Editorial > The ELON MUSK Fascination Do we have an alternative?

The ELON MUSK Fascination

Do we have an alternative?

Dais Editorial | 28/01/2021 06:12 PM

Well, it certainly takes a lot of chill and a whole different level of crazy to keep your head firmly on your shoulders when you have achieved one of the most Herculean tasks a human being could ever attempt in life. But it’s not just the riches that make him, him.

It is this quirk, this thirst for innovation, this love for science and his absolute I-care-a-damn attitude towards his mounting billions that make him more and more attractive - to his investors, to his shareholders, even to those who call him a con-artist but most of all to those who dream to become like him some day – that kid with stars in his eyes and a rocket in his hand – aiming to make the world a different place someday.

Mind you, he did not get his claim-to-fame served on a Sultan-esque platter. He pulled all of his daydreams together to build and create – an online city guide (Zip2), a payments company (X.com known later as PayPal) and oh, the ones we all know now … SpaceX and Tesla! Did we miss The Boring Company, Hyperloop, Neuralink and OpenAI? He dabbled in newer ideas then and he continues to dabble on.

And he doesn’t seem to be taking a pause or breathing in the glory of everyone screaming to his face – “You’re the world’s richest man, dude!”

He just shrugged and moved on... 'cos... He’s going “back to work”

Why would the average kid at school not dream of becoming him some day?!

But are there alternatives to our dream icon? Are there any that could even come close to challenging the aura that Musk (Age 49) carries to our minds?

We wanted to try on a few of them to see if they fit the bill. Read on and see if you find another hero...

Michael Dell (Age 55)

The Founder, Chairman and CEO of Dell Technologies was your average Joe who built computers and sold them, while in college.

Born to a stockbroker and an orthodontist in 1965, Michael’s story includes the regular makings of a fairy-tale rise – washing dishes at a Chinese restaurant- being a part of it. By the time he turned 19, in the year 1984, his company already had 6 million dollars in sales (That was a lot of money in the ’80s)

In 1999, Michael and his wife Susan had established the Michael and Susan Dell foundation which focused on urban education, childhood health and family economic stability among other issues.

By the year 2001 while Dell Technologies had become the world’s largest PC Maker- Michael had other philanthropic plans taking shape ultimately bringing him out of full-time business in 2004.

In May 2017, he contributed 1 Billion USD to his foundation with a focus on child poverty. This fervour and enthusiasm of consistently wanting to change the ‘world as we know it’ tells us there’s more of him that’s yet to come.

Ma Huateng (known as Pony Ma - Age 49)

Don’t know Ma Huateng? No problem. Don’t know Tencent? Impossible.

So, Pony Ma or Ma Huateng is the founder and CEO of one of the world’s largest technology companies – Tencent Holdings. At this point, his net worth is around 56 Billion USD. He isn’t flamboyant like our dear Elon but without doubt, is known to be one of the Most Powerful People in the World. Want to know his first monthly salary? 176 USD (Rs. 13200)!

The keyword from 176 USD to 56 Billion USD was “inspiration”. If you can’t innovate, copy. Tencent owns a piece of most things tech you see around you – PUBG, yes; Spotify, yes; Swiggy, yes; Dream11 – oh yes!

But money’s not the only thing that governs this business mogul’s mindshare – his charity donations too become the talk of the town – almost making him the most generous man in China a couple of years ago – he donated 2 Billion USD worth of Tencent shares to charity and has been making various efforts to make donating as simple as a click of a button!!

Well, who better than one of the world’s largest Tech conglomerates to enable that for us - If THAT’s not inspiration, we don’t know what is!

Alexey Mordashov (Age 55)

All those CA students, don’t despair. You could try your luck at the Stock markets a la Harshad Mehta OR become like Alexey Mordashov - Just smell opportunity at the company you work at ! Alexey joined as an accountant at a steel plant in his hometown which later privatized and became the Severstal joint stock company. He bought its shares along with other steel companies and now as we know it, Severstal is one of the world’s top 25 steel producers and he is Russia’s 4th richest citizen with a net worth of 21 Billion USD.

A man of smart investments, he also owns about 25% of TUI (one of the world’s largest travel companies).

His ways to give back to society are unique too – with arts and sports being the center of his philanthropic efforts. He is a sponsor of Mariinsky and Bolshoi Theatres, Tretyakov Gallery, the Russian Museum, the Museum of Frescoes by Dionysius, the Moscow Film Festival and The Andriaka Water Colour School. Mordashov also helps homeless children through the Road Back Home Charity.

Definitely worth a shot at being inspirational, eh?

Sergey Brin (Age 47)

When you are 25 and raring to go, little would you know that in 22 years, you would become the Co-founder and a controlling shareholder of the world’s largest internet company – yes, you know it, Google! And little would you know that the company would make you the 7th richest person in the world – with 68 Billion USD to boot!

Born to a Jewish couple in Russia who migrated to the US when Sergey was only 6 and home-schooled for a good part of his childhood, he met Larry Page at an orientation for new students at Stanford University. And life was never the same, for him, for Larry and for us – who will use his creation to look for his story (we call that, Googling) and become like him some day.

Such is the power of their creation, the behemoth Google, that even their charity efforts are channelled via its philanthropic arm – Google.org – which endeavours to solve the bigger problems of the world using tech. Who wouldn’t look up to that kind of foresight?

Yang Lan (Age 52)

Journalism is big business – contradictory? Not for Yang Lan- The Founder and former chairperson of the Sun Media Group, fondly known as the “Oprah of China”

Born in 1968 to an English professor and a Civil Engineer, she too went on to study English Literature and Language. Her ambitions lay in journalism and she tried a 4-year stint with China Central television before she came to NYU for her Master’s. In the year 2000, she co-founded the Sun Media Group.

But the interests were more philanthropic and despite being named by Forbes as one of the world’s best small businesses, she gave away 51% interest to the Sun Culture Foundation and also resigned from all management positions in 2005. Today apart from her usual business and charity-related activities which makes her one of THE Most Powerful Women in China, she also serves as the sole woman director on the all-men 11-member Lenovo Board.

Although her net worth stands undisclosed today, she was estimated at 6.6 Billion dollars way back in 2014 – you do the inflation math!

Surprisingly No Indian Names There??

Sadly, none too inspiring – not yet at least. We saw a lot of young ‘Founders’ and ‘CEOs’ who ferociously set out to establish and run their own enterprises, succeeded even, made millions and cashed out.

The lure of living a comfortable life, not fervently innovating every living-breathing moment like Musk kept us wanting for more from these promising icons. We nonetheless observed some of them who showed a glimmer of hope. Here are a few home-grown names we think could go on to become as iconic as Elon Musk for us.

Mallika Srinivasan (Age 61)

Born in a small town in Tamil Nadu, Mallika was the eldest child in the family and her father recognized her acumen at a very young age. She went on to become a gold medallist in Econometrics from the University of Madras and holds a business degree from the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania.

A company founded in 1960, Mallika took the reins of TAFE 25 years ago and made it the second-largest tractor manufacturer in the country and the third-largest in the world. She was awarded the Padma Shri for Trade and Industry In 2014. At last count, she was holding a net worth of 2.4 billion USD.

With a strong focus on academics, Mallika continues to be involved as a board member of prestigious institutions like IIT Chennai, Bharathidasan Institute of Management, Tiruchirapalli and The Indian School of Business, Hyderabad. She is living proof that your gender or the size of your hometown does not determine where you would be in life.

We are hoping she continues to make these strides and keeps fuelling the minds of millions waiting for their next Icon.

Sridhar Vembu (Age 53)

His company Zoho is all around you – in your email, in your documents, in your meetings – But Sridhar is a man of low profile. He holds the tag of being the 59th richest Indian in the world with a net worth of approximately 2.5 billion USD and was recently awarded the Padma Shri. But he did not begin anywhere near that list.

Born to a family of farmers in Tamil Nadu Sridhar graduated out of IIT Madras and then went to Princeton, New Jersey!

He recognizes the difficulty of pursuing this path perhaps and hence much before Zoho came into its full glory, Sridhar started Zoho Schools where they onboarded and trained students with skill sets and abilities. No fee was collected from the students, instead, they were paid a stipend to study. Most of these students post their graduation are employed today with Zoho.

In 2019, he did what most would think is unimaginable – moved from the Bay Area in San Jose to a small town in Tamil Nadu called Tenkasi. Why do you ask? “I want to go to smaller villages and set up satellite-connected office centres -     the plan is to have 8800 Indian employees work out of non-urban India.”

We see clear signs of a well-rounded International Icon in the making – don’t you?

Divyank Turakhia (Age 38)

Computer-programmer, businessman, billionaire – that seemed to be the normal trajectory. But then serial innovator and entrepreneur – yes, that’s what got our attention on Divyank.    

Coming from a middle-class Jain family in Mumbai, Divyank was a coder at 8. In 2016, he sold his crown-jewel, the bootstrapped Media.net. Prior to that, he had already co-founded and sold 4 companies along with his brother. But in 2018, he shocked everyone again with a letter to his staff saying that he is stepping down to “catch up on life”. With 1.5 Billion Dollars in net worth, you can definitely afford to do that, but we hope he comes back to live up to the iconic status he has earned with his history.

He definitely does match the effervescence and fire-in-the-belly of our incumbent Icon, Musk even though the doing-good-for-society-at-large concept is still not on the horizon. We are hoping he gets there soon!


Nikhil Kamath (Age 34)

34 and a self-made Billionaire, Nikhil Kamath is the true epitome of every young boy’s fancy life. But this life didn’t come on a platter – Zerodha was not funded, it was bootstrapped all through, still is. He was motivated to start it even though he didn’t have a college degree and looked unemployable to the untrained eye.. He is one case known for leaving formal education at a tender age of 14.

So how was Zerodha born? Nikhil was always keen to trade but found the systems to be too complicated and the fees too expensive for a small investor. Enter Zero – Rodhe – which meant No Barriers.

A recent greenfield fund backing early-stage innovation in sustainable farming and renewable energy definitely shows his inclination to go deeper into the society’s issues with the well-earned wealth of 1.5 Billion USD with his brother Nithin.

No inhibitions in putting hands to the ground, built-to-last toughness to fight against all odds, not one to pay attention to detractors more than a simple shrug – we are reminded of someone here. Will the Kamaths give us our next International Icon?

P C Mustafa (Age 47)

Idli is one of our favourite breakfast items and one man decided to make this humble south-Indian meal, the central theme of his multi-crore business. PC Mustafa started ID Fresh Foods with a capital of Rs. 50000 in 2005. Born to an uneducated farmer family, in a remote village of Kerala, Mustafa already knew in Class VI that if he didn’t study, his life would remain restricted to a farm. And THAT was not what he had planned for himself.

Such was his belief in his core idea, he even sold his house in 2009 to pump in an additional Rs. 30 lacs into the business. Today, in 2020, ID cracks a turnover of Rs. 400 crores. His supply chain management technique is a case study at Harvard Business School. His ambitions from here include making organic food accessible to all and of course, going greener on the packaging of his products.

For inspiration, this one definitely makes us reconsider excuses of humble beginnings and gives us a shot at finding our firmly-grounded serial Innovator-cum-Youth-Icon!


As we speak of and assimilate these wonderful stories, thousands amongst us are working hard to shape their dreams to reality. Are there easy ways out to the top? Sure, there might be.

But if you’ve got it easy, it probably won’t stick. And it surely won’t inspire.

The hard-earned wealth of all our Icons definitely makes us sit up and take notice, makes us inclined to know their story, where they started and where they are now. But there is one flaw we came across most of our Desi icons- they start well, they work hard, they earn billions and then... They pack up and leave. Giving us the feeling that this is all they came for.

Well, it may not be the truth for a lot of them, and with this feature, we were sure hoping to find such truly inspirational figures who don’t put out the fire in their brilliant minds with a swelling bank balance. Who continue to use their unusual mental prowess (that brought them here in the first place) to keep making a difference to more than one family, more than one person – to the community, to the country and the world at large.

Today, as the Dais Editorial Team, we look at these icons-in-the-making with stars in our eyes – that when someday they are at the peak of their own success, they will not give it all up to relax in their holiday homes. Instead, I would keep burning like a bright, glowing beacon to illuminate the paths of thousands who are looking at them for inspiration!

And we quote Elon here -  “I think it is possible for ordinary people to choose – to be extraordinary.”

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