Late last night, Tesla announced that Robyn Denholm has been named Chair of the Tesla board, replacing Elon Musk, effective immediately.
Denholm, the CFO of telecommunications firm Telstra, is unique among Tesla's board members as having actually worked in the automotive business — at Toyota Motor Corporation Australia — earlier in her career.
Musk is being replaced as part of an SEC settlement for the CEO's infamous and expensive "funding secured" tweet. (The timeline of that saga is here.)
A new chairman could conceivably rein in Musk or adjust Musk's role at the world's most drama-filled electric vehicle maker. Musk, still the firm's largest shareholder, stays on as CEO and keeps a board seat.
An independent director with automotive experience
Denholm will be leaving her role as CFO and head of strategy at Australian telecommunications giant Telstra in six months to serve as Tesla’s Chair on a full-time basis. She has served on the Tesla board as an independent director since 2014 and has held staff and executive roles at Juniper Networks, Sun Microsystems and Toyota.
According to a Tesla spokesperson, Denholm will receive 8,000 stock options each year and a cash retainer of $300,000 upon leaving Telstra to take on this new role.
This announcement counters the rumors reported earlier by The New York Times and The Financial Times that Tesla non-executive director and Murdoch media-empire scion James Murdoch was the lead candidate for the chairman role. Other names that had been floated as potential Musk replacements are former Ford Motor chief Alan Mulally, former Boeing CEO Jim McNerney and Fidelity Investments CEO Abigail Johnson.
In addition to replacing Musk as chair, the SEC settlement requires two more independent directors and a securities lawyer to act as a Twitter-sitter for Musk.
The boardroom drama will continue
The drama at the board level is set to continue. There are two more independent directors to be added. And the SEC is still a factor — Tesla received a subpoena last week from the SEC concerning Model 3 production forecasts in 2017, according to The Verge.
And pressure on the board from shareholders is still a factor. Last week, an important set of investors sent Tesla’s three independent directors (including Ms. Denholm) a list of demands in a letter. The signers of the letter are in charge of some of the nation's larger state and city pension funds, including California State Teachers’ Retirement System. Combined, the signers hold an estimated $322 million in Tesla stock. They called for timelines on the departures of board directors Antonio Gracias, Kimbal Musk and Steve Jurvetson and asked for Tesla to find directors with experience that “specifically match[es] the company’s strategy and current skill sets.”