Robyn Denholm appointed new Tesla board chairwoman

2017 Tesla Model 3, in photo tweeted by Elon Musk on July 9, 2017

Tesla’s board has promoted from within to fill the role of chairman, replacing Elon Musk, who agreed to step down in a settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Robyn Denholm, one of the two independent directors appointed to Tesla’s board in 2014 will be its new chairwoman, the company announced on Wednesday night.

Musk agreed on Sept. 29 to step aside as board chairman for three years following a settlement with the SEC over his August 7 tweet that he had “funding secured” to take the public company private. The funding, which Musk later said was to come from the Saudi Arabian private wealth fund, turned out not to be secure.

Robyn Denholm

Musk had until Saturday to step down. He will continue as chief executive officer. Musk and the company also agreed to pay $40 million to settle the suit. The money will go to shareholders who lost money following Musk’s tweet.

Denholm, an Australian, has served as national finance manager of Toyota, and has held various operational and financial leadership positions at tech companies in Silicon Valley including Juniper Networks and Sun Microsystems, was a board member at electric-car fast-charger manufacturer ABB, and currently serves as chief financial officer and head of strategy at Australian cellular-service provider Telstra.

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She will assume the role of Tesla chairwoman full-time, effective immediately, but will continue at Telstra through a six-month notice period. Denholm has also served as chairwoman of the Tesla board’s independent audit committee, and she will step aside from that role for six months until she can wind down her job at Telstra.

“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 company statement announcing her appointment.

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Musk said, “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. I look forward to working even more closely with Robyn as we continue accelerating the advent of sustainable energy.”

Speculation on who would replace Musk as Tesla’s chair had centered around James Murdoch, the company’s other independent director and CEO of the Fox network, founded by his father Rupert Murdoch. The SEC settlement required the new chair to be an independent director. Reaction among Tesla fans to Murdoch’s potential appointment, however, was almost universally negative.

The settlement also requires the company to appoint two more independent directors, who have not yet been announced.

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