New Tesla chairwoman’s biggest challenge is controlling Musk
DETROIT — Australian telecommunications executive Robyn Denholm brings much-needed financial and auto industry expertise to her new role as Tesla’s board chairwoman, but her biggest challenge is whether she can rein in a CEO with a proclivity for misbehavior.
Denholm, who has been a Tesla board member for nearly five years, was named to the post late Wednesday, replacing Elon Musk as part of a securities fraud settlement with U.S. government regulators.
Corporate governance experts say they would have preferred an outsider with manufacturing expertise be appointed to lead the board, now dominated by people with personal and financial ties to Musk, including his brother.
They aren’t sure if Denholm was hired just to placate the Securities and Exchange Commission to comply with the settlement or whether she’ll actually be able to corral the visionary but erratic Musk, who remains CEO.
Denholm, 55, is chief financial officer and strategy head at Telstra Corp. Ltd., Australia’s largest telecommunications company. Her new role at Tesla came largely because of the board’s failure to control Musk, especially when he made a surprise announcement over Twitter in August that funding was secured to take Tesla private at $420 per share.
That drove up Tesla’s stock price and hurt investors who bet against the company’s success. Eventually it drew a lawsuit from the SEC alleging that Musk misled investors.