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Elon Musk Disputes Report James Murdoch Is Front-Runner to Replace Musk as Tesla Chairman

UPDATED: James Murdoch, 21st Century Fox’s chief exec and a member of Tesla’s board, is the leading candidate to become chairman of Tesla following Elon Musk’s deal with the SEC to step down from the role, according to a Financial Times report.

Musk, in response to the FT story, tweeted, “This is incorrect.” He didn’t elaborate.

Musk last month agreed to relinquish his role as chairman of electric-vehicle manufacturer Tesla for three years as part of an agreement with the SEC to resolve a securities-fraud case. He’s also paying a $20 million fine. Musk got into hot water with the U.S. regulator following his Aug. 7 tweet claiming that he had “funding secured” for a buyout of the tech company at $420 per share.

Observers noted that the joke-loving Musk posted his tweet denying the FT’s story at 4:20 p.m. PT — the time set aside in pot culture for toking up. According to the SEC’s complaint related to his tweet about Tesla going private, Musk calculated a 20% premium on Tesla’s share price at $419 but rounded it up to the $420 figure because he thought the marijuana reference would amuse his girlfriend.

Per the FT report, Murdoch has emerged as the top candidate for the Tesla chairman job, as the SEC is requiring the company appoint an independent chairman by mid-November under the terms of its agreement with Musk. Murdoch is said to be interested in taking the job, according to the report. However, the FT also cited an anonymous source as saying that “external options were still being considered.” Tesla also must appoint two additional independent directors under the SEC agreement.

The FT report follows a New York Times report last week that some Tesla directors had proposed Murdoch for the chairman role.

Murdoch’s emergence as the front-runner for the Tesla chairman seat is a turnabout, after he was targeted for removal from Tesla’s board as an independent director earlier this year by several proxy adviser groups pushing against his re-election.

Murdoch, at a recent Goldman Sachs event, spoke about working with Tesla and Musk. “What’s exciting about the company and about Elon is the goals are so audacious,” Murdoch said, as quoted in the FT report. “He’s an entrepreneur who has some really audacious goals about what can be created and what can be settled for.”

Murdoch will not join his father, Rupert Murdoch, and his brother Lachlan at “New Fox” — the entity remaining after 21CF’s sale of assets to Disney is completed. In addition, he stepped down as chairman of U.K.-based satellite TV operator Sky following its sale to Comcast.

Post-21st Century Fox, James Murdoch is reportedly considering setting up a technology investment fund. For 2017, his total compensation at 21st Century Fox climbed to $50.3 million, up from the $20.3 million the year prior.

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