The heat is on Elon Musk

Musk is volatile, unpredictable, even ungenerous

It is Europe’s “coolest” dinner. So said Nicolai Tangen, the host of the celebrity dinner and CEO of Norway’s $1.7 trillion Oil Fund—the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund. He promised to cook “moose” and other delicacies for a small, super-select group of guests—CEOs of Novo Nordisk, Adidas, Nestlé and a few others. The dinner location was undisclosed for obvious security reasons, but the date was April 28, 2025, timed with the Oil Fund’s next annual investor conference in Oslo. The sous-chef: Ferrari CEO Benedetto Vigna. The superstar guest: Tesla’s Elon Musk, who accepted the invitation, posting “sounds good” with a thumbs-up icon on his X. Tangen delightedly replied on X, “Very cool and confirmed. We’re going to make something fantastic.”

And then, the budding bromance of smileys and cheesy icons, fell apart. The Norwegian Fund voted against Musk’s $56 billion (not million) dollar, over-the-top remuneration package—as it did in 2018. Considered a gold standard in ethical investing, the Norwegian Oil Fund has divested from companies engaged in landmines, tobacco and coal production, child labour, human rights abuses, pollution and other unethical corporate practices. Since 2017, as part of its crusade against inequality, it has been campaigning against astronomical CEO pay. The Fund owns only one per cent of Tesla’s stock, but the moral signal ricocheted around the world.

Illustration: Job P.K. Illustration: Job P.K.

Musk was enraged, reacting “this is not good” with a thumbs-down. He instantly stopped following Tangen on X. He fumed the Fund was wrong because 87 per cent of Tesla shareholders supported his pay, the biggest in the history of humankind. He is now the richest man in the world, overtaking Louis Vuitton’s Bernard Arnault with a big lead. In 2018, shareholders supported Musk’s giga remuneration on the condition that he would achieve results that then had seemed unachievable. But he delivered. Shareholders minted money.

But then a judge even in Delaware—America’s leading tax haven—invalidated the “fundamentally flawed” pay package and its “unfathomable sum”. Musk reacted with characteristic pique, shifting Tesla’s incorporation from Delaware to Texas, another tax haven, but more friendly to Republicans. Musk has a so-far-intact-brewing bromance with Donald Trump.

As an entrepreneur, Musk is gutsy and visionary, often conquering the impossible. But he is also volatile, unpredictable, quirky, even ungenerous, miring himself in endless controversies. Tesla’s factory strikes spread from Sweden to Denmark, Norway and Finland because he fought with unions, refusing to accept high local labour standards. He tried to back out of the Twitter deal. He performed clumsy jigs at car launches and appeared more spaced out than his SpaceX at a shareholders’ meeting. His employees filed lawsuits against him, accusing him of gender bias, discrimination and illegal firings. He is venerated for his brilliance, vilified for his flaws. His biography is a gripping tale of jawdropping highs and gut-wrenching lows. He once told an interviewer “I don’t think you’d necessarily want to be me.”

Now, some in sensitive positions may not even want him as a guest. With the controversy over his remuneration making headlines around the world, Musk and moose are unlikely to be paired anytime soon. The coolest dinner became too hot to handle. Asked at a conference how the Oil Fund could be trusted when its CEO was friends with a controversial figure like Musk, Tangen replied “If we were friends before, we are not now.” Chefs are well acquainted with a culinary wisdom: “if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

Pratap is an author and journalist.