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How Mormon-raised Nikola founder Trevor Milton went from college-dropout to billionaire

The CEO and founder of truck start-up company Nikola, who was forced to step down as executive chairman, is a college-dropout turned billionaire who set a Utah real-estate record, spending $32.5million on 2,670 acre ranch.

Trevor Milton, 39, says he was inspired by a Mormon mission trip to Brazil after leaving high school, telling outlets in June of this year he is a ‘very faith-oriented CEO’. His company makes electric hydrogen-fuel cell vehicles and trucks and acts as a rival to Tesla from its base in Phoenix, Arizona.

Milton, whose company become a darling of the stock market over the summer, resigned as executive chairman on Monday following accusations by short-seller Hindenburg Research on September 10 that he made false claims about Nikola’s technology. 

The Mormon raised Milton has so far avoided much of the spotlight, despite being named in Forbes’ 400 billionaires list  earlier this month; he keeps his Instagram and Twitter pages private and rarely refers to his wife Chelsea, who he is thought to have wed in 2017. 

His Instagram profile reads: ‘Husband to an amazing wife, Entrepreneur, Airplane Pilot & Dog Lover.’ 

And Milton did tell the Hitting the Mark podcast in July that Nikola going public was the ‘second biggest day of my life’. He added: ‘I tell people because the first day was when I got married, but the second day definitely was being listed on the Nasdaq.’

He also appears to have shared pics of their wedding day online, posting on October 24, 2017: ‘Can’t believe I got to marry a woman that is much better than I am. It happened this weekend in Wyoming! I’m now married!’ 

Milton did tell the Hitting the Mark podcast in July that Nikola going public was the 'second biggest day of my life'. He added: 'I tell people because the first day was when I got married, but the second day definitely was being listed on the Nasdaq'

Milton did tell the Hitting the Mark podcast in July that Nikola going public was the ‘second biggest day of my life’. He added: ‘I tell people because the first day was when I got married, but the second day definitely was being listed on the Nasdaq’

Trevor Milton stepped down as executive chairman amid allegations that it misled investors with exaggerated claims about its technology. Milton announced his decision on Sunday, days after the Financial Times reported that the Justice Department will team up with the Securities and Exchange Commission to probe the business

Trevor Milton stepped down as executive chairman amid allegations that it misled investors with exaggerated claims about its technology. Milton announced his decision on Sunday, days after the Financial Times reported that the Justice Department will team up with the Securities and Exchange Commission to probe the business

Milton's Instagram profile reads: 'Husband to an amazing wife, Entrepreneur, Airplane Pilot & Dog Lover'

Milton’s Instagram profile reads: ‘Husband to an amazing wife, Entrepreneur, Airplane Pilot & Dog Lover’

The businessman also has detailed how his mother’s death from cancer when he was just 14 affected him and his family life alongside a brother and three sisters.  

Last year he told Trucks.com: ‘From the time I was 6, my mother had cancer. I watched her cough up blood and eventually die. That’s when things got tough. [We] had to learn to survive as a family with a mother who was bedridden and a father who had to go to work 4-5 hours away. It was very tough, the toughest time of our lives, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.’

‘I won the lottery’, he says of parents Bill and Sally. 

Milton, who spent a few years in Vegas as a child before moving back to Utah at the age of eight, Utah Valley State College – now Utah Valley University – in Provo after barely a semester. 

Despite that he describes a drive to succeed in business from an early age; Nikola is said to be his sixth business.

In June this year Milton, who is fluent in Portuguese, told FleetOwner.com: ‘I was buying Almond Joy and KitKat candy bars 20 for $1, using $20 I got from my dad. I’d sell them at school, and I’d make a killing on it. Occasionally when I’m in Vegas, I’ll go back to my childhood house, and I’ll drive by it. And I’ll go to the school.

‘I’m not one to ever get emotional, but whenever I walk through that school ground, almost every time I’ll end up crying pretty hard. My mother died when I was 14, and every memory I had of that elementary school had to do with her. So I would get really emotional. 

‘I don’t even remember the principal’s name, but I do know that when I got caught, my dad and my mother were there telling him, “You cannot punish a kid for this. It’s why he’s going to school. If you want to redirect it to someone else, give him a new challenge. Don’t tell him he did wrong”.

‘And that was the day that I learned my dad was going to be my best friend. So for that, I’m eternally grateful for that guy.’  

In April of this year Milton’s company, which he founded at 29-years-old and was valued at $3billion, received a multi-million dollar loan through the Paycheck Protection Program, a fund established by the White House and members of Congress as a lifeline to small businesses struggling through the coronavirus pandemic. 

That despite his record breaking home purchase in November last year.  

Nikola has argued that there is a ‘difference between high valuation and having cash’ and that it needed the loan to continue paying its 300 employees.

Milton set a Utah real-estate record, spending $32.5million on this 2,670 acre ranch in November last year

Milton set a Utah real-estate record, spending $32.5million on this 2,670 acre ranch in November last year 

Known as the Riverbed Ranch, Milton's 2,670-acre property includes a 16,800-square-foot mansion along the Weber River

Known as the Riverbed Ranch, Milton’s 2,670-acre property includes a 16,800-square-foot mansion along the Weber River

Located about a 25-minute drive from Park City, the Utah has eight bedrooms and 8.5 bathrooms with floor-to-ceiling walnut bookcases. The house even has its own helicopter pad

Located about a 25-minute drive from Park City, the Utah has eight bedrooms and 8.5 bathrooms with floor-to-ceiling walnut bookcases. The house even has its own helicopter pad

Milton said of his new home: '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. I enjoy the country, space, privacy and wildlife rather than skylights'

Milton said of his new home: ‘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. I enjoy the country, space, privacy and wildlife rather than skylights’

Milton told The Wall Street Journal of his new home: ‘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. I enjoy the country, space, privacy and wildlife rather than skylights. 

‘I wanted to create a sanctuary where I could live off the land. I plan on picking up multiple other properties like this one in order to preserve Utah and offer a sanctuary for my family, friends and others to enjoy.’ 

Known as the Riverbed Ranch, Milton’s 2,670-acre property includes a 16,800-square-foot mansion along the Weber River.

Located about a 25-minute drive from Park City, the Utah has eight bedrooms and 8.5 bathrooms with floor-to-ceiling walnut bookcases.

The house even has its own helicopter pad.  

Described as having ‘obsessive focus’ by Nikola president Mark Russell, Milton appears to have named his company after Nikola Tesla, the inventor and electrical engineer. 

And his company has been regularly compared to and touted as a competitor for Elon Musk’s Tesla in the trucks space.  

Milton, who spent a few years in Vegas as a child before moving back to Utah at the age of eight, Utah Valley State College – now Utah Valley University – in Provo after barely a semester

Milton, who spent a few years in Vegas as a child before moving back to Utah at the age of eight, Utah Valley State College – now Utah Valley University – in Provo after barely a semester

In April of this year Milton's company, which he founded at 29-years-old and was valued at $3billion, received a multi-million dollar loan through the Paycheck Protection Program, a fund established by the White House and members of Congress as a lifeline to small businesses struggling through the coronavirus pandemic.

In April of this year Milton’s company, which he founded at 29-years-old and was valued at $3billion, received a multi-million dollar loan through the Paycheck Protection Program, a fund established by the White House and members of Congress as a lifeline to small businesses struggling through the coronavirus pandemic.

Nikola shares were down 20 per cent in trading Monday, and have lost more than 45 per cent of their value since September 8, when it announced an alliance to build electric and fuel cell trucks with GM

Nikola shares were down 20 per cent in trading Monday, and have lost more than 45 per cent of their value since September 8, when it announced an alliance to build electric and fuel cell trucks with GM

Milton has fought back against the ‘intricate fraud’ claims, even after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice said they were looking into the company.

Nikola shares were down 20 per cent in trading Monday, and have lost more than 45 per cent of their value since September 8, when it announced an alliance to build electric and fuel cell trucks with GM.

GM, which recently announced it would receive an 11 per cent stake in Nikola under a partnership, said in a statement on Monday it would work with Nikola to close the deal while stressing it was just one element of its electric vehicle strategy. 

However, Hindenburg Research founder Nathan Anderson said in an email Monday that Milton’s exit was ‘only the beginning of Nikola’s unraveling’. 

‘General Motors should carefully evaluate the potential long-term damage to its 112 year brand by continuing to tie itself to Nikola,’ Anderson wrote. 

Milton said of his home: 'I wanted to create a sanctuary where I could live off the land. I plan on picking up multiple other properties like this one in order to preserve Utah and offer a sanctuary for my family, friends and others to enjoy.'

Milton said of his home: ‘I wanted to create a sanctuary where I could live off the land. I plan on picking up multiple other properties like this one in order to preserve Utah and offer a sanctuary for my family, friends and others to enjoy.’

Described as having 'obsessive focus' by Nikola president Mark Russell, Milton appears to have named his company after Nikola Tesla, the inventor and electrical engineer. And his company has been regularly compared to and touted as a competitor for Elon Musk's Tesla in the trucks space

Described as having ‘obsessive focus’ by Nikola president Mark Russell, Milton appears to have named his company after Nikola Tesla, the inventor and electrical engineer. And his company has been regularly compared to and touted as a competitor for Elon Musk’s Tesla in the trucks space

In a scathing report published just after the GM tie-up two weeks ago, short-seller Hindenburg Research said it had enough evidence to show Nikola and Milton made false claims about the company’s proprietary technology to form partnerships with large automakers.

Hindenburg also alleged that Milton appointed his brother, Travis, to lead a unit in the company for which he did not have any substantial experience related to the sector.  

Nikola said last week it was discussing the claims with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). It has publicly rejected the accusations and threatened to take legal action against Hindenburg.

The Financial Times reported last week that the U.S. Department of Justice was also probing the claims.  

 

Nikola founder Trevor Milton QUITS as chairman amid claims electric truck start-up is an ‘intricate fraud’ that has misled investors about hydrogen-powered technology 

Shares in electric and hydrogen-powered truck startup Nikola plunged on Monday after the company’s founder resigned amid allegations of fraud – just two weeks after signing a $2 billion partnership with General Motors.

The company said late Sunday that Trevor Milton resigned and the departing executive chairman said he would defend himself against accusations that the company made false claims about its vehicles, allegations Nikola rejects.

Milton said in a message to Nikola employees that he was stepping aside because ‘the focus should be on the company and its world-changing mission, not me.’

In its lengthy report, Hindenburg claimed to have ‘extensive evidence’ that the company’s proprietary technology was purchased from another company, and accused its founder and CEO Trevor Milton (above) of making countless false statements over the last decade

Trevor Milton (pictured) the founder and CEO of truck company Nikola, has stepped down amid allegations that it misled investors with exaggerated claims about its technology

Shares tumbled as much as 30 per cent on Monday in the wake of the news of Milton's stepping down

Shares tumbled as much as 30 per cent on Monday in the wake of the news of Milton’s stepping down

Shares in the company based in Phoenix, Arizona, tumbled 17% as markets fell broadly Monday. Shares of GM fell 5.2%. A report from Hindenburg Research from Sept. 10 said Nikola’s success was ‘an intricate fraud’ and based on ‘an ocean of lies’ including a video showing a truck rolling downhill to give the impression it was cruising on a highway, and stenciling the words ‘hydrogen electric’ on the side of a vehicle that was actually powered by natural gas.

Hindenburg said it had taken a short position in Nikola stock, which means it could profit if the stock goes down.

Nikola said it contacted the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is looking into Hindenburg’s allegations. News reports have said the U.S. Justice Department is investigating as well.

In a prepared statement, Nikola said the Hindenburg report was ‘replete with misleading information and salacious accusations directed at our founder and chairman’ and had hired an attorney to evaluate potential legal recourse. It has said the video did not describe the vehicle as moving under its own propulsion and that the company does have working trucks.

Gears and motors were missing, and while the words ‘H2 Zero Emission Hydrogen Electric’ were emblazoned on the vehicle, there was no fuel cell on board

Gears and motors were missing, and while the words ‘H2 Zero Emission Hydrogen Electric’ were emblazoned on the vehicle, there was no fuel cell on board

Under the partnership announced with GM, the Detroit-based automaker would take an 11% ownership stake in Nikola and would engineer and build Nikola’s Badger hydrogen fuel cell and electric pickup truck. GM said in a statement Monday that ‘we acknowledge Trevor Milton’s departure from Nikola and the decision of the Nikola board to move forward.’

GM said it would go ahead and close the agreed transaction ‘to seize the growth opportunities in broader markets’ with its fuel cell and battery systems, and confirmed it would build the Badger.

In exchange for the 10-year deal, GM was to get $2 billion worth of Nikola’s newly issued common stock that will come in three increments through 2025. The deal gives GM another revenue stream for its hydrogen fuel cell, battery and electric vehicle research, positioning the company as a supplier to others who want to enter the market. It also helps to defray some of the huge capital costs of developing the new technology.

GM CEO Mary Barra said last week that GM has worked with a lot of partners before and a ‘very, very capable team has done the appropriate dilligence’ on the Nikola deal.

Guidehouse Insights Principal Analyst Sam Abuelsamid said he doubts that GM’s pursuit of partners led it to overlook potential shortcomings at Nikola. Auto companies, he said, often unveil concept vehicles that aren’t powered by the system they’re showing off, he said.

The company was accused of staging a promotional video for its Nikola One truck that reportedly didn't have an engine

The company was accused of staging a promotional video for its Nikola One truck that reportedly didn’t have an engine

For example, the first versions of GM’s Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid were powered by a golf cart motor, not a battery electric powertrain with a gas engine that takes over when the batteries are depleted. ‘The things that Nikola is being accused of are things that automakers do all the time,’ Abuelsamid said.

News of the GM-Nikola deal on Sept. 8 sent shares of both companies surging despite a broader market downturn. GM has been under pressure from Wall Street to more quickly exploit its electric vehicle technology, while the GM deal gave the startup added credibility, according to analysts.

Under the deal, Nikola will be responsible for the sales and marketing of the Badger, built on GM’s new battery electric truck underpinnings and using GM fuel cell and battery technology. GM also will supply batteries for other Nikola vehicles including heavy trucks.

Nikola said that former GM Vice Chairman Stephen Girsky, a member of the board, would replace Milton.

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