Tesla picks Robyn Denholm as Musk substitute

Move to get new chairman is part of deal with US regulators

By Carlos Tejada/New York Times News Service
  • Published 9.11.18, 3:12 AM
  • Updated 28.01.19, 3:05 PM
  • a min read
This undated photo provided by Tesla Inc. shows Robyn Denholm. (Tesla Inc. via AP)

Tesla named Robyn Denholm, a board member since 2014 and a long-time technology and telecommunications executive, as its chairwoman on Wednesday night, as the company tries to move beyond regulatory troubles and concerns about its stability under Elon Musk, its colourful but erratic co-founder.

The electric-car company said Denholm will replace Musk in that position. Musk will remain Tesla’s chief executive. Denholm is currently the chief financial officer of Telstra, which dominates telecommunications in Australia.

The move to replace Musk as chairman was part of a settlement reached with the securities regulators in the United States in September to deal with the fallout from his Twitter post in August that he had secured funding for a private buyout of the company.

That claim quickly fell into doubt. (Musk later explained in a blog post that discussions with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund led him to believe that it had both money and enthusiasm for such a deal).

Under that settlement, Tesla agreed to add two independent directors to its board and to name a new chairman, splitting those responsibilities from Musk’s post as chief executive. The company was also required to set up a permanent committee to monitor Musk’s public declarations, including his tweets.

Tesla’s new chairwoman has an extensive background in technology. Before her current position at Telstra, Denholm was an executive at Juniper Networks, which makes computer networking equipment, for about a decade.

Tesla said the appointment takes immediate effect and Denholm would step down from her role at Telstra once her six-month notice period is complete.

Musk heralded the change in typical fashion — with a tweet that said: Would like to thank Robyn for joining the team. Great respect. Very much look forward to working together.