Elon Musk became the wealthiest person in the world on Thursday, a milestone moment for the entrepreneur who has seen his fortune skyrocket over the last year. And it likely means that more scrutiny than ever will fall upon him.
When the market opened on Thursday, Musk dethroned Amazon founder Jeff Bezos from the top slot, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Musk at that time had an estimated net worth of about $188.5 billion — a few billion more than Bezos, who has been the wealthiest person in the world since late 2017.
“How strange,” Musk tweeted from his iPhone in the aftermath of the news. “Well, back to work.”
Musk’s incredible accumulation of wealth over the last year has been driven by a remarkable bull run in the stock of Tesla, which Musk founded and owns 20 percent of. The stock price of the automaker grew by more than 700 percent in 2020, fueling a $142 billion increase in Musk’s personal net worth — a level of growth that’s unmatched by any other billionaire tracked on the index.
Musk’s estimated net worth could even be an undercount: Some of Musk’s money comes from his founding shares in SpaceX, the other company currently run by the entrepreneur. Unlike Tesla, which has a market cap that is public and can be tracked, SpaceX remains a private company. So Musk’s SpaceX holdings are merely an estimate based on the startup’s most recent fundraising round in August 2020. Those holdings could be worth more now.
Now that he is the single wealthiest person in the world, Musk is likely to encounter more public scrutiny about his finances. Bezos has become a subject of public fascination and, on the left, public ire as an epitome of America’s billionaire class, especially since rising to the No. 1 spot.
For a long time, the world’s wealthiest person was Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who deployed his fortune into building one of the country’s most prominent philanthropies, the Gates Foundation.
Musk will probably now encounter more questions about his own personal giving. In 2012, when he was much poorer, Musk signed the Giving Pledge, a public promise to donate at least half of his money. And in the intervening years, he has said very little about his philanthropy plans. The website of his personal charity, the Musk Foundation, is a plain-text black-on-white website with 33 words and no links.
Given Musk’s net worth now, hundreds of billions of dollars could depend on what exactly Musk decides to do with his fortune.