Tesla picks insider as board chairwoman
Tesla chose Robyn Denholm to succeed Elon Musk as chairwoman of its board, putting an independent director into the position of contending with the carmaker’s mercurial chief executive following his run-ins with regulators and investors.
Denholm, 55 — one of two women on Tesla’s nine-member board — will assume the role of chairwoman effective immediately, the company said. A director since 2014, she will leave her position as chief financial officer and head of strategy at Australian phone company Telstra Corp. at the end of her six-month notice period.
The appointment marks the end of an era for Musk, 47, who became chairman when he led a $7.5 million initial investment in Tesla in April 2004. While Musk will remain CEO and a board director, the fallout from his Twitter posts — which started with a claim that he secured funding and support to buy out investors at $420 a share — will last for years to come.
“While Denholm is technically an independent member of the board, she has been part of the Musk team for some time now and that suggests she will not be up to the task of checking Musk’s worst instincts,” said Stephen Diamond, a professor of law at Santa Clara University who specializes in corporate governance. “And, of course, that was the whole point of the SEC settlement.”
Ceding the role of chairman was a condition of the accord Musk reached with the Securities and Exchange Commission in September to settle fraud charges related to his tweets on taking the company private.
In addition to agreeing to a three-year ban from serving as chairman, Musk and Tesla agreed that the company would add two new independent directors to the board by late December. The Tesla board is actively continuing the search to fill those posts.
Denholm, who has only been in the Telstra CFO job for a little over a month, said she plans to devote herself full time to the role of Tesla chairwoman when her obligations to the Melbourne-based telecommunications company are complete. She won’t take another job.
“I believe in this company, I believe in its mission and I look forward to helping Elon and the Tesla team achieve sustainable profitability and drive long-term shareholder value,” Denholm said in the statement.
Denholm has worked at Toyota, Sun Microsystems and Juniper Networks, where she was chief financial and operations officer.