A billionaire futurist. A genius go-getter. A patriot and a philanthropist.
Sometimes, you wonder if Elon Musk stepped out of a movie. In another universe, the coiffed and sophisticated Musk would probably be donning an iron suit (or jumping into a flying car) to lead The Avengers. And why not? Ambitious as he is imaginative, Musk has tackled today’s most potent flashpoints: Internet commerce, sustainable energy, space travel, and artificial intelligence. In Musk’s world, Mars will become a colonized outpost, cars won’t require drivers, and user manuals are a red flag to start over.
Even more, the celebrated founder or co-founder of SpaceX, Tesla Motors, SolarCity, and PayPal, among others, embodies the can-do zeitgeist of his era. “I don’t create companies for the sake of creating companies,” Musk is credited with saying, “but to get things done.” At a time when “go big or go home” is the mantra for many entrepreneurs, Musk stands out with his obsession with making an impact and forging the future. And he does so in a workmanlike fashion that harkens back to his immigrant roots. “I don’t spend my time pontificating about high-concept things,” he explained in a 2013 interview with Bloomberg Businessweek. “I spend my time solving engineering and manufacturing problems.”
A VISIONARY WHO BRINGS HIS DREAMS TO LIFE
Musk’s inventive spirit and focus on detail and design has served as an inspiration to MBAs worldwide. Musk might dis MBAs, claiming business schools don’t prepare students to create companies. Yet such unrequited love hasn’t deterred MBAs from coronating him as the next Henry Ford or Walt Disney. How popular is he among business students? Recently, Poets&Quants received 197 full-time student nominations from over 60 business schools as part of recognizing the Best & Brightest MBAs and MBAs To Watch in the Class of 2016. As part of the process, Poets&Quants asked these top MBAs to list their favorite business executive or entrepreneur — and why. Seventeen of these graduates — or 9% of those who supplied an answer — listed Musk as their favorite. And it wasn’t even close, with Sheryl Sandberg (7), Bill Gates (6), and Steve Jobs (6) the only others who drew more than four votes.
The University of Wisconsin’s Angie Peltzer, who worked for the U.S. Department of Labor before entering business school, sums up Musk’s attraction best: “He doesn’t believe that there is a problem too big or too complex to solve,” she observes. “He’s confident in his own ability to accomplish whatever he sets his mind to, whether it be disrupting online payment, space, solar power, or the car industry.”
Musk’s appeal wasn’t just concentrated among full-time MBAs. Among the 71 graduates nominated to be part of Poets&Quants’ Best & Brightest Executive MBAs from the 2016 Class, eight (13% of those providing an answer) named Musk as their role model (with Sandberg taking the silver with four votes). “This guy has got so much passion, brilliance, and execution all wrapped into one,” gushes Daniel Schacter, who returned to McKinsey after his stint at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School. “How can you not respect him?”