COMMENT:

Elon Musk is undeniably one of the most talented and accomplished industrialists of a generation, but his latest actions regarding the Thai rescue effort have people questioning his motives. It’s time he pulled his head in.

In recent months, he has become increasingly concerned with lashing out at detractors, discrediting journalists, throwing shade on social media and pretty much screaming “look at me, look at me”.

The world is looking, but some are increasingly unsure about what they see.

Read more: Musk hits back after submarine dismissed by Thai rescue organisers

A genius entrepreneur? Sure. An egocentric clamouring for attention? Possibly.

They say no good deed goes unpunished, so perhaps it’s not a shock that so many people came to view his ostensibly noble offer to help authorities rescue the boys in a cynical light.

As the rescue mission got under way in Thailand on Sunday, Musk was tweeting up a storm about the benefits of a “tiny, kid-sized submarine” he’d been testing in a Californian swimming pool to help get the boys out.

The local Chiang Rai governor later said while the “technology was good and sophisticated” the rescue squad would not need the mini-submarine as it was “not practical for this mission”.

Thanks but, no thanks. Nonetheless great to see a corporate tycoon in his position offer to help.

But then Musk took issue with reports about the dismissal of the submarine and fired back at the claim, saying the former provincial governor was “not the subject matter expert” and sharing his correspondence with dive rescue team leader Richard Stanton, who had encouraged Musk’s involvement in private messages.

Musk posted the full exchange with Mr Stanton on Twitter, and for a moment it wasn’t about the safety of the young boys but the credibility of his creation.

On one hand he was trying to get the whole truth out there. But on the other hand it appeared to be driven wholly by vanity.

Writing for Mashable, tech journalist Rachel Kraus said she was eager to defend Musk’s involvement until that point.

“The rant changed how I viewed the story. Even if Musk really had wanted to help, his publishing of the emails and negation of the ‘not practical’ narrative added a gross look-at-me, give-me-credit sheen to his efforts that hadn’t overtly been there before,” she wrote.

“It had been about getting credit, after all.”

Meanwhile others lined up on social media to criticise his need to unhelpfully inject himself into the spotlight.

However, it’s not the first time he has stepped up to offer help a foreign government in a crisis. Last year he sent battery installers to Puerto Rico to help restore power after Hurricane Maria knocked out all power on the island.

That’s a good guy deed in anyone’s book. There’s no reason you can’t help and get some great publicity at the same time. After all, maintaining the image that gets him referred to as “the real life Iron Man” in the media is sure to help keep the investor dollars flowing in.

His salesmanship is one thing but many fear his antics are beginning to detract from the mission at hand as he guides one large public company (Tesla) and another large private one (SpaceX).

Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla. Photo / AP
Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla. Photo / AP

He appears increasingly irritated by questions about Tesla’s troubles, from missing production targets to worker injuries in the factory. He has adopted a Donald Trump-like method of responding to journalists and analysts doing their job, even looking through Facebook photos of a female journalist who he thought was feeding information to investors betting against his electric car company.

When the media reported on his latest rant about the mini submarine he sent to Thailand, he even took umbrage with being labelled a billionaire — the very definition of a first world problem.

“You literally are a billionaire,” wrote one Twitter user. “If you think it’s is a negative label, maybe it’s because it means that you’re hoarding money and resources from the rest of the world.”

Despite the defensive tone in Musk’s reply tweet above, like usual, the man has a point. And far be it from me, a lowly reporter to question his methods, motives or otherwise. Because the 47-year-old has done more than I could dream of in multiple lifetimes.

After making a fortune as the co-creator of PayPal, he now heads up a commercially viable rocket business that has created the best and most innovative rockets ever seen. He is the co-founder and CEO of electric car company Tesla, which has helped usher in the ongoing electronic car revolution — and the cars are seriously awesome. He dabbles in building giant tunnels, brain-computer interfaces and he wants to save the human race by getting us to Mars.

What a bloke.

It’s this CV that has earned him an army of loyal fans, many of whom are quick to fork out for flamethrowers and hats produced by Musk’s companies as promotional gear.

But it’s been interesting, and a little bit sad, to watch the public’s perception of him unravel in recent months.

I genuinely hope the dude succeeds and transforms the auto industry, the space industry and hopefully much more.

But becoming preoccupied with journalists, arguing with random people on Twitter, cracking it at analysts during an investor call or getting sidetracked by the implied malice in the word billionaire, is not going to help Tesla hit its production targets.

It’s not inconceivable to think Tesla could fold (some are betting on it), and SpaceX could also fail to achieve its major goals. For our sake, I really hope not.

But if so, then how will we remember the legacy of Elon Musk?

There probably won’t be so many people lining up to buy flamethrowers and hats.

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