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Dean Qian Talk with Elon Musk
Jul 13, 2020

Shana Penna, GMBA Class of 2016 

Dialogue between QIAN Yingyi and Elon Musk at the 2015 Tsinghua Management Global Forum 

Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management welcomed one of its newest advisory board members, Elon Musk, to hold a discussion with the school’s own Dean QIAN Yingyi. Mr. Musk, Co-Founder and CEO of Tesla Motors, CEO and CTO of SpaceX, and Chairman of SolarCity, represents qualities that both Tsinghua University and China esteem, among which are technological innovation and entrepreneurship. Tsinghua has been fortunate to attract a high caliber of world business leaders to its Advisory Board, and Musk is yet another example of the strength of the School of Economics and Management in global business management education. 

Musk started his entrepreneurial endeavors with Zip2, a provider of Internet software to the media industry. He and Peter Thiel, a world renowned economist, subsequently created the online payment platform PayPal. The platform revolutionized how people pay for goods online and strengthened the entire e-commerce ecosystem that was just beginning to mature in the United States. Soon after, Musk turned his focus to electric vehicle batteries and founded Tesla. At the company, Musk oversaw product development and design, with his goal being to transition the market to a sustainable energy economy. 

During his discussion with Dean Qian, Musk spoke of the challenges in creating SpaceX. For years he did not know whether the company was going to sustain, and it took a call from NASA, the United States government’s space agency, to ensure that SpaceX would make it. Employing used rockets from the Russian space program, Musk spoke of being one of the first commercial companies to dock on the International Space Station. However, he made it clear that this accomplishment was reached only a er some initial launch failures. He also shared about his personal lack of knowledge in space exploration, emphasizing that people can learn anything that they want, as long as they put the necessary effort into it. In his case, he credited his voracious reading for gaining the requisite knowledge to manage the company. 

In addition to Tesla and SpaceX, Musk is the non-executive chairman and principal shareholder of SolarCity, the leading provider of solar power systems in the United States. At one point during the dialogue, Dean Qian held up a placard with the “50 Smartest Companies 2015” ranking by Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Technology Review Magazine; notably, all three of Elon Musk’s companies were on the list, with Tesla ranking number 1, SolarCity number 9, and SpaceX ranked 22! 

Musk is speaking

Musk came to Tsinghua to discuss his passion for the sciences and how that led to a career as a serial entrepreneur. His discussion with Dean Qian touched on the dedication and perseverance that all entrepreneurs need, along with the adaptability that comes from a continuous learning posture. Students were able to ask Musk about his electric vehicles and his own goals in China, in response to which Musk spoke to his growing successes with the Tesla brand. Musk was welcomed to the School of Economics and Management not only by SEM students but also by other Tsinghua students from a variety of departments in the sciences. It is Elon Musk’s model successes that allow these students to dream of how their own passions can lead to something bigger, not only for them, but for the world at large. 

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