The current court battle is over a “post-nup” agreement Justine signed six weeks after their wedding. In the event of divorce, it limited her share of the marital assets to $20 million—half in the form of a house, and half in support payments. On her blog, the writer has suggested she was duped into signing the “harsh” deal, and listed her demands: the Bel Air house, alimony and child support, $6 million cash, 10 per cent of his stock in Tesla, five per cent of his stock in SpaceX, and one of the car company’s “awesome” $100,000 electric roadsters. “Is this what I deserve? I don’t know. Who exactly deserves that kind of wealth?” she writes. “But based on our life and history together, is that reasonable? I think so. And I want to do good things with it (and bring my parents down from Canada, so they can live near their grandchildren).”
Justine acknowledges that the marriage had been in trouble for a while, suggesting her voracious reading habits may have been part of the problem. But she maintains the divorce was Elon’s idea alone. They had completed just three counselling sessions when he cut off her credit cards, and according to her version, had someone else tell her their life together was finished.
Musk has always been a man in a hurry. A workaholic, he regularly turns in 100-hour weeks, relying on his private jet for the commute between corporate gigs. More than an investor or boss, he likes to be involved in every aspect of design. (At SpaceX he is CEO and chief technology officer; at Tesla, CEO and product engineer.) “I’ve found that being an outsider helps,” he once said. “When people have been doing things the same way for years, they stop questioning their methods even if they defy common sense.”
At Tesla he has aggressively pushed a strategy of courting a customer base of elite, early-adopters with the high-performance and high-cost roadster. (Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and George Clooney are among the 1,100 people worldwide who own an electric vehicle that can go from zero to 60 in under four seconds.) A luxury Model S sedan, priced at $57,000, is scheduled to launch in 2012, with production ramping up to 20,000 vehicles a year. The mass market will have to wait for Tesla’s third-generation compact.
SpaceX’s goal is similarly audacious: to build a relatively cheap, fully reusable rocket that will bring the cost of a space launch down into the tens of millions versus the $450 million spent each time the shuttle lifts off. The firm already has $2.5 billion in contracts, including a $1.6-billion deal with NASA for a minimum 12 flights to the space station, starting in 2012. And Musk, whose interests tend toward transformative technologies, has already waxed poetic about the next step—colonies on Mars and beyond. “I want to make humanity a spacefaring civilization,” he said a few years ago.
Like many visionaries, he isn’t noted for his patience or tact. Martin Eberhard, one of the co-founders of Tesla, sued him for slander, libel and breach of contract after he was removed as CEO in 2007. (The suit settled out of court last year.) Even friends admit Musk can be prickly. “I know him to be a person of extremely high character and integrity who is committed to achieving his final objective with a drive and a passion unlike any I have ever seen,” Greg Kouri, a former business partner, wrote recently in an online forum. “The downside of this type of personality is that his determination can create challenges for some of the people who work with him, and eventually fallout will be inevitable.” The more important thing, argues Kouri, is that everyone who has ever invested with Elon has ended up making money.
Right now, notwithstanding his poverty claims, that includes the entrepreneur himself. Last month’s IPO netted Tesla $226 million and Musk as much as $24 million when he put close to a million of his shares on the block. Negotiations for a divorce settlement continue, although not entirely amicably. “In attempting to maximize the financial outcome of those discussions, [Justine] has applied every possible legal and public relations pressure tactic,” he complained in his Huffington Post rant. Musk and Riley—recently featured in the U.K. Esquire in her knickers and currently starring in Inception—will marry next year. “I never really thought the word genius could be applied to anyone before I met Elon, but I really believe that is what he is,” she says. “If you watch his face, you can see his brain working.” (Justine also has a new love, the head of a green charity she refers to only as “The Dude” on her blog.)
Last week, Tesla made two major splashes. First, the company announced the hiring of George Blankenship, the brains behind Apple’s retail stores, to create stylish, inviting and evangelical auto showrooms for its products. (Customers in Tokyo, Toronto and Washington will be the guinea pigs.) Soon after, the carmaker formalized a deal with Toyota to produce a battery-powered version of their popular RAV4 sports ute, starting in 2012. Elon Musk was back in the news. This time, just the way he likes it.
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