Elon Musk, now the world’s richest man , shrugged off the fresh accolade in a manner that befits his reputation as an iconoclast and a technology entrepreneur unafraid of ruffling feathers. His first reaction to the news on Twitter was “how strange”, before adding: “Well, back to work …” Elon Musk is making a habit of proving his critics wrong. Credit:AP With his net worth now estimated at over $US194 billion ($250 billion), Musk has started 2021 fighting fit. His electric carmaker, Tesla, and rocket company, Space X, are both seemingly in rude health and have for the moment put their critics on the backfoot. Musk’s ride up the billionaires’ chart, which has seen him overtake Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, has been largely powered by Tesla. The company may have only made around 500,000 vehicles in 2020, but with a market capitalisation of $US774 billion ($996 billion), it’s the fifth-most-valuable company on Wall Street and miles ahead of other automakers. Its share price is at a record $US816.04, propelled to new heights courtesy of RBC Capital Markets analyst Joseph Spak, a long-time critic, admitting he was wrong on Tesla. “There is no graceful way to put this other than to say we got Tesla’s stock completely wrong,” he wrote in a report lifting Tesla to “sector perform”. Spak’s change of heart is based on two things. First, Tesla has shown in 2020 that it can raise money from the market, some $US15 billion, to keep its engine running. Meanwhile, investors have become increasingly confident in backing the automaker, as it has improved its manufacturing capabilities and hit production targets. Tesla looks well placed to capitalise on this sentiment in the new year. Analysts, on average, expect Tesla to report $US1.2 billion in net profits for 2020, compared with $US5.8 billion in net profits expected from GM and $US27.1 billion in net profits expected from Facebook, according to Refinitiv. It’s a far cry from the turbulence Musk and Tesla found themselves in a few years ago. In 2018, the US Securities and Exchange Commission sued the carmaker and its founder, for making misleading statements on Twitter. A settlement with the regulator saw Musk step down as the chairman, pay a $US20 million fine and agree to get approvals before making any statements that could be relevant to Tesla’s shareholders. Australian-born Robyn Denholm resigned as Telstra’s chief financial officer to take up the chair at Tesla. Credit:Ben Rushton A year later, he was in trouble again for tweeting that Tesla would “make around 500k [cars] in 2019”. However, the presence of Australian-born chairman, Robyn Denholm, has had a calming influence on Tesla, with the company capping off a stellar 2020. Denholm, who left Telstra to replace Musk in 2018, has had her share of trouble with Tesla shareholders, but the company has posted five straight quarters of profit and is looking to open new factories in Texas and Germany. Tesla’s soaring share price has also been a boon for Denholm in 2020, as she’s spent $US14 million exercising Tesla options, most of which she immediately sold, generating $US101 million in proceeds. The transaction occurred when Tesla’s stock was hovering near $US600 a share, but the automaker’s next annual report, due later this year, should provide a much clearer picture of just how big a windfall Denholm has enjoyed. It won’t put her in the billionaires list, but is almost certain to propel her into the The Australian Financial Review Rich List, which had a cut-off of $540 million last year. As for Musk, it should remain business as usual, and with Tesla on a firm footing, perhaps he can now spend more time with his more esoteric musings, like connecting human brains to computers and establishing colonies in Mars. With Bloomberg Business Briefing Start the day with major stories, exclusive coverage and expert opinion from our leading business journalists delivered to your inbox. Sign up for the Herald ‘s here and The Age ‘s here .