Tesla CEO Elon Musk is among the most popular and controversial business leaders. He has a big army of supporters, while other people simply hate him. Why do so many people hate Musk?
The rapid increase in Musk’s Twitter followers, which currently stand at 68 million, is a testimony to his popularity. To put that in perspective, his Twitter follower count crossed the 30 million mark in the fourth quarter of 2019. Jeff Bezos only has 3.4 million Twitter followers, while President Joe Biden has 31.9 million Twitter followers. Musk was also named as the TIME person of the year in 2021.
Most billionaires are hated, not just Elon Musk.
First, given the glaring wealth disparity across the world, there's a general tendency to hate billionaires. The fact that the taxes that Musk has paid over the last several years, barring 2021 where he sold a bunch of Tesla stocks, only makes more people hate him. Apart from general hate towards billionaires among a section of the population, there are several other reasons why Musk is hated.
Musk has a strong opinion and he expresses it freely.
Musk has an opinion on multiple topics and being an avid Twitter user, he frequently shares them, even though they might not be correct. For example, Musk was one of many people who underestimated the deadliness of the COVID-19 pandemic. He cajoled authorities to get the Fremont plant opened in 2020 amid surging COVID-19 infections.
He has also made some comments that could have been avoided. The most recent example is his tweet directed at Bernie Sanders. In another controversy in 2019, he called British caver Vernon Unsworth a “pedo guy.” Later, Musk said that the phrase is common in South Africa where he grew up. Eventually, Musk won the defamation lawsuit filed by Unsworth.
Elon Musk’s employee policies are also under a scanner.
Despite Musk being a self-proclaimed socialist, Tesla doesn't have an employee union. A leaked email in November showed Musk threatening employees who don’t follow his instructions. From sexual harassment to race discrimination, Tesla’s employee policies have been under a scanner.
Other people hate Musk for some of his projects, especially on colonizing Mars. Neuralink is one of Musk's polarizing projects and many people have been critical of him over the brain chips. Many are also critical of his space travel company. Even Bezos faced a lot of hate when he flew to space. Many people question the need for space travel at a time when the world is grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Why do some investors hate Musk?
If you're a Tesla short-seller, you might be among Musk haters considering the massive losses that bears have incurred over the last two years. Many investors think that Musk has used hype and yet-to-be-launched products to pump up Tesla’s valuation.
There's indeed some merit here since the company’s robotaxi project, which Musk himself thinks accounts for a big chunk of its valuations, is way behind schedule.
Some crypto investors hate Musk for his tweets.
Musk triggered the mayhem in several cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin and Dogecoin in 2021. He has had shifting opinions about them and his tweets have led to massive volatility in crypto prices. Those who lost money due to Musk’s tweets have a reason to hate him.
Another criticism of Musk has been that he doesn't get punished enough. Whether it was the infamous “taking Tesla private” tweet or the frequent tweets that impact the price action of different assets, the general belief is that like fellow billionaires, Musk gets away easily.
Some people see a maverick in Musk, while others see him as over-smart.
While Musk fans see most of his actions as signs of him being too smart, many others see him as over-smart. The most recent incident involved Musk offloading Tesla shares, which he did after the “affirmation” from his Twitter followers. However, the filings show that the transactions were pre-planned. Musk would have had to sell shares to exercise the stock options anyway.
If Musk took Twitter polls seriously, Tesla would have long started accepting Dogecoin as payment for its cars. However, Musk is a smart businessman and he knows what havoc the volatile meme currency can play with Tesla’s profitability. Musk’s smartness could be another reason why many people hate him so much.
Musk's brilliance can't be denied and despite many people betting against him, Tesla has survived and thrived. For Musk and other business leaders, the quote “Love Me, hate me, but you can't ignore me” definitely applies.