Leaders Who Lust – Bezos and Musk Separated at Birth

OK, they’re not twins. Jeff Bezos was born in 1964 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Elon Musk was born in 1971 in Pretoria, South Africa. Still, Bezos and Musk are strikingly similar in strikingly similar ways. They are leaders who lust. Further they are leaders who lust in just the same way for just the same thing.

In my recent book (coauthored with Todd Pittinsky) titled, Leaders Who Lust: Power, Money, Sex, Success, Legitimacy, Legacy, lust was described as a psychological drive that produces intense wanting, even desperately needing to obtain an object, or to secure a circumstance. But when the object has been obtained or the circumstance secured, whatever the relief, it is brief. Lust, then, suggests a fervor to acquire, achieve, or consume that is out of the ordinary – that is so extreme it is extraordinary.

As the subtitle of the book makes clear, six different types of lust were identified as especially applicable to people who lead. In other words, people who lead are sometimes driven to lead because they have an insatiable appetite for power, or money, or sex, or success, or legitimacy, or legacy. These types are not mutually exclusive. But one or another object of desire does dominate.     

In the case of Bezos and Musk it can safely be said that both lust for success. But success is not the type of lust – nor for that matter is money – that in their case stands out. If it did, they would be content, certainly now, to stick to what they know. In 2020 Bezos’s Amazon stock went up an extraordinary 75%. And in 2020 Musk’s Tesla stock climbed an astronomical 700%. But neither man is satisfied either with singular success or for that matter with a pile of money. Bezos and Musk both want more. What they want – in contrast to virtually every other living leader – is not merely to conquer the earth but the moon and the stars.     

In Leaders Who Lust the lust for legacy was defined as longing, effectively lifelong, to leave an imprint that is permanent. Which brings us to, in Bezos’s case, his other company, Blue Origin. And, in Musk’s case, his other company, SpaceX. Both were founded by men obviously not content to go down in history as among the greatest American entrepreneurs and business leaders ever. They are, after all, leaders who lust, to leave a legacy. Which is precisely why both are hellbent on leaving an imprint that is unprecedented – an imprint in space.   

Three years ago, Bezos announced that he would be selling a billion dollars a year of Amazon stock to finance Blue Origin’s research and development. (He founded the company in 2000.) In November 2020 Blue Origin launched (again) and then successfully landed (again) its New Shepard rocket and capsule for the purpose of verifying its safety – in preparation for one day having passengers on board.  Musk, in turn, “choked up with emotion” in October 2020 after SpaceX’s spacecraft, the Crew Dragon, with four astronauts on board, successfully arrived at the International Space Station.   

The striking successes of Amazon continue – and likely will for years to come – to overshadow Blue Origin. Similarly, the striking successes of Tesla continue – and likely will for years to come – to overshadow SpaceX. Still, make no mistake. To the end of their days both Bezos and Musk will be driven by their individualistic, idiosyncratic, and identical lust to leave a legacy – one that can more enduringly be satisfied in outer space than on planet earth.  

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