‘I’m not Warren Buffett’: Elon Musk says there’s a key difference between him and the investor—he actually makes stuff

October 20, 2022, 7:30 PM UTC
Elon Musk
Even though he’s about to buy Twitter, Elon Musk wants you to think he’s not an investor.
Theo Wargo—Staff/Getty Images

“I’m not Warren Buffett.”

So declared Tesla CEO Elon Musk during the EV company’s third-quarter earnings call on Wednesday. “I’m not an investor,” he said. “I am an engineer and manufacturing person and a technologist.”

Musk was responding to an analyst’s question about whether he would incorporate all his ventures—from SpaceX to (soon) Twitter—under a parent corporation. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway has built a large investment portfolio that owns everything from Dairy Queen and Duracell to GEICO and Fruit of the Loom.

But, much like a picky eater with a divided plate, Musk wants to keep his companies separate. “It’s not clear to me what the overlap is. It’s not zero, but I think we’re reaching.”

In Musk’s eyes, he’s a maker, not a shareholder: “I actually work and design and develop products,” he said. “We’re not going to have a portfolio of investments or whatever.”

In other words, Musk thinks he’s a totally different type of entrepreneur than Buffett. It recalls the makers versus takers debate of the 2010s, which centers around the idea that financiers are essentially moving money around (like Buffett) while others are actually building something that creates new businesses (like Musk).

In the 2012 presidential campaign, the economic critiques of Republican Mitt Romney, from a private equity background, were met with Barack Obama’s rejoinder, “You didn’t build that.” Obama was speaking about the importance of government support for entrepreneurship, an implicit rejection of the financialization of the economy that made Buffett and Romney so wealthy, although his remarks at the time were seen as a swipe at Romney.

Musk seems to be saying he will always be a builder and not an investor (even if he’s about to become Twitter’s biggest-ever investor).

But Musk and Buffett may have more in common than Musk might think (or want). Both are billionaires, among the 10 richest people in the world, per Bloomberg. As the actual richest person in the world, Musk is worth an estimated $209 billion, up by more than $163 billion pre-lockdown in February 2020. Buffett is valued at $97.8 billion.

During the pandemic, the world’s 10 richest men doubled their wealth, according to an Oxfam report. “The top 1% have captured nearly 20 times more global wealth than the bottom 50% of humanity,” explained the authors of the report, noting that “if the 10 richest men lost 99.999% of their combined wealth, each of them would still be richer than 99% of the world.” 

It seems that being a “taker” or a “maker,” if done right, can set you on a path to success. Musk may not be looking to create an umbrella company structure and has yet to make the candy that rivals See’s he once promised to, but the two men aren’t as different as Musk would like you to believe. 

At least, their bank accounts aren’t.

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