Elon Musk passes Bill Gates on rich list

Elon Musk may now be the world's second-richest man, but don't expect a handout from him anytime soon.

The Tesla chief has just overtaken Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates in the rich list, with Amazon boss Jeff Bezos still topping the pile. But Musk is lagging behind in the charitable stakes.

He has given away a paltry portion of his $US128 billion ($A174 billion) fortune to charity compared to more philanthropic billionaires like Bill Gates.

Musk, 49, has donated roughly $US100 million ($A136 million) to charitable causes over the course of his career, amounting to less than 1 per cent of his net worth, according to a Forbes estimate. That includes $US25 million ($A34 million) that he's given to various non-profits since 2002 through his eponymous foundation.

 

Among the recipients of the Musk Foundation's money are the University of Pennsylvania - Musk's alma mater - and Big Green, a charity run by his brother Kimbal that sets up gardens at schools, Forbes says.

The South African-born entrepreneur has also made large gifts to organisations such as the Sierra Club and the Future of Life Institute, which aims to keep artificial intelligence "beneficial to humanity."

But Musk has a long way to go to catch up with Gates who, along with his wife Melinda, has given out around $US50 billion ($A68 billion) over the past quarter-century, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

 

The couple donated more than $US5.5 billion ($A7.5 billion) to charity from 2017 to 2019 alone, most of which went to their namesake foundation, the outlet said. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has helped the software tycoon give away 10 to 20 per cent of his wealth overall, Forbes estimates.

The Gates couple also joined forces with investment titan Warren Buffett to launch the Giving Pledge, an initiative encouraging the world's wealthiest people to give away more than half their fortunes during their lifetime or in their will. Buffett is also a regular donor to the Gates Foundation.

 

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who Musk recently leapfrogged in the wealth rankings, is also a signatory of the Giving Pledge and had the San Francisco General Hospital named after him after donating $US75 million ($A102 million) to its foundation in 2015. He also helms Chan Zuckerberg Initiative along with his wife, Priscilla - and over the summer donated $30 million to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Musk has actually signed onto the Giving Pledge as well, and back in 2018 he tweeted that he would sell about $US100 million ($A136 million) worth of Tesla stock for charity "every few years".

The eccentric entrepreneur's entrance into the upper echelon of the world's wealthiest people is a recent phenomenon driven by an explosion in Tesla's stock price this year.

 

If you take away the automaker's eye-popping 2020 gains, Musk would be left with a roughly $US30 billion ($A40 billion) fortune which he says is not liquid. Gates, meanwhile, has been among the world's richest men since the 1990s.

"People think I have a lot of cash. I actually don't," Musk testified in a Los Angeles courtroom in December 2019, noting that most of his fortune is tied up in shares of Tesla and his rocket company, SpaceX. He also said he has debt against his stock holdings.

The Tesla CEO has said that all of his earthly business ventures are just a way to fund his true passion - colonising Mars.

"If there's something terrible that happens on Earth, either made by humans or natural, we want to have, like, life insurance for life as a whole," he said at a Mars conference this summer.

 

Despite not being one to open his wallet for a charitable cause, Musk has in the past offered his companies' technology for good causes, such as when Tesla reportedly sent some of its Powerwall battery packs to provide electricity in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

SpaceX also infamously built a miniature submarine in a bid to rescue a group of soccer players who became trapped in a Thai cave in 2018 - an effort that landed Musk in court. The submarine was never used.

Vernon Unsworth, a British diver who was involved in the operation, criticised the sub as a "PR stunt," which prompted Musk to call him a "pedo guy" on Twitter. Unsworth sued Musk for defamation over the tweet, but a jury ruled in Musk's favour when the case went to trial last year.

This story originally appeared on NY Post and has been reproduced here with permission

Originally published as Elon Musk passes Bill Gates on rich list