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Tesla Names Telstra’s Robyn Denholm Chair, Passing Over James Murdoch

James Murdoch was reportedly the front-runner to be named chairman of Tesla’s board to replace Elon Musk — but the electric-vehicle maker has steered in a different direction.

Late Wednesday, Tesla announced that it has appointed board member Robyn Denholm, CFO and head of strategy at Australian telecom provider Telstra, as its chair effective immediately. Denholm, who has served on Tesla’s board since, 2014 will exit Telstra after a six-month period to serve as Tesla’s chair full-time.

Musk in September agreed to step down as chairman of Tesla for three years as part of an SEC settlement over a securities-fraud case, after the tech mogul’s Aug. 7 tweet claiming that he had “funding secured” for a buyout of the tech company at $420 per share. Under the SEC agreement, Tesla also must appoint two additional independent directors.

Last month, the Financial Times reported that James Murdoch, currently 21st Century Fox’s CEO and a member of Tesla’s board, was the leading candidate to become chairman of Tesla. Musk, in response to the report, had tweeted, “This is incorrect.”

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

Denholm has held management roles at various technology companies, including Telstra, Juniper Networks and Sun Microsystems. She also held multiple finance-management roles while working at Toyota. As part of her appointment as Tesla’s chair, Denholm will temporarily step down as chair of the board’s audit committee until she leaves Telstra.

In a statement, Denholm said, “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.”

FT’s report last month about Murdoch being the top candidate for the Tesla chair seat also said “external options were still being considered.” Murdoch will not join his father, Rupert Murdoch, and his brother Lachlan at “New Fox,” the company that will remain after 21CF’s sale of assets to Disney is completed. In addition, James Murdoch stepped down as chairman of Sky following its sale to Comcast.

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