Tales from the PayPal Mafia: Elon’s Hatchet Man & Thiel’s Test

Elon Musk
Photo by Patrick Pleul via Getty Images
Theodore Schleifer
April 26, 2022

Truth be told, incredible wealth doesn’t guarantee incredible power. Many billionaires, in fact, have no discernible impact on public life whatsoever. But when the world’s wealthiest man buys America’s most influential media platform? You betcha. The 0.001 percent are now personally capitalized for vanity projects far beyond mere yachts or sports franchises, such as taking control of a social network with the power to set the daily news agenda and inflame our most noxious cultural debates.

Of course, Elon Musk didn’t do it alone. His public takeover of Twitter was facilitated in part thanks to the quiet efforts of Jared Birchall, the intentionally low-profile chief executive of Elon’s family office, Excession LLC. Family office heads can control billions in deployable capital, but they often remain totally anonymous. And given that they are investing the fortune of some larger-than-life figure, they tend to have Scottie Pippen alpha-adjacent personalities. Many family office employees don’t even identify where they work—not that it is actually a secret to anyone in finance, but the culture of wealth management is rooted in discretion. (You’ll see “UHNW Family” or just “Family Office” as their employer on LinkedIn.) 

The job of leading a family office for a celebrity appears, on the surface, to be rather glamorous. “I work for Elon” plays well at Milken or Davos. But as any wealth manager who has been around the block will tell you, these jobs can be downright awful—they don’t just involve asset allocation and manager selection, but also non-financial extracurriculars: scrambling yachts across the Mediterranean on zero notice; managing household staff; dealing with kids, ex-wives, and nosy reporters. (For what it’s worth, I’ve found Birchall to be perfectly polite.) You’re also accountable to a single person—it’s more stable, and generally more lucrative, to remain at a big firm with more total clients, like Birchall did before coming to Excession from Morgan Stanley Wealth Management in 2016.