Just over a year ago, the Securities and Exchange Commission had launched an investigation into Elon Musk after he tweeted that he planned to take Tesla private. He was facing criticism, and a defamation lawsuit, for calling a Thai-cave rescuer a “pedo guy” and “child rapist.” And when Musk took a hit off a joint during an Internet broadcast, it triggered a safety review from NASA that was concerned the billionaire maverick was going off the rails.
But now Musk is on a roll, literally dancing his way forward past a thicket of controversies. Tesla’s stock price has quadrupled, and the company’s market value now is greater than GM’s and Ford’s combined. A jury acquitted him in the defamation suit. And SpaceX is on the cusp of its first human spaceflight, having just completed what Musk called “a picture-perfect” test flight.
President Donald Trump even compared him recently to Thomas Edison, calling him “one of our great geniuses.”
Most notable for some is that Musk, known for taking to Twitter to tout his successes and lash out at his critics, has demonstrated restraint. He hasn’t tweeted any sensitive numbers about the publicly traded Tesla, and he kept silent after NASA pronounced the software in Boeing’s Starliner capsule – SpaceX’s competitor for sending people into space – so flawed that more than a million lines of code must be meticulously reviewed, a process that could take months.
People who follow Musk closely say they’ve noticed the change. Rebukes by regulators and the serious responsibility of sending astronauts to space, now weeks away, have humbled him, they say.
“Elon’s not dealing like he’s under the vice anymore, and he is acting more reasonable,” said Gene Munster, managing partner of analyst firm Loup Ventures.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges ahead. Tesla is launching its new crossover SUV in the first quarter, and new vehicles in the past have become a production stumbling block. Tesla also revealed last week that it’s again under investigation by the SEC.
And though he may have been humbled, he remains refreshingly unfiltered. He recently danced on stage in China, performing what some dubbed a strip tease, shrugging his hoodie off and then throwing it. He told a recent SpaceX event on the rushed timeline to build a rocket he hopes will get to Mars: “My new thing is management by rhyming: If the schedule is long, it’s wrong; it if it’s tight, it’s right.” He also recently released a song that climbed the charts on Spotify after he tweeted to his 30 million followers a shot of himself jamming to the beat.