Writer’s Note: This article is the second in a series that focuses on individuals who have made a contribution through business or non-profit endeavors that focus on improving the quality of people’s lives.

“When I was a little kid, I was really scared of the dark. But then I sort of came to see that dark just means the absence of photons in the visible wavelength, 400-700 nanometers… then I thought, ‘well that’s really silly to be afraid of a lack of photons.’ Then I wasn’t afraid of the dark anymore after that.”

Elon Musk

His name may not be one that is easily recognized. His accomplishments, however, are quite well known: he has created a car that not only uses zero gasoline but also has the highest customer satisfaction rating ever measured by Consumer Reports; his company, Space X, whose ultimate goal is “enabling people to live on other planets” supplies cargo to the International Space Station and is the only private company to return from low-earth orbit; his solar energy company, SolarCity, is a leader in the solar energy industry. Elon Musk’s work across multiple markets has protected the environment and furthered the progress of mankind.

As a child growing up in South Africa, Musk was picked on quite regularly. As a result of the teasing, instead of focusing on being social as a child, he read a lot of books. He read everything he could get his hands on, even an encyclopedia when he ran out of things to read. When he was tested by IBM at age 10 for computer programming aptitude, Musk had one of the highest scores of anyone ever tested. He then started taking computer programming classes. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to learn much in the class; he was way ahead of the teacher.

 

Musk fled to Canada at age 17 to avoid serving in the South African military because “suppressing black people didn’t seem like a good way to spend [his] time.” After working a few odd jobs, Musk attended Queen’s College in Ontario, transferring after two years to the University of Pennsylvania where he received degrees in physics and economics.

 

After two days, Musk dropped out of Stanford’s graduate program to focus on starting his first major company, Zip2, which aimed to essentially replace the function of the Yellow Pages by creating a platform for businesses to provide a mapped location and list of services on the internet. A few years after its creation, Zip2 sold to Compaq for $307 million. Musk went on to co-found PayPal, playing a major role in the birth and security of e-commerce. PayPal sold to eBay for $1.5 billion. Using the funds from his first two ventures, he created SpaceX, Tesla, and Solar City in 2002, 2003, and 2006, respectively.

 

Recently, Musk announced plans to build the largest battery manufacturing plant in the world. Reports show that in addition to using these batteries in Tesla vehicles, Musk also plans to use them for the storage of solar energy and sell them to auto manufacturers who make electric vehicles.

(Related: Why Has Tesla’s Stock Grown So Rapidly, and Will It Continue to Rise?)

 

Musk is a visionary. He sees a future where your car runs on electricity instead of gasoline, and the electricity used to charge your car comes from the photovoltaic solar panels on your roof. He is leading us to a world where we reduce the impact we have on our environment and are no longer addicted to fossil fuels. Rather than forming charities or non-profits, Musk uses a for-profit business model as a vehicle to solve some of the world’s biggest problems. He is a man who understands that doing good for oneself and doing good for the world are not mutually exclusive, and he excels in both.

 

So, what do you think? Let me know in the comments, or you can find me on Twitter @dannystevens91.