Musk out as Tesla chair, remains CEO in $40M SEC settlement
WASHINGTON — Tesla and its CEO, Elon Musk, have agreed to pay a total of $40 million and make a series of concessions to settle a government lawsuit alleging Musk duped investors with misleading statements about a proposed buyout of the company.
The settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission allows Musk to remain CEO of the electric car company but requires him to relinquish his role as chairman for at least three years.
Tesla must hire an independent chairman to oversee the company, something that should please a number of shareholders who have criticized Tesla’s board for being too beholden to Musk.
The deal was announced on Saturday, just two days after the SEC filed its case seeking to oust Musk as CEO.
Musk, who has an estimated $20 billion fortune, and Tesla, a company that ended June with $2.2 billion in cash, each are paying $20 million to resolve the case, which stemmed from a tweet Musk sent on Aug 7 indicating he had the financing in place to take Tesla private at a price of $420 per share.
“A reckless tweet cost a lot of money — the $20-million tweet,” said Michelle Krebs, executive analyst at Autotrader.
The deal could remove one cloud that hangs over Tesla. Investors fretted about the company’s ability to cope without Musk, a charismatic entrepreneur whose penchant for coming up with revolutionary ideas has drawn comparisons to one of Silicon Valley’s most revered visionaries, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.
Tesla’s stock plummeted 14 percent on Friday after the SEC filed its lawsuit, erasing more than $7 billion in shareholder wealth. Many analysts predicted the shares were bound to fall even further if Musk had been forced to step down. Tesla’s stock has dropped 30 percent since Aug 7, closing on Friday at $264.77.
The steep downturn in Tesla’s market value may have influenced Musk’s apparent change of heart to negotiate a settlement. Musk had rejected a similar settle- ment offer before the SEC sued Thursday, maintaining he had done nothing wrong when he posted a tweet declaring that he had secured the financing to lead a buyout of Tesla.
The SEC alleged Musk wasn’t close to locking up the estimated $25 billion to $50 billion needed to pull off the buyout.
Musk and Tesla reached their settlement without admitting to or denying the SEC’s allegations.
The resolution “is in the best interests of our markets and our investors, including the shareholders of Tesla”, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton said in a statement.
A Tesla spokeswoman said the company and Musk had no comment on Saturday.
Besides paying a fine and stripping Musk of his chairman’s title, Tesla also must appoint two more directors who have no ties to the company or its management. Musk will be allowed to remain on the board.
The company also must clamp down on Musk’s communications with investors, a requirement that might make its colorful CEO’s Twitter posts slightly less interesting.
“Maybe this will make Musk stop acting so crazy and fly right,” said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond.
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