Tesla names new chair to com­ply with set­tle­ment

The State - - Business - BY TOM KR­ISHER

Tesla’s board has named one of its own as chair­man to re­place Elon Musk, com­ply­ing with terms of a fraud set­tle­ment with U.S. se­cu­ri­ties reg­u­la­tors.

The elec­tric car and so­lar panel com­pany’s board on Thurs­day named Aus­tralian telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions ex­ec­u­tive Robyn Den­holm as chair­man, ef­fec­tive im­me­di­ately.

Den­holm will step down as chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer and strat­egy head at Tel­stra, Aus­tralia’s largest telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pany, af­ter a six-month no­tice pe­riod. She’ll work full-time at Tesla, where she has served on the board since 2014.

Musk will re­main as Tesla’s chief ex­ec­u­tive as part of the set­tle­ment deal with the U.S. Se­cu­ri­ties and Ex­change Com­mis­sion. The U.S. agency filed a law­suit al­leg­ing that Musk duped in­vestors in Au­gust with mis­lead­ing state­ments on Twit­ter about se­cur­ing the fund­ing to take Tesla pri­vate.

The move vaults Den­holm, 55, from rel­a­tive ob­scu­rity into a high­pro­file po­si­tion of try­ing to rein in Musk and man­age a com­pany that is strug­gling to pro­duce ve­hi­cles and make money as it at­tempts to shift the world from fu­el­ing trans­porta­tion with oil to bat­tery­pow­ered elec­tric ve­hi­cles.

Crit­ics of Tesla’s board have said mem­bers lack in­de­pen­dence and are too closely al­lied with Musk, many through fi­nan­cial deals. Musk’s brother, Kim­bal, is one of the mem­bers.

Although Den­holm ap­pears to have fewer ties to Musk than other di­rec­tors, she still was on the board through nu­mer­ous cases of bizarre be­hav­ior by Musk.

A cor­po­rate gov­er­nance ex­pert ques­tioned whether Den­holm is the right per­son for the job, given that she was a mem­ber of Tesla’s board for four years yet failed to rein in the vi­sion­ary yet er­ratic Musk.

“She was there while all of this was go­ing on,” said Charles El­son, di­rec­tor of the cor­po­rate gov­er­nance cen­ter at the Uni­ver­sity of Delaware. “Do you ask the per­son who helped get you lost in the woods to help drive you out of the woods?”

El­son said the com­pany should have brought in some­one from out­side to be chair­man, and that no mat­ter how tal­ented Den­holm may be, she has a shadow over her of be­ing on the board that did lit­tle as Musk mis­be­haved.

Robyn Den­holm

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