Elon Musk’s $79bn takeover talk finds a sceptical ear in Wall Street – and Pretoria

By Alec Hogg

The story goes that a couple of years ago the fund raising committee at Pretoria Boys High approached old boy Elon Musk for a donation. The California-based entrepreneur, who left SA at 17 and expresses little fondness for his homeland, was not pleased. He duly sent a cheque for R1m – but on condition the school never contact him again.

Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk. REUTERS/Bobby Yip/File Photo

At the time, the PBHOB fund raisers would have been sorry to have severed the link. Perhaps not so much nowadays. Musk’s behaviour has grown increasingly erratic as pressure builds on his 15 year old company which has yet to make any profit. More so if Musk’s latest bombshell proves to be another dud. Which is what savvy investors suggest it is.

On Tuesday, Musk sent the Tesla share price soaring when he tweeted “Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured.” At a cost of $70bn, it would be the biggest leveraged buyout in history. By some distance. Yesterday Tesla board members issued a hasty statement saying they met several times in the past week where Musk has floated the idea. But they said nothing about his proposed price, nor the unusual manner in which he shared the news.

Professional investors are sceptical about the proposal. After surging on the tweet, Tesla’s share price has fallen to $50 below the proposed takeover point. Those traders who reckon the company is a slow motion car crash have added to their short positions, betting ever bigger on a Musk implosion. You wouldn’t judge those members of PHBOB if they felt the same way.

Response from Bill Schroder, headmaster of Pretoria Boys High School from 1990 to 2009

I was the Headmaster of Pretoria Boys High School from 1990 to 2009 and subsequent to my retirement was asked to head a fundraising exercise over a four year period. As such, I feel it is important to set the record straight in terms of donations received from Elon Musk who matriculated at Boys High in 1988.

It is true that Elon Musk did, at my request, give a donation for R1 million. What is not true is that he disliked the country or the school so intensely that he told me not to approach him again. I, in fact did, and he sent a second donation per that request. I lost contact with him for a while as he changed PA’s and on re-establishing contact, a new network for consideration of donations had been put in place and it must be understood that people with that amount of wealth have teams of people who deal with huge numbers of requests for donations. At that point we received nothing further from him. It is well documented in a number of biographies that Elon was bullied and an unhappy schoolboy in a school in Johannesburg and was moved to Pretoria Boys High in Grade 10 (Standard 8). There is no evidence that he was poorly treated at Boys High and when he matriculated, he went to Canada where his mother was living.

Possibly what upsets me more is that the size of his donation was leaked somehow. I did the fundraising alone with the help of my secretary of 20 years and one of the bases of the fundraising was that the amount of a donation was treated in the strictest confidence. I only targeted alumni and close friends of the school and believe that our success in raising R32 million in four years was based on the confidentiality factor. Until the publication of this article, the only thing a member of the Pretoria boys high community would know is that Elon Musk did donate as his name appears on a donor board together with his year group, making no differentiation between some who gave R100 or R1million.