Elon Musk named Time's 'Person of the Year' - what if he'd stayed in SA?
This week, Time magazine named Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk its Person of the Year for 2021.
The richest person on the planet was born and raised in Pretoria.
"He tosses satellites into orbit and harnesses the sun; he drives a car he created that uses no gas and barely needs a driver. With a flick of his finger, the stock market soars or swoons. An army of devotees hangs on his every utterance. He dreams of Mars as he bestrides Earth..."
Last month, the United Nations World Food Programme's David Beasley said Musk could save 42 million people from starvation with a mere 2% of his then-$221 billion wealth.
After a few ups and downs, Musk is currently worth more than $250 billion according to Time.
Could Musk have achieved these heights if he'd stayed in his home country? wonders Bruce Whitfield.
He puts the question to Professor Keith Breckenridge, Associate Professor at the Wits Institute For Social And Economic Research (Wiser).
"I'm afraid the answer is almost certainly a no" Prof. Breckenridge responds.
He spent very little time here as an adult... He probably spent more time actually studying in Canada... I think the key thing was the time he spent at the University of Pennsylvania [in the US]...Prof. Keith Breckenridge, Associate Professor - Wits Institute For Social And Economic Research
... but what is interesting is that there were three South Africans on that 'PayPal Mafia', including Roelof Botha... All of them had the same connection to these elite American universities, which I'm afraid at that time in the late 90s was the key instrument to get these dot-com firms up and running...Prof. Keith Breckenridge, Associate Professor - Wits Institute For Social And Economic Research
There's quite a bit we could say about the difference between universities and the quality of education in white South Africa under apartheid...Prof. Keith Breckenridge, Associate Professor - Wits Institute For Social And Economic Research
Whitfield notes that while the early generation of computer whizzkids were born into privileged families, they were also "the right people in the right place at the right time" to capitalise on a particular moment in history.
Prof. Breckenridge believes Musk fits a particular American fantasy about returning to a kind of capitalism that existed a hundred years ago "before shareholders could constrain how bosses worked".
He cites other South African-born success stories like Emanuel Derman, who studied Physics at Columbia University in the US after graduating from the University of Cape Town (UCT).
He was really the first 'quant' at Goldman Sachs in 1983. He's not nearly as rich as Musk, but he's an example of somebody who took a really good basic education in South Africa and then turned it into a solution that people were looking for at that right time.Prof. Keith Breckenridge, Associate Professor - Wits Institute For Social And Economic Research
What's happened since then is they got so rich and they all left their money to American universities and that has completely changed the global stage on which we all work.Prof. Keith Breckenridge, Associate Professor - Wits Institute For Social And Economic Research
Listen to Prof. Breckenridge's views on how South Africa could possibly keep the Musks of the future to stay home:
This article first appeared on CapeTalk : Elon Musk named Time's 'Person of the Year' - what if he'd stayed in SA?
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