Telstra CFO steps down to take Tesla chair

Following Elon Musk's $40 million settlement with the SEC that saw him step down as Tesla chair, Telstra CFO Robyn Denholm has taken up the role.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Telstra's newly appointed CFO Robyn Denholm has stepped down from her position at Australia's largest telecommunications carrier to accept an appointment as Tesla chair.

Denholm will step into the Tesla role on November 13, but will continue as Telstra CFO for six months, until May 6.

"To ensure that any new commitments as Tesla board chair will not detract from her ability to focus on her responsibilities as the Telstra CFO during this six-month notice period, Tesla will be asking another board director to support Robyn by taking on the majority of her chairman responsibilities," Telstra said in a statement to the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX).

"Robyn will also be stepping down from her other Tesla board committee responsibilities during this time."

Denholm has served as an independent director on the Tesla board since 2014.

"To ensure a smooth transition during the remainder of Robyn's time at Telstra, Elon will be a resource to Robyn and provide any support that she requests in her role as chair," Tesla said.

"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," Elon Musk added.

"I look forward to working even more closely with Robyn as we continue accelerating the advent of sustainable energy."

Former COO Denholm had been appointed as Telstra's new chief financial officer and head of strategy in July, when the telco announced leadership changes amid its Telstra2022 restructure that will see 8,000 jobs axed in total.

Former CFO Warwick Bray had been axed at the same time after being in the role since 2015.

"We are undertaking a search for a new chief financial officer and will provide an update on a replacement appointment as soon as possible," Telstra CEO Andy Penn said on Thursday.

The appointment of Denholm comes as Musk stepped down as Tesla chair following a tweet in August that led to a stoush with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

The tweet, which saw Musk hint at plans to take Tesla private, had led the SEC to charge the founder with securities fraud.

"Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured," Musk had tweeted. "Shareholders could either to sell at 420 or hold shares & go private."

The tweet had caused stock fluctuations, while multiple investors confirmed that meetings with the Tesla CEO had taken place to discuss taking the company private.

Read more: SEC sues Elon Musk over "misleading tweets"

"As a public company, we are subject to wild swings in our stock price that can be a major distraction for everyone working at Tesla, all of whom are shareholders. Being public also subjects us to the quarterly earnings cycle that puts enormous pressure on Tesla to make decisions that may be right for a given quarter, but not necessarily right for the long term," Musk then said in an email to Tesla employees.

"Finally, as the most shorted stock in the history of the stock market, being public means that there are large numbers of people who have the incentive to attack the company."

According to the SEC, the tweet "led to significant market disruption", violating securities laws.

The SEC settled the matter with Musk, charging him $20 million and Tesla an additional $20 million.

At the same time, Musk agreed to step down as Tesla chair, and to not seek re-election for a period of at least three years.

"As a result of the settlement, Elon Musk will no longer be chairman of Tesla, Tesla's board will adopt important reforms -- including an obligation to oversee Musk's communications with investors -- and both will pay financial penalties," SEC Enforcement Division co-director Steven Peikin said.

"The resolution is intended to prevent further market disruption and harm to Tesla's shareholders."

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