Finding the next Steve Jobs can be a lucrative pursuit. Sort of like hunting for diamonds in east Africa or heading west for the gold rush. Tech visionaries are few and far between. Once you find a visionary, you realize that he's more valuable than the current make or model of a specific product. Those fortunate enough to have purchased Apple shares when Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 had no idea that they would benefit from a renaissance of the Mac, the introduction of the iPod, and eventually the game changing influence of the iPhone and iPad. Back then, all they knew was that they had Steve. There is no asset more rare than a visionary at the head. The growth potential is exponential.
At the Yerba Buena Center of the Arts in San Francisco on January 27, 2010, I sat in the center of the auditorium and closely observed the great performance of Steve Jobs as he unveiled the iPad. I vividly remember the confusion that existed immediately before and after the event. What should a tablet look like? What should it be called? How big is too big? What do you do with a tablet? Can a touchscreen iOS really handle such a large surface or is a stylus input more appropriate? Maybe a keyboard? Until January 27, 2010, nobody knew how to answer those critical questions.
In his keynote address, Steve answered every question and then some on his way to revolutionizing the world yet again. As an individual he was able to do what the collective could not. Of course we recognize the contributions of his talented team at Apple, but in the end it was Steve's eye that gave the world what it wanted before we knew that we wanted it. One Steve Jobs can do more than one billion employees. The value of leadership is difficult for Wall Street to quantify but it should not be understated.
It's unfair to label anyone as the next Steve Jobs but we do it anyway. The allure is too compelling. My nomination goes to Tesla (TSLA) CEO Elon Musk. His electric car startup just sold over 4,750 premium Model S units with a starting price of $52,400 in Q1. The comparable BMW 7-series sold 2,338 units, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class sold 3,077, and the Audi A8 sold 1,462. Q1 is the first profitable quarter in Tesla's history. The Model S was the unanimous choice for Motor Trend's 2013 car of the year.
Musk is also the CEO of SpaceX which has been profitable for five years as its Falcon 9 rocket delivers satellites into orbit. On May 25, 2012 the SpaceX Dragon docked with the International Space Station, making history as the first commercial company to launch and dock a vehicle to the ISS. How did Elon Musk make his money? He was the co-founder of Paypal, which was acquired by eBay (EBAY) for $1.5 billion in 2002. Elon Musk's spirit of innovation and demand for profitability has become a hallmark.
If the 676% revenue growth of Tesla in Q4 didn't impress you, maybe the stock price move from $38 to $48 thus far in the month of April has caught your eye. Analysts expect full year earnings to rise from $0.14 a share in 2013 to as high as $1.41 in 2014. Musk recently announced a new financing option for Tesla owners, he also provoked investors with a statement of more surprises to come between now and June.
If Musk announces an AWD Model S or a Tesla servicing agreement with a manufacturer like Lexus, those 2014 earnings estimates will be revised even higher than the currently projected 900% growth. If Musk's federal complaint against Auto-Dealer Groups opens up the Tesla distribution model to new states, the stock should rise. The summer launch of the Model S in Europe and the fall launch of the Model S in Asia are catalysts worth watching. This is a stock full of positive uncertainty.
The last time Apple grew earnings by 900% was in January 2004 when Steve Jobs released the iPod mini in five different colors as an alternative to the classic iPod. After languishing near a split adjusted price of $10 a share, Apple's stock finished the month of January 2004 at $11 a share. By the end of March it was above $13 a share. Summer time saw $17. At year end 04 AAPL was trading near $32. At year end '05, AAPL was trading near $75. Investors liked the Steve Jobs hypergrowth stage. I think we're going to like Elon Musk's hypergrowth stage as well.