• Most CEOs tend to choose their words carefully, fearing the consequences of saying anything that could be deemed controversial.
  • But Elon Musk is not nearly as cautious, sometimes appearing to speak his mind and deal with the consequences later.
  • The CEO of Tesla, SpaceX and The Boring Company has inspired intense devotion and attracted controversy as a result of his public statements.
  • How Musk handles himself in the future will determine, in part, how effective a leader he is as his companies move from upstarts to established players in highly competitive industries.


Most CEOs tend to choose their words carefully, fearing the consequences of saying anything that could be deemed controversial. For better and for worse, Elon Musk is not nearly as cautious.

The CEO of Tesla, SpaceX, and The Boring Company sometimes appears to prefer speaking his mind and dealing with the consequences later, like when he mocks his critics or opens up about his personal life. Musk's candour has endeared him to the fans and customers who find him more relatable than other famous executives, while also frustrating some analysts and investors who argue that he is temperamental and reckless.

The intense devotion and criticism Musk has provoked with both public and private statements have contributed to his status as one of the most scrutinised figures in American culture. This year, Musk's remarks have more often tended to get himself in trouble, hurting Tesla's stock price, spurring investigations from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Department of Justice, and attracting lawsuits from investors. How Musk handles himself in the future will determine, in part, how effective of a leader he is as his companies move from upstarts to established players in highly competitive industries.

Below are 32 quotes that illustrate why Musk attracts so much attention.


"Seems like an opportune moment to bring up the Fermi Paradox, aka 'where are the aliens?' Really odd that we see no sign of them."

Mike Windle/Getty Images

In 2015, Musk said on Twitter that it was strange humans have yet to see evidence of aliens. He later said Egyptian pyramids were not evidence of aliens visiting Earth.

"Btw, please don't mention the pyramids. Stacking stone blocks is not evidence of an advanced civilisation," he said. "The ancient Egyptians were amazing, but if aliens built the pyramids, they would've left behind a computer or something."

Source: Twitter


"If there was a way that I could not eat, so I could work more, I would not eat. I wish there was a way to get nutrients without sitting down for a meal."

In Ashlee Vance's 2015 biography of Musk,"Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future," Christie Nicholson, who met Musk in college, said Musk told her he wished he didn't have to eat so he could carve out more time for work.

Source: The Washington Post


"My mentality is that of a samurai. I would rather commit seppuku than fail."

This quote is also from Vance's book, though Musk has disputed it. According to Vance, Musk said this when speaking with an investor.

Source: The Washington Post


"I would tell those people they will get to see their families a lot when we go bankrupt."

Former Tesla employee Ryan Popple told Vance that Musk said this during Tesla's early years after an employee said their jobs were too demanding.

Source: The Washington Post


"My family fears that the Russians will assassinate me."

Musk told Vance that his rocket-building and space exploration company, SpaceX, had created enemies that may wish him harm.

Source:The Washington Post, Page Six


"Like why did you go steal Tesla’s E? Like you’re some sort of fascist army marching across the alphabet, some sort of Sesame Street robber?"

Musk told Vance he wanted to name a Tesla vehicle the "Model E," but said Ford trademarked the name and wouldn't allow Tesla to use it.

Musk's insistence on using the name came from his desire for the model names of Tesla's first four vehicles to spell "SEXY."

Source: The Washington Post


"I would like to allocate more time to dating, though. I need to find a girlfriend. That’s why I need to carve out just a little more time. I think maybe even another five to 10 — how much time does a woman want a week? Maybe 10 hours? That’s kind of the minimum? I don’t know."

Musk told Vance he wanted to dedicate more time to dating and wondered how much time a relationship would require.

Source: The Washington Post


"There's a billion-to-one chance we're living in base reality."

Musk has argued that human beings most likely exist in a video game. In 2016, during Vox Media's Code Conference, he said the current rate of innovation in video game development makes it likely that we will eventually make video games that are indistinguishable from reality. At some point in the future, the quantity and quality of hyper-realistic video games means there could be billions of simulations of human reality, which means it's unlikely that we'll be the first ones to create those games, rather than living inside one of the games, he said.

"We're clearly on a trajectory to have games that are indistinguishable from reality, and those games could be played on any set-top box or a PC and there would probably be billions of such computers and set top boxes, it would seem to follow that the odds that we're in base reality is one in billions."

Source: Facebook


"I'm not an alien...but I used to be one"

Musk said this on Twitter in 2016.

Source: Twitter


"You’re an idiot"

On December 14, Wired reported that Musk criticised public transportation at a tech conference.

"I think public transport is painful," he reportedly said. "It sucks. Why do you want to get on something with a lot of other people, that doesn't leave where you want it to leave, doesn't start where you want it to start, doesn't end where you want it to end?"

Public transit consultant Jarrett Walker tweeted a response on December 14, saying Elon Musk's "hatred of sharing space with strangers is a luxury (or pathology) that only the rich can afford."

"You're an idiot," Musk replied.

Source: Twitter


"Despite intense efforts to raise money, including a last-ditch mass sale of Easter Eggs, we are sad to report that Tesla has gone completely and totally bankrupt. So bankrupt, you can't believe it."

Musk poked fun at questions about Tesla's financial health in an April Fools' Day Twitter thread written in the style of a newspaper story.

"Tesla Goes Bankrupt Palo Alto, California, April 1, 2018 -- Despite intense efforts to raise money, including a last-ditch mass sale of Easter Eggs, we are sad to report that Tesla has gone completely and totally bankrupt. So bankrupt, you can't believe it," Musk wrote.

Musk's response didn't please investors and analysts, who were concerned about Musk's attitude toward criticism directed at Tesla.

Source: Twitter


"At least when there's an evil dictator, that human is going to die. But for an AI, there will be no death — it would live forever. And then you would have an immortal dictator from which we could never escape."

Musk has said that he has concerns about artificial intelligence. In the 2018 documentary, "Do You Trust This Computer?," Musk said if a company or group of people created "god-like super-intelligence," the AI could exert control over humans for eternity.

Source: Business Insider


"Oh btw I’m building a cyborg dragon"

Musk has a history of making jokes on Twitter and was likely doing so when he tweeted in April that he was "building a cyborg dragon."

Source: Twitter


"Boring bonehead questions are not cool ... These questions are so dry. They're killing me."

Musk rejected questions from two Wall Street analysts during the company's unusual first-quarter earnings call in May.

"Excuse me. Next. Boring bonehead questions are not cool," Musk said after Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. analyst Antonio Sacconaghi asked about Tesla's future capital requirements.

The next question came from RBC Capital Markets analyst Joseph Spak, who asked about Model 3 reservations.

"These questions are so dry. They're killing me," Musk said, before turning to Galileo Russell, a retail investor who runs a YouTube channel about Tesla. Russell was allowed to ask several questions about a range of subjects, none of which concerned Tesla's financial health.

Tesla's stock dropped 8% in after-hours trading after the call.

Source: Business Insider


"Oh and uh short burn of the century comin' soon. Flamethrowers should arrive just in time."

In the past year, Musk has been vocal about his disdain for short-sellers, who place bets that a company's stock price will fall. In May, Musk said on Twitter the "short burn of the century" would arrive soon and made reference to the branded flamethrowers sold by his tunnel-digging company, The Boring Company.

Source: Twitter


"Going to create a site where the public can rate the core truth of any article & track the credibility score over time of each journalist, editor & publication. Thinking of calling it Pravda …"

In a series of Twitter posts in May, Musk described the media as being hypocritical, impulsive, sensitive, unreliable, and ethically compromised. Musk wrote that he would create a website, named Pravda, which would rate the credibility of journalists and their editors.

Source: Twitter


"They have about three weeks before their short position explodes."

In June, Musk said on Twitter that Tesla short-sellers had around three weeks until their short positions took a massive hit. Musk's tweet came in response to a question about vehicle production.

Source: Twitter


"You're a horrible human being."

Former Tesla employee Martin Tripp filed a whistleblowing tip with the SEC in July. Tripp claimed that Tesla used batteries with puncture holes in vehicles meant for consumers, among other claims, and, in his tip with the SEC claims the company over-reported production of its Model 3 sedan by up to 44%, according to Tripp's attorney, Stuart Meissner.

Emails sent to Business Insider revealed that Musk called Tripp "a horrible human being" via email in June. That month, Tesla filed a lawsuit against Tripp, alleging that he hacked confidential company information and gave it to parties outside the company.

Source: Business Insider


"I think there's a good vibe — I think the energy is good; go to Ford, it looks like a morgue."

During an interview with The Wall Street Journal published in June, Musk discussed Tesla's efforts to reach its goal of making 5,000 Model 3 sedans per week by the end of June. Musk said he felt good about the "vibe" and "energy" at Tesla and compared the company to Ford.

"I think there's a good vibe - I think the energy is good; go to Ford, it looks like a morgue," Musk said.

Source: The Wall Street Journal


"Sorry paedo guy, you really did ask for it."

In July, Musk called British diver Vernon Unsworth, who was involved in the Thai cave rescue, a paedophile in a tweet and said he would bet money to back his accusation after Unsworth said the miniature submarine Musk designed and sent to Thailand to help with the rescue would have been ineffective and was merely a publicity stunt. Musk later apologised to Unsworth and deleted the tweet.

Source: Business Insider


"You don’t think it’s strange he hasn’t sued me? He was offered free legal services. And you call yourself @yoda …"

In August, Musk suggested via Twitter that it was unusual Unsworth hadn't sued him yet, and asked a Twitter user who brought up the matter why he hadn't investigated it.

"You don't think it's strange he hasn't sued me? He was offered free legal services," Musk said after the Twitter user, Drew Olanoff, criticised Musk for the "paedo" tweet.

Musk then asked Olanoff why he hadn't investigated the matter.

"Did you investigate at all? I'm guessing answer is no. Why?" Musk said.

Source: Twitter


"Answer the question @yoda. You brought it up, not me. Did you investigate or not? If so, what did you actually do?"

Musk later asked Olanoff a second time why he hadn't investigated Musk's allegations against Unsworth after Olanoff didn't answer his questions.

Source: Twitter


"I suggest that you call people you know in Thailand, find out what's actually going on and stop defending child rapists, you f------ a------."

In September, BuzzFeed published emails sent by Musk to the BuzzFeed reporter Ryan Mac in which Musk expanded upon his accusations against Unsworth and said Mac was "defending child rapists."

Source: BuzzFeed


"Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured."

Musk tweeted this on August 7. The tweet led to a lawsuit from the SEC which resulted in a settlement requiring Musk to pay a $20 million fine and step down as the chairman of Tesla's board of directors for three years, among other provisions.

Source: Twitter


"Investor support is confirmed. Only reason why this is not certain is that it’s contingent on a shareholder vote."

After his "funding secured" tweet, Musk said the only thing holding a go-private deal back was a shareholder vote. Subsequent reports and a lawsuit from the SEC suggest this was not the case.

Source: Twitter


"Why would I?"

During an August interview with The New York Times, Musk said he didn't regret his "funding secured" tweet.

Source: The New York Times


"If the odds are probably in your favour, you should make as many decisions as possible within the bounds of what is executable."

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal published in August, Musk explained his decision to tweet that he had secured funding for a go-private deal by saying it makes sense to act when the odds appear to be favourable.

"This is like being the house in Vegas," Musk said. "Probability is the most powerful force in the universe, which is why the house always wins. Be the house."

Source: The Wall Street Journal


"Just want to [say] that the Shortseller Enrichment Commission is doing incredible work. And the name change is so on point!"

Musk seemed to take aim at the Securities and Exchange Commission in a tweet on October 4, just four days after he reached a settlement with the government agency.

Source: Twitter


"If you have anyone who can do a better job, please let me know. They can have the job. Is there someone who can do the job better? They can have the reins right now."

Also during his August interview with The Times, Musk said he would be willing to step down as Tesla's CEO and give the position to anyone who could do a better job than he could.

Source: The New York Times


"So in desperation, we are going to build a tunnel, and maybe that tunnel will be successful. And maybe it won't."

During a September interview with Joe Rogan, Musk said his tunnel-digging company, The Boring Company, may or may not be successful.

"I'm not saying it's going to be successful," he said. "It's not, like, asserting it's going to be successful. But so far I've lived in LA for 16 years and the traffic has always been terrible. And so I don't see any other ideas for improving the traffic.

"So in desperation, we are going to build a tunnel, and maybe that tunnel will be successful. And maybe it won't."

Source: The Joe Rogan Experience


"You're already a cyborg. Most people don't realise you're already a cyborg."

During his interview with Rogan, Musk said mobile phones essentially turn humans into cyborgs due to the amount of information they allow users to access.

Source: The Joe Rogan Experience


"I'm getting text messages from friends saying, 'What the hell are you doing smoking weed?'"

Musk was filmed smoking marijuana during his interview with Rogan. (Recreational use of Marijuana is legal in California, where the interview was filmed.) After doing so, Musk said he received texts from friends questioning his judgement.

Source: The Joe Rogan Experience

Receive a single WhatsApp every morning with all our latest news: click here.

Also from Business Insider South Africa: