants who entered the US as minors; $10 million to immunotherapy cancer research; and $15 million to Princeton University to study neural connectivity.
Above: Tesla has been helping those in need after the recent hurricane in Puerto Rico (Twitter: Tesla)
Okay, we know what you’re all waiting to read: who’s richer? By that metric, there’s no contest. According to Forbes, Musk is currently worth a respectable $20 billion, but Bezos is technically the wealthiest man in history, with an estimated net worth over $119 billion. However, if Musk’s master plan unfolds as desired, he could get a lot richer. Under his recently announced new compensation plan, which the New York Times called “perhaps the most radical in corporate history,” if Tesla grows to $650 billion in market cap by 2028, Mr. Musk could receive some $55.8 billion in stock options. Of course, it’s safe to say that Mr. Bezos’s pile of chips will be growing as well.
Obviously, amassing personal wealth is not the primary goal for either of these men. Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are visionaries who are concerned about the future of the human race. They share incredible imagination, incredible drive and powerful abilities to influence others to support their visions. In an era in which political leaders encourage us to worship the past and fear the future, and business leaders entice us with a never-ending flood of trivial consumer products, many rightly remark that the world could use a lot more visionaries like Musk and Bezos.
Alas, there are never likely to be very many.