Denholm plugs in to Tesla’s electric ambition
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
Robyn Denholm brings experience from around the world to the electric carmaker