CEO and founder of U.S. Nikola, Trevor Milton speaks during presentation of its new full-electric and hydrogen fuel-cell battery trucks in partnership with CNH Industrial, at an event in Turin, Italy December 2, 2019.
Massimo Pinca | Reuters
Trevor Milton, the 38-year-old founder of Nikola, became an instant multibillionaire Thursday with the company’s successful IPO.
Nikola, which makes electric- and hydrogen-powered trucks, saw its share price briefly top $37 after going public, giving Milton a net worth of nearly $5 billion based on his share ownership. The stock later settled back around $34, putting his net worth at about $4.6 billion. Before the IPO, his stake in Nikola had been valued at around $1 billion.
Milton’s newfound fortune is the latest vindication for the Utah-born college dropout, who founded Nikola at the age of 29 after talking to truckers in the North Dakota oil fields. Milton, who friends describe as a born entrepreneur, launched five other businesses before Nikola, two of which failed but, he said, taught him valuable lessons.
“I lost everything I had, twice,” he told CNBC in April. “Nobody has gone through five companies at my age and lost two.”
Milton and Nikola declined to comment on his net worth. But in an interview with CNBC’s David Faber on Thursday, Milton said he doesn’t have any plans to sell his shares, since they are locked up for about a year.
“My number one goal right now is to execute this vision,” he said. “It’s hard. It’s going to take a good five years.”
Milton grew up in Utah, and his family struggled after his mother died from cancer when he was young. His entrepreneurial drive started early. In school, he resold candy to other kids for a profit.
He tried college, but dropped out after a year. He started his first company, an alarm and surveillance company, in 2003 and sold it a few years later. He then launched a retail company that failed before eventually launching Nikola.
Last November, Milton paid $32.5 million for a 2,670-acre luxury ranch in Utah, which set a new price record for the state. The property has a 16,800-square-foot riverfront mansion with eight bedrooms, 8.5 baths, a lofted billiards room, movie theater, wine cellar and gym.
“I feel like my generation is asset light, wants smaller everything and is moving to cities, which is the opposite of what I wanted in life,” Milton told the Wall Street Journal after the purchase. “I enjoy the country, space, privacy and wildlife rather than skylights. … I wanted to create a sanctuary where I could live off the land.”
As CNBC first reported, Nikola received $4 million in April from the Paycheck Protection Program, a loan from the Small Business Administration that is aimed at helping small businesses retain workers during the coronavirus pandemic.
Milton said the government funding was necessary to help the company meet its payroll during an uncertain period before its initial public offering. He also said that while both he and the company had high valuations, they had little cash.
“We’re a small business,” he said in April.