How Warren Buffett and Elon Musk Become Frenemies: A Timeline

Warren Buffett is still not an investor in Tesla, but he has come around to admit Musk's accomplishments.

Elon Musk and Warren Buffett
Warren Buffett is not yet an investor in Elon Musk’s Tesla. Getty Images

Warren Buffett and Elon Musk, two of the most successful and wealthiest businessmen on the planet, have a history of not liking each other very much. In the years leading up to the pandemic, the two billionaires often clashed in the media over everything from investment strategy to business philosophy. But their relationship as business peers seems to have taken a favorable turn in recent years. At Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A)’s shareholder meeting on May 6, Buffett called Musk a “brilliant, brilliant guy” and said he admired the Tesla (TSLA) and SpaceX CEO for his “dedication to solving the impossible.”

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Buffett also praised Musk’s performance on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” show that aired on April 29. “Elon does a terrific job toe-to-toe with Bill Maher,” the 92-year-old investor said. “He dreams about things and his dream have got a foundation.”

Buffett’s right-hand man, Charlie Munger, also spoke highly of Musk at Saturday’s event. The 99-year-old Berkshire vice chairman said Musk “would not have achieved what he has in life if he hadn’t tried for unreasonably extreme objectives.”

The glowing remarks prompted a reply from Musk, who tweeted on May 6, “appreciate the kind words from Warren and Charlie.

The friendly exchange over the weekend stood in contrast to what Musk and Buffett (and Munger) said of each other a few years ago.

Musk and Buffett are both members of the Giving Pledge, an initiative started by Buffett to encourage the world’s richest individuals to donate the majority of their fortune to charitable causes. But Buffett has said he hasn’t talked to Musk in person in years because Musk never comes to the Giving Pledge’s annual gatherings.

How Buffett and Musk’s relationship evolved over the years

Back in 2009, when Tesla was still a fledgling electric car startup struggling with financial woes, Munger was convinced it had no chance of success, according to a Musk tweet in February 2022.

“I was at a lunch with Munger in 2009 where he told the whole table all the ways Tesla would fail,” Musk wrote. “Made me quite sad, but I told him I agreed with all those reasons and that we would probably die, but it was worth trying anyway.”

In May 2018, during a Tesla earnings call, Musk bashed the idea of “moats,” a term coined by Buffett referring to a buffer surrounding a company in order to keep its competitive edge. “Moats are lame,” Musk said on the call.

A few days later, at Berkshire’s shareholder meeting, Buffett responded to Musk’s criticism, “Elon may turn things upside down in some areas. [But] I don’t think he’d want to take us on in candy,” referring to Berkshire-owned See’s Candies.

Musk replied with a tweet saying he’s going to start his own candy company and “it’s going to be amazing.” (He didn’t.)

A year later, in April 2019, Buffett said in an interview with Yahoo Finance that he thought Musk “has room for improvement” as the CEO of a public company. “I just don’t see the necessity to communicate [like he does],” Buffett said. At the time, Musk was mired in legal troubles for casually sharing sensitive business information about Tesla.

At an event earlier that year, Munger said he wouldn’t want to work with people like Musk because they don’t seem to understand their limitations. He suggested Musk is the type of person who has an IQ of 170 but thinks it’s 250. “I don’t want my personal life to be [around] a bunch of guys who are living in a state of delusion, who happen occasionally to win big,” Munger said. “I want the prudent person.”

In March 2020, Buffett said in another Yahoo Finance interview that Berkshire was not interested in investing in Tesla. Musk, who had hinted on multiple occasions that he would love to have Buffett as a Tesla investor, was not happy. In an episode of  “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast in May 2020, the Tesla CEO said he’s “not the biggest fan” of Buffett. “He’s trying to figure out: ‘Does Coke or Pepsi deserve more capital? It’s kind of a boring job if you ask me,” Musk said.

Fast forward to 2023, Buffett and Munger apparently have come around to admitting Musk’s accomplishments, but they still won’t want him as a business partner. Buffett said on Saturday he and Munger “don’t want to compete” with Musk “in a lot of things.” Munger said Musk enjoys “taking on the impossible job and doing it,” while he and Buffett are “looking for the easy job that we can identify.”

How Warren Buffett and Elon Musk Become Frenemies: A Timeline