Tesla picks in­sider as board chair­woman

Orlando Sentinel - - BUSINESS - By Dana Hull

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.

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