The ‘rational’ businesswoman picked to temper mercurial Musk
In picking Robyn Denholm to keep Elon Musk in check, Tesla Inc.’s board went with a numbers-first executive who climbed up the ranks of multinationals’ finance departments. Those who know her say her no-nonsense methods may be just what Tesla needs.
“Everything about her is rational, reasonable, and warm. I’m not surprised she got the job,” Scott McNealy, the cofounder and former chairman of Sun Microsystems. “If Elon listens to her, he’ll be way more successful.”
As Tesla’s chairman, Denholm, 55, will be responsible for holding back celebrity CEO Musk while guiding an electriccar maker that’s still in a volume expansion phase and vulnerable to financial setbacks. While Tesla just celebrated a blowout quarter – posting a rare profit – many analysts expect further capital increases are needed before the company is on firm footing.
Denholm began her career at audit and accounting services at Arthur Andersen, and left for a position in the finance department of Toyota’s Australian subsidiary. She joined Sun in 1996 and was there for 11 years, including a position in the pioneering computer company’s top leadership group. She declined to be interviewed.
“She seems to be supremely competent in financial communications,” said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, an expert on leadership who teaches at the Yale School of Management. “Of the likely choices, I think they made the best pick. Her strengths are not his and vice versa.”
Still, some see Denholm as being too close to Musk. A Tesla independent director since 2014, she was part of a board that failed to prevent the CEO’s erratic actions this year.
A Tesla Inc. Model S electric vehicle charges at a Supercharger station in Rubigen, Switzerland.