Robyn Denholm has a tough job. She has figure out how to be Elon Musk’s first boss.
The Australian telecom executive is taking over from Musk as chairman of Tesla. She immediately assumes the role, but will spend six months transitioning into the full-time job.
Musk was forced out of the Tesla chairmanship as part of a settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission for providing incorrect information to investors when he said he had “funding secured” to take Tesla private.
As Musk’s new boss, Denholm will be a pioneer of sorts. Musk has been the driving force behind numerous companies, including PayPal, Tesla, SpaceX and The Boring Company, but he’s never really had to answer to a superior.
Denholm — who is walking away from her position as CFO of Australian telecommunications company Telstra — will have a full plate.
Here are the biggest challenges she faces:
Get Musk to behave.
Taming Musk’s sometimes outrageous behavior — especially on Twitter — is part of the settlement with the SEC.
It requires the company to “implement mandatory procedures and controls to oversee all of Elon Musk’s communications regarding the company made in any format.”
But getting him to behave won’t necessarily be easy. Musk told Recode last week that he would continue to tweet in much the same way and only avoid tweeting things that “might cause a substantial movement” in Tesla stock during the trading day.
“I tweet interesting things pretty much as they come to me, and probably with not much of a filter,” he told Recode. But Denholm will need to make sure he does, in fact, exercise some degree of caution.
Hire an adult to help run the company on a day-to-day basis.
Several investors and analysts have argued this move is long overdue. Successful tech companies such as Google (GOOG) and Facebook (FB) hired experienced hands like Eric Schmidt and Sheryl Sandberg to help bring order to the creative chaos at the companies.
A similar hire by Tesla could stabilize a revolving door of top executive talent at the automaker.
Musk has worked well with such an experienced hand at SpaceX, relying on its president Gwynne Shotwell to run the company while he spends at least 80 hours a week at Tesla. He’s shown no willingness to bring in this kind of help at Tesla, but Denholm should put such a person in place — whether Musk likes it or not.
Figure out what company should build next
The company’s Model 3 is a hit, and the company has finally figured out how to build enough of them to make a profit. But what’s next for Tesla? Musk keeps trotting out ideas for future vehicles without offering specifics.
All we know is the Model Y is promised to be available for sale in 2020, and the pickup some undetermined time after that.
But a clear timeline on vehicle plans would be helpful, not only for potential customers and investors but the company itself. Tesla has had plenty of problems meeting deadlines: it missed a number of production targets for Model 3s before finally hitting its goal in July.
To keep on track, decisions should be based on what makes sense from a business standpoint, not what is catching Musk’s fancy at the moment.
However, Musk told Recode that he might want to build a version of the pickup that will be a “really futuristic … cyberpunk, ‘Blade Runner’ pickup truck.” He added, “I actually don’t know if a lot of people will buy this pickup truck or not, but I don’t care.”
It’s going to be Denholm’s job to care what people want to buy, and to make sure Tesla stays focused — along with Musk too.