Today, a lot of business students would probably pay serious money for Elon Musk’s opinion of their work. In 1995, though – long before he took control of Tesla and, later, founded SpaceX – Musk was a teaching assistant helping grade exams and papers at the University of Pennsylvania’s famous Wharton School of Business.
At the time, Musk was a University of Pennsylvania student himself, studying economics and physics. He also worked as a teaching assistant for the class Management 231, “Entrepreneurship: Implementation and Operations” taught by Professor Myles Bass. Some papers Musk graded for that class decades ago recently sold in an online auction for $7,753. The price includes a 25% fee paid to the auction company.
The auction company did not identify the buyer of the papers.
One of Bass’s former students, Brian Thomas, recognizing the potential value of some of the long-ago coursework, consigned the papers to Boston’s RR Auctions to be sold in an online sale. RR Auctions specializes in autographs and manuscripts and in the past, has sold writings from the likes of Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs for hundreds of thousands to over one million dollars.
Musk’s check marks and point deductions didn’t command that kind of money. None of the papers contained Musk’s full signature, only the initials “EM.” There was very little writing containing full words.
Musk signatures are rare, said RR Auctions Bobby Livingston. The firm previously sold an autographed photo of Musk for $1,383.
The only comment preserved on the class papers concerned Thomas’s use of the phrase “s–t hits the fan” when explaining why a company might need an “exit strategy.” Musk underlined the words, wrote “Graphic” over them, and deducted two points from Thomas’s grade.
Thomas explained that the term had been a sort of inside joke intended for the enjoyment of his professor. He didn’t realize that Musk, not the teacher, would be grading the test.
“Foolish on my part,” Thomas said.
These days, Musk himself is known for using sometimes graphic language and obscene references in his own speech and social media postings.
Thomas and his son found the papers inside a tote bag in the family’s garage while looking for some old high school yearbooks, Thomas said. His son noticed Musk’s name and initials among the papers from the class.
Thomas has no specific recollections of Musk, he said.
“Even talking to you now, I cannot conjure an image of him being in the class,” he said.
The only reason he had saved these papers was that he so fondly remembered Bass and that class. Today, Thomas is a financial adviser living in southern California, and many of his clients are tech entrepreneurs.
While he doesn’t remember Musk at all, he said, he still quotes Professor Bass, who died in 2010.