Every generation or so, a visionary comes along and completely revolutionizes an industry, even an entire economy. Henry Ford and Thomas Edison are two who come to mind. To a lesser extent, so does Steve Jobs.
To this group I would add Elon Musk.
The South African-born 42-year-old immigrated to North America in his youth with a dream and little else to his name. The move coincided with his imminent compulsory service in the South African Army. "Suppressing black people just didn't seem like a really good way to spend time," he told me in an interview a few years ago. A better way, he decided, was to design and build products that might change lives.
Since then, Musk has become one of the world's great innovators. He has leveraged the millions he made through the sale of PayPal, which he co-founded, into billions -- and used that money to give life to ideas that once existed only in the imagination.
Most people who've heard of Musk probably think of him in connection with Tesla Motors, of which he's the CEO and chief product architect. Tesla, according to Consumer Reports (and recent troubles with battery packs notwithstanding), makes the best car in the world. The magazine gave Tesla's Model S, a sleek luxury sedan, its highest-ever rating for a car (99 out of 100) in May 2013. The Model S, which is all-electric, was also Motor Trend's 2013 Car of the Year. In short, Musk isn't just making great cars -- he's upending the automotive industry by making an electric car superior to every gas guzzler on the road.
The modern world's love affair with cars ensures that Tesla gets attention, and Musk also made headlines in 2013 for proposing the Hyperloop, a radical form of ground transport that would whisk passengers between Los Angeles and San Francisco through partially evacuated tubes in just over half an hour. What gets less notice, but is no less deserving of it, is Musk's work in the rocket business.