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Telstra CFO to replace Elon Musk as Tesla chairwoman

Robyn Denholm has been named Tesla chairwoman
Andrew Chesterton
Contributing journalist

9 Nov 2018 • 3 min read

The Australian CFO of Telstra has been named as Elon Musk's replacement, with Robyn Denholm to take on the role of chair of the board at Tesla.

Denholm will replace Musk effective immediately. The EV company’s founder will remain as CEO, but will relinquish his chair duties as part of an agreement with the US Securities and Exchange Commission following its investigation into a series of Tweets in which he suggested he had the financial backing to take the company private.

As part of settling the ensuing fraud investigation, Musk agreed to stand down as the company’s chairman (and to pay personal and company fines of US$20m each).

Denholm has been a member of Tesla’s board since 2014, but was juggling double duties as Telstra's Chief Financial Officer in Australia. The University of Sydney-educated director has now resigned, and is currently working out a six-month notice period.

Interestingly, the 55-year-old only took the job as CFO of Australia’s biggest telecommunications company in October - and had ruled herself out of the running for the Tesla job as a result. But she clearly changed her mind at some point over the past four weeks.

“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 release today, Tesla pointed to Denholm’s extensive experience in both Silicon Valley and the automotive space, having held senior positions with Telstra, Juniper Networks, and Sun Microsystems, as well as Toyota.

Tesla also points out that Musk will act in a support and advisory role over the next six months before Denholm takes over the position full-time.

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

The promotion is unlikely to harm Denholm's bank balance. Court documents viewed by the Sydney Morning Herald reveal she earned almost US$5 million as a regular director of the EV company in 2017.

In happy news for Denholm, Tesla has finally reported its long-promised profit, with third-quarter results showing the manufacture had at last landed in the black, recording a reported profit of $311.5 million for the quarter.

Is Tesla's recent profit a sign of bright times ahead? Or merely a blip? Tell us in the comments below.