Even Among Corporate Raiders, Elon Musk Is a Pirate

The history of mergers and acquisitions is filled with ruthless corporate raiders, bruising wars of words and people trying to stiff each other.

T. Boone Pickens, the oil tycoon who rampaged through the 1980s, took small stakes in energy companies, attacked management and forced sales of the firms. Carl Icahn, the activist investor, amassed shares of companies and threatened to oust their boards if they did not agree to a deal. And Robert Campeau, the Canadian real estate investor known for engineering buyouts, was unafraid to take legal action against companies that sought to deflect his advances.

Yet even with all those cutthroat tactics, the world of deal making has never seen a buyer like Elon Musk.

In the weeks since Mr. Musk, the world’s richest man, struck a $44 billion agreement to buy the social media service Twitter, he has upended the deals landscape. Usually, when two sides agree to negotiate an acquisition, they spend weeks poring over financials and hammering out details. The action takes place mostly behind closed doors, inside boardrooms and at prestigious law firms and investment banks.