Tesla's eccentric founder Elon Musk has been forced to relinquish one of his roles at the company, ceding his chairman’s position to Australian-born Robyn Denholm – who will vacate one of Telstra’s most senior jobs just a month after starting to take on the role with the controversial electric car-maker.
Mr Musk was forced to vacate the chairman’s position as part of a plea deal with US stock market security officials after he was accused of manipulating stock prices via a tweet about potential foreign investment in Tesla. As part of his punishment, he is barred from chairing Tesla for three years, but will keep his role as chief executive officer.
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Ms Denholm, who has been on Tesla’s board since 2014, only started her role as Telstra’s most senior financial officer in October, and will be required to serve a six-month notice period before she can start full-time at Tesla.
She spent the early part of her career at Toyota Australia as the national finance manager (reportedly the first woman to claim that role within the company), before moving into the IT sector with some of the world’s largest companies.
Born in Milperra in Sydney’s south-west, Ms Denholm worked alongside her parents at the family’s petrol station in her younger days, where her bookkeeping skills would eventually take her to the Universities of both NSW and Sydney for accounting and commerce degrees.
Her time at Tesla has been nothing if not exciting; as the first woman on the board, she is also the highest-paid, receiving a claimed A$70 million in stock options in 2015. Her salary for her new role will be a retainer of US$300,000 ($413,000) and 8000 stock options per year. Tesla shares are currently trading at around $300 each.
As well, she was recently part of a briefly-convened three-person committee that was set up to investigate taking Tesla private – seven days after Mr Musk tweeted that he had ‘Funding Secured’ to do so to his 23 million followers. The committee was disbanded after 17 days, with no resolution reached.
Some sectors of the automotive industry have questioned whether Tesla has missed an opportunity to broaden the company’s scope by not recruiting someone from outside its inner sanctum – in fact, James Murdoch, the British-born son of Australian media tycoon Rupert, was previously touted to take the chair.