I've been working in business journalism for over 20 years and I've never seen any high tech leader who creates such a polarized reaction as Elon Musk.

The public loves the guy but the financial experts can't stand him.

It's pretty easy to see why the public loves Musk. Understanding why the experts hate Musk, though, requires delving into the way the "experts" think... or whatever they do to avoid it.

Based on my observations, the so-called "experts" seem to hate Elon Musk because:

1. Musk is a polymath not a specialist.

While the history of innovation is full of polymaths (people skilled in multiple disciplines) today's business world values specialization above all else. Under this way of thinking:

  • A great engineer can't possibly be a great manager.
  • A talented programmer can't possibly be a talented circuit designer.
  • The creator of one type of firm can't possibly create another type.

The hidden assumption here is that the mastery of discipline "A" can only be done by sacrificing the time required to master discipline "B." In fact, this is not always the case. Some people are good at both "A" and "B" and even "C" because they cross-seminate creatively.

Elon Musk is a polymath who seems to thrive in the midst of highly diverse challenges and situations. If he followed the advice of the "experts" and focused on only one thing, he'd probably be less effective at that one thing.

2. Tesla doesn't fit neatly into their narratives. 

Many "experts" compare Tesla to GM, probably because GM, in the Volt, already has a viable all-electric vehicle. Their preferred narrative is that GM (and the Japanese car makers) will use their deep pockets to capture the all-electric market. Under this scenario, Tesla is simply a modern-day version of DeLorean, destined to go out of business and then be featured in the 2027 reboot of Back To The Future.

Other experts compare Tesla to Apple because Tesla is building a seamless union of hardware and software, along with infrastructure of charging stations to support the union, much as Apple built the iTunes environment for the iPod/iPhone/iPad family.Under that comparison, Tesla is destined to get clobbered in the mass market just like Apple got clobbered in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Finally, some experts compare Tesla to the software firms of Silicon Valley under the logic that those companies are "disruptive" and Tesla is (or is trying to be) "disruptive" and therefore they're similar. Under that scenario, Tesla is just another hype-factory like Theranos. Some of these experts, like Steve Tobak, who is a managing partner of Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting, even compare Musk to Elizabeth Holmes, as if making an overenthusiastic forecast for a real, existing product was the same a committing fraud.

All of those comparisons, however, aren't very apt. In truth, there has never been anything *exactly* like Tesla, ever. It's not a car company, it's not a consumer electronics company and it's not a software company. It's all of those things and more, and that leaves the "experts" confused and struggling.

3. Musk plays the long game; the experts see the short game.

It's hardly a secret that most financial analysts have a very short window. To them, it's the stock price that is all important, sometimes that's because (literally) they've shorted the stock.

While Musk is frequently forced to address these short-term issues, the specific value of Tesla stock today or this week or this year is less important than the inexorable progress that Tesla is making to create a new type of transportation product and all the infrastructure to support it.

Fortunes will no doubt be made and lost as Tesla's stock price fluctuates. But that's irrelevant in the long-term. As long as Tesla continues to move towards profitability, it will probably continue leapfrogging over the frankly-sorta-lame competition.

Does that mean Tesla's success is assured? Of course not. Much can go wrong and much will no doubt go wrong. There's a good chance that the oil industry (i.e. crooks and thugs in business suits) will sabotage Tesla, either politically or literally.

Even so, Musk is playing the long game, even when he's forced by circumstances to focus on short term goals.

4. The experts secretly envy him.

In general, the "experts"--most of whom are men--tend to like billionaires. That affection, however, seems tempered by an unspoken perception that, absent their money, the high-tech billionaires would be a collection of hopeless dweebs.

Elon Musk, however, is genuinely cool.

Unlike his high-tech counterparts, who come off like extras in an outtake of a Big Bang Theory episode, Elon Musk can pull off wearing a Rick and Morty T-shirt to a board meeting where supposedly his job was on the line.

You can't fake that kind of cool; either you're born with it or you're not.

And then there's Musk's love life.

Any billionaire can date a model (many do) but most high tech billionaires look like they'd be habitues of Incel forums had they not hit the jackpot.

By contrast, Musk was cool and sexy even when he was a college nobody, dating (and later marrying) one of the prettiest and smartest women on campus. Since then he's attracted women who aren't just beautiful but independently wealthy and world famous, like Cameron Diaz and Amber Heard. 

Elon Musk sticks in the collective craw of your average beta-male expert because he's not just way smarter and way richer they are; he's also way cooler and obviously having a LOT more fun. Not surprisingly, many experts secretly and desperately would like to see Musk taken down a peg or two.

5. Some experts may not be *entirely* objective.

The financial services industry is not known for its ethics and many investors and companies have shorted Tesla stock. In May, David Kudla, CEO and chief investment strategist of Mainstay Capital Management, for instance, wrote in a column for Marketwatch that he intends to keep shorting Tesla. He's hardly alone. As of June 14, 31.77 percent of investors are shorting Tesla's stock. Compare that with Microsoft, which as of mid-June has just 0.72 percent of investors taking a short position. Under the circumstances, it would certainly not be out of the realm of possibility that one or more might want to hobble Tesla.

Furthermore, Tesla is basically the oil industry's worst nightmare, and the oil industry is chockablock with business-suited thugs, private armies, and a history of bribery and worse in the pursuit of profits.

And Elon Musk himself is even worried about sabotage--and he has been known to be right about a lot of things in the past.

Published on: Jul 9, 2018