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Reporter's notebook: Elon Musk, more rockstar than CEO

  • When Elon Musk speaks at an event, crowds gather like it's a rock concert
  • The tech mogul often talks about his audacious visions, but recently announced some tangible results
Elon Musk speaks at Hornsdale wind farms in Australia for an event for Tesla
Getty Images
Elon Musk speaks at Hornsdale wind farms in Australia for an event for Tesla

This article is part of a "Reporter's Notebook" series, wherein CNBC journalists submit tales and observations from the field.

To Elon Musk's audience, the storied entrepreneur is less of a CEO than he is a rockstar.

That's what I learned after covering an afternoon of events by his companies SpaceX and Tesla in Australia, where the tech mogul hosted presentations.

He speaks quickly, doesn't take questions and as soon as he's done, he's shuffled off stage, not to be seen again.

During the SpaceX update of plans to send humans to Mars, Elon Musk was interrupted by one of several thousand audience members, who yelled, "You can do it, Elon!"

Applause erupted and with a smirk, Musk replied with a simple, "Thank you," and wrapped up his speech.

The afternoon -- which involved pushy crowds tamed by security guards -- took me from the SpaceX announcement in Adelaide, Australia, to the nation's rural farmlands, via a three-hour media bus ride to a party for Tesla's new battery farm in Hornsdale wind farms.

Rumor had it that Musk took a private jet.

Even with a private jet, it wouldn't be an easy place to get to. We were more than 9,000 miles away from Silicon Valley.

It was an afternoon of bright lights, stages, and music that stirred up flashbacks of my days working at MTV News, covering 'traditional' celebrities.

Musk isn't a traditional celebrity by entertainment or business standards: The vast majority of the world doesn't own any of his companies' products nor has it used any of their services, yet he has 13 million Twitter followers. That trounces Apple CEO Tim Cook's seven million.

Tesla's founder is admired by so many, most likely, because he's a visionary. No challenge seems to be too big for the entrepreneur and tech mogul.

But Musk may seem like a dreamer, more than a doer. His company is, after all, pursuing what could be the ultimate pipe dream: colonizing Mars.

He loves to talk in broad strokes and lay out his audacious visions for transforming human transportation.

His SpaceX presentation at the International Astronautical Congress, which is essentially the world's largest space conference, was less than focused. He touched on everything from colonizing Mars, to space tourism, to using his rocket design to shorten travel from New York City to Shanghai to less than 30 minutes.

Watching him speak, you can't help but feel that he's one of those people who thinks faster than they talk.

His presentation style is unrehearsed, which might be exactly what makes people like him. In the same speech, he can switch between technical terms, such as "240 tons of CH4 and 860 tons of oxygen" to abbreviations, such as BFR, short for "Big F-----g Rocket."

But while his afternoon SpaceX speech matched his grandiose vision, by evening, he was putting his money where his mouth was when he confirmed Tesla is building the world's largest lithium ion battery plant in South Australia, which he expected to be completed by the end of the year.

The event was held under one large white tent in the middle of rural Australia, surrounded by trendy music, passed gourmet hors d'oeuvres and an open bar.

Musk spoke for just under ten minutes.

But even with an out-sized travel time and presumable jet lag, Musk still exuded palpable excitement.

"Talk is cheap," he told the crowd, while standing on stage. "Action is difficult. We wanted to show that it's not just talk, it's reality."