Tesla names Robyn Denholm as chairwoman, succeeding Elon Musk

Tesla's board has named Robyn Denholm as chairman to replace Elon Musk, complying with terms of a fraud settlement with US securities regulators.
Tesla's board has named Robyn Denholm as chairman to replace Elon Musk, complying with terms of a fraud settlement with US securities regulators. Tesla Inc. via Associated Press

Tesla named Robyn Denholm, a board member since 2014 and a longtime technology and telecommunications executive, as its chairwoman Wednesday night, as the company tries to move beyond regulatory troubles and concerns about its stability under Elon Musk, its colorful but erratic co-founder.

The electric-car company said that Denholm would replace Musk in that position. Musk will remain Tesla’s chief executive. Denholm is the chief financial officer of Telstra, which dominates telecommunications in Australia.

The move to replace Musk as chairman was part of a settlement reached with securities regulators in the United States in September to deal with the fallout from his Twitter post in August that he had secured funding for a private buyout of the company. That claim quickly fell into doubt. (Musk later explained in a blog post that discussions with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund led him to believe that it had both money and enthusiasm for such a deal.)

Under that settlement, Tesla agreed to add two independent directors to its board and to name a new chairman, splitting those responsibilities from Musk’s post as chief executive. The company was also required to set up a permanent committee to monitor Musk’s public declarations, including his tweets.


Tesla’s new chairwoman has an extensive background in technology. Before her current position at Telstra, Denholm was an executive at Juniper Networks, which makes computer networking equipment, for about a decade.

Tesla said the appointment takes immediate effect and Denholm would step down from her role at Telstra once her six-month notice period is complete.

Musk heralded the change in typical fashion — with a tweet.

In the Tesla announcement, Musk cited her experience and years with his company. “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.”


Musk has galvanized investors and the public imagination with his sleek electric cars and his big dreams for space travel and other ambitions. But his public declarations increasingly unnerved Tesla shareholders and the board directors who represent them. Production problems at Tesla only added to those concerns.

In addition to his troublesome tweet about a buyout, Musk showed other signs of stress. He had a nasty social media battle with a British diver involved in the daring rescue of 12 boys in a flooded cave in Thailand this summer — a spat he had to quickly walk back.

In August, Musk told The New York Times that this year “has been the most difficult and painful year of my career,” in part because of the pressure of running Tesla, and that he sometimes took the insomnia drug Ambien to sleep. Some board members worried the drug was contributing to his late-night Twitter sessions.

In September, he appeared to briefly smoke marijuana during an interview with Joe Rogan, a comedian. (The interview took place in California, where recreational marijuana use is legal.)

The settlement reached in September with the Securities and Exchange Commission was intended to lay to rest some of those concerns. Last month, Tesla posted positive financial results, suggesting it is beginning to resolve some of its problems.