Tesla said company director Robyn Denholm will replace Elon Musk as its board chair, fulfilling a key requirement of a Securities and Exchange Commission settlement that arose from the billionaire entrepreneur’s ill-advised tweets about taking the company private.
The selection of Denholm, who joined Tesla’s board in 2014, indicates a preference for an independent executive who’s also an insider highly familiar with the company’s expanding auto and energy businesses. In accepting the job, she’ll leave her position as CFO and head of strategy for Australia’s Telstra Corp. to focus full time on Tesla, the electric-car company said in a statement.
“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 a blog post.
The move comes ahead of a deadline—apparently next week—for Musk to relinquish the chairman role he’s held since 2004. While he’s allowed to retain a board seat, the Palo Alto, California, company must also add two new independent board members by about year-end to reduce what appears to have been a high degree of compliance with the charismatic executive’s wishes.
The SEC filed suit against Musk in September claimed that his August 7 comments on Twitter of having “funding secured” to take Tesla private at $420 a share constituted securities fraud, since that statement was untrue and he knew it, or should have.
Musk agreed on September 30 to settlement terms, which also require him and Tesla to each pay a $20 million fine. It was the only option for him to avoid being forced out entirely if he’d fought the SEC suit in court and lost.
“Robyn has extensive experience in both the tech and auto industries, and she has made significant contributions as a Tesla Board member over the past four years in helping us become a profitable company,” Musk said in the statement. “I look forward to working even more closely with Robyn as we continue accelerating the advent of sustainable energy.”
Prior to joining Telstra, Denholm had been executive vice president and CFO of networking equipment maker Juniper Networks. She’s also worked for Sun Microsystems, Toyota’s Australian unit and at Arthur Andersen & Co.
Musk will serve as a resource for Denholm during her transition out of Telstra. She’ll also temporarily give up her role as Tesla’s Audit Committee chair until she relocates full time to Silicon Valley. She will continue to act as a resource for Telstra and receive an annual retainer of $300,000 per year from the telecommunications company and stock allotments, according to Tesla.
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