Den­holm plugs in to Tesla’s elec­tric am­bi­tion

The Weekend Australian - - BUSINESS - DAVID SWAN

Robyn Den­holm’s rise to the top job at Tesla is the pin­na­cle of a re­mark­able as­cent for one of the coun­try’s most pub­licly un­der­stated ex­ec­u­tives, and puts an Aus­tralian woman in charge of one of the world’s most in­no­va­tive com­pa­nies.

Ms Den­holm, who grew up pump­ing petrol at her par­ents’ ser­vice sta­tion in re­gional NSW, starts as chair of Tesla next week and will have the cru­cial job of keep­ing the elec­tric car and bat­tery man­u­fac­turer on track — and the equally chal­leng­ing task of rein­ing in chief ex­ec­u­tive and for­mer chair­man Elon Musk.

Speak­ing to The Week­end Aus­tralian when she was the chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of global net­work­ing gi­ant Ju­niper Net­works, Ms Den­holm was full of praise for Mr Musk and said she nat­u­rally grav­i­tated to­wards roles at trans­for­ma­tive, large-scale tech gi­ants. Ms Denolm de­clined to com­ment yes­ter­day.

She joined Tesla’s board in 2014 and has been at the tech gi­ant through­out its me­te­oric rise to be­come one of the world’s most valu­able com­pa­nies.

“Elon is great, he’s just phe­nom­e­nal,” Ms Den­holm said at the time. “To see what he’s cre­ated there, it’s a com­pany that has a hugely in­no­va­tive cul­ture, re­ally want­ing to change the world. And that to me is a great tenet for a tech­nol­ogy com­pany.”

She said she’d al­ways been “one woman amid a sea of men” through­out her ca­reer but it had never wor­ried her, and that di­ver­sity of thought was most im­por­tant.

“It’s not some­thing I’ve ever thought about. I don’t no­tice it,” she said. “I don’t care what peo­ple look like. But if every­body thinks the same way they won’t cre­ate the next wave of in­no­va­tion.

“A lot of peo­ple, and it’s valid, talk about gen­der di­ver­sity and eth­nic di­ver­sity, but to me the root of all of that is ac­tu­ally how peo­ple think and the ex­pe­ri­ences they’ve had. That’s what I look for in a team.”

De­scrib­ing her lead­er­ship style as “three Cs” — cu­rios­ity, con­nec­tions and cre­ativ­ity — Ms Den­holm said her at­trac­tion to Tesla went be­yond the cars them­selves.

“What I get to see with Tesla is what they’re do­ing from an arti- fi­cial in­tel­li­gence per­spec­tive, but also the im­pact they’re hav­ing on the world en­vi­ron­men­tally and geopo­lit­i­cally,” she said. “I love th­ese com­pa­nies that trans­form in­dus­tries.”

Ear­lier this year Ms Den­holm spoke with The Week­end Aus­tralian at the world’s big­gest con­sumer elec­tron­ics show, CES in Las Ve­gas, and said that given Tesla’s am­bi­tious plans, it was ex­tremely valu­able for her to be sur­rounded by the world’s bright­est tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies in that one space.

She said one thread through­out her en­tire ca­reer had been con­nec­tiv­ity, whether that be be­tween peo­ple or through tech­nol­ogy.

“I re­ally en­joy be­ing on the Tesla board,” she said. “My whole life and ca­reer, for 30 years, has been about con­nec­tiv­ity. Whether that’s been work­ing with Toy­ota in Aus­tralia, on the net­work­ing side with Ju­niper or on the board of (Swedish com­pany) ABB.

“All th­ese things re­ally con­verge and are in­ter­re­lated. This week at the show, the power went off and it was like ‘holy cow’, with­out power ab­so­lutely none of this works. And with­out con­nec­tiv­ity none of this works.”

Ralph Candiloro is a se­nior ex­ec­u­tive at Ju­niper Net­works, and cur­rently runs its Asia-Pa­cific busi­ness. Mr Candiloro worked closely with Ms Den­holm dur­ing her ten­ure at the net­work­ing com­pany.

“Robyn is ex­tremely pro­fes­sional but at the same time down to earth and very ap­proach­able, giv­ing her great ac­cess to teams across the busi­ness,” he told The Week­end Aus­tralian.

“I en­joyed work­ing for her as she brought and ap­plied a high­in­tel­lect, facts-based, no-non­sense ap­proach to all key and crit­i­cal de­ci­sions. She was also one to never shy away from ei­ther tough times or tough de­ci­sions.

“What I found my­self lev­er­ag­ing when we worked to­gether on key is­sues was both her quick grasp of the sub­ject mat­ter at hand as well as global ex­pe­ri­ence. Both of which help get­ting on the same page to­gether rel­a­tively quickly even if com­ing from dif­fer­ent points of view.”

Mr Candiloro summed up his for­mer col­league as ex­tremely pro­fes­sional, a high-en­ergy in­di­vid­ual with strong in­tel­lect and global ex­pe­ri­ence. “Work­ing to­gether was chal­leng­ing and never dull,” he said. “I have noth­ing but pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ences with Robyn, which speaks vol­umes in it­self.”

‘I love th­ese com­pa­nies that trans­form in­dus­tries’ ROBYN DEN­HOLM TESLA CHAIR

BRITTA CAMPION

Robyn Den­holm brings ex­pe­ri­ence from around the world to the elec­tric car­maker

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