Robyn Denholm Replaces Elon Musk as Tesla Chair

Tesla has announced Robyn Denholm as the new Chair of its Board of Directors. (Image:  Wesley Fryer  via  flickr  CC BY 2.0 )
Tesla has announced Robyn Denholm as the new Chair of its Board of Directors. (Image: Wesley Fryer via flickr CC BY 2.0 )

Tesla has announced Robyn Denholm as the new Chair of its Board of Directors. The 55-year-old Australian replaces Elon Musk, who will continue to retain his position as CEO of the company. Denholm has been on the Tesla board for the past four years, acting as an independent director. She is currently the CFO at Telstra, Australia’s largest telecom company.

Replacing Musk

The decision to replace Musk came after a directive from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). In August, Musk had tweeted that he intended to take Tesla private and had secured funding at US$420 per share, a claim that was later revealed to be untrue. The events caused Tesla’s share prices to spike and eventually crash.

Investors complained to the SEC and the agency sued Musk for making fraudulent claims. However, both Musk and the SEC came to an agreement whereby he would step down as Chair of the Board of Directors. Musk also had to cough up US$20 million in penalties.

Elon Musk

Musk and the SEC came to an agreement whereby he would step down as Chair of the Board of Directors. (Image: Maurizio Pesce via flickr CC BY 2.0 )

In a company statement, Musk lauded Denholm. “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,” he said in a statement. (Tesla)

A solid career

Though Denholm is the CFO of Telstra, she has only been in the position since October this year. Prior to joining Telstra in January 2017, Denholm was the Vice President, Chief Operations Officer, and Chief Financial Officer at Juniper Networks, a software and networking equipment company. She has also served on the board of ABB Ltd., a Swizz robotics, automation, and power company. Denholm is a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants ANZ.

Throughout her career, Denholm has earned the admiration of peers through her good governance and ethical business operations. “Robyn is fearless, but very practical. If she believes in something she fights for it — she’s not a pushover… She is always focused on ‘how are we going to fix this problem.’ Nothing is ever left unsaid and she will always speak up for customers, the business, and employees,” Joe Pollard, former chief marketing officer of Telstra, said to Business Live.

Denholm

Throughout her career, Denholm has earned the admiration of peers through her good governance and ethical business operations. (Image: Screenshot / YouTube)

Different approaches

A look at the business practices of Musk and Denholm reveal how different they are in their approach toward managing.

Musk is known to be obsessed with having a say in almost every decision at Tesla, micromanaging the company’s affairs so much that several people were reportedly not happy. “In conversations with 35 current and former Tesla employees, CEO Elon Musk is described as a polarizing figure who inspires, but micromanages to an extreme,” according to CNBC.

In contrast, Denholm is known to nurture people into powerful positions and delegate responsibility rather than trying to do everything by herself. “Fostering a community of peers is one of the most important things a mentor can do. Get people together and they can solve anything, whether they’re male or female,” she said in a 2016 interview. (CNBC)

According to the deal with the SEC, Musk is prohibited from being the Chair of the company for three years.

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