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Tesla Names Robyn Denholm as Chairman to Replace Elon Musk (wsj.com)
97 points by dcgudeman 7 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 82 comments





Another Australian here, surprised to hear Tesla selecting someone with a background in such a reviled (in Australia) company, Telstra. It's like if Microsoft had picked a former Oracle exec to replace Balmer, except in a world where Oracle was also hated by the average Joe Blo, not just techies.

"Robyn joined Telstra in January 2017 as Chief Operations Officer (COO) and has been in the role of CFO since 1 October 2018."

https://www.telstra.com.au/aboutus/media/media-releases/Tels...

She was there < 2 years.


She's also ex-Juniper and Sun Microsystems.

Source: https://au.linkedin.com/in/robyn-denholm-a807795


My thoughts exactly. Telstra is a step below what even Comcast is in the USA. Unless their plan is to ruthlessly extract capitol at the expense of the customer, this is bad signalling at best, and more likely a shift to profit over vision. I'm honestly hoping they fold soon so someone can use the momentum they created as they seem intent on squandering it and their tech. Still waiting for the right to reapir your own car Tesla.

> I'm honestly hoping they fold soon so someone can use the momentum they created as they seem intent on squandering it and their tech.

Tesla folding would be the worse thing that could possible happen for EV adoption. No other successful car company is fully committed or deeply invested in EVs. GM and Nissan are making compliance cars that permit them to continue to make the same shitty ICE cars while still meeting fleet emissions standards.

I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that if the Trump administration keeps it's momentum then those compliance rules would vanish and GM would just fold up shop on the Bolt and possibly even the Volt.

Tesla kicking competitors in the nuts on performance while showing everyone that EVs are viable business model is the only thing pushing the rest of the automotive industry forward.

If Tesla went under then we'd see GM saying "See, EVs just aren't viable with the technology we have today."


> GM and Nissan are making compliance cars that permit them to continue to make the same shitty ICE cars while still meeting fleet emissions standards.

I don't know about GM, but that's incorrect about Nissan (at least in Japan). Nissan has bet big on EV and is bending over backwards to get people to buy them. They built a national recharging infrastructure with Mitsubishi. They offer unlimited charging for $30 per month and even had a promotion where they gave you free unlimited charging for 2 years! If loan money from them to buy a car, they even give you a rate on their EV that's slightly more than half of the rate they offer on their ICE cars.

They are probably doing almost nothing in the US, admittedly (I don't know, as I don't live there). But here in Japan, they are definitely and obviously all in on EV. It will be interesting to see what happens when Toyota and Mazda's joint venture starts producing EV cars (which I think is supposed to be in 2020). At the moment Toyota is crushing everybody (nearly twice as many cars as the nearest competitor) thanks to Prius sales. Once they offer an EV car, things will get interesting in Japan.


I'm not sure what you mean about "squandering it". They seem to have a pretty exciting roadmap of future vehicles and a viable plan to (mostly) self-finance. That last bit isn't ideal, but is probably necessary given the relatively low margins in the business and the cost of money.


[does double take] Denholm? #ITCrowd

Have you tried turning it off and back on again?

I posted this as a response to another comment, but I think it deserves a top level comment:

I just want to chime in here to say: when I recently tried to purchase an iPhone SE from Telstra's online store, the device was out of stock. They couldn't tell me when they expected to have it back in stock, or it was being end-of-lifed. No straight answers. I spent 15 hours, over two weeks, on the phone to Telstra trying to get the order cancelled and my money back. I gave up with that.

And went in to a Telstra owned Telstra store and politely but sternly demanded my money back by asking the managed to call his escalation point(s) until he found someone who could authorise the return of my money.

After half an hour he was asking me to leave and I repeatedly said "not until I have my money back". I wasn't being threatening at all, rather I was pleading with him to understand my position.

He picked up his mobile and said he was dialling the police.

That's how Telstra treats it's customers.

That's what Denholm is bring to the table: the worst customer experience in Australia with regard to telecommunications.

That's not just my opinion, Telstra has repeatedly been voted as the worst customer telco related experience in Australia for decades.


I've worked at Telstra so can shed some light on this.

1. Harassing retail staff for what is a corporate process problem is really inappropriate and pointless. I'm not surprised they called the police. Instead you should have called the TIO, ACCC or escalated via email.

2. The customer service issues at Telstra are incredibly deep and complex. It's a 40+ year old company where some of the processes still rely on dot matrix printers and faxes and there are thousands of IT systems. It's a mess. Call centres within Australia would do nothing to change the NPS which is why they were so easy to off-shore in the first place.

3. Telstra may not have a great customer service reputation. But they are one of the most revered telcos globally. They transitioned to 4G better than anyone and had the fastest network on the planet for quite some time. And they will do it again with 5G.

4. Denholm isn't hired to run customer service for Tesla. She was the CFO of a 40,000 odd employee highly technical, multi-faceted company e.g. their own venture fund. She also spent 7 years at Toyota so she has some automative experience as well as strong technical background.


> Harassing retail staff for what is a corporate process problem is really inappropriate and pointless

It's a natural human reaction. If you build a system that treats customers like shit, they will take it out on your front line staff. It's not because they're bad people, it's because you designed a business that treats customers like shit. It is not exactly surprising that a customer will not be polite to front line staff after wasting 4+ hours getting bounced around various useless departments on the phone beforehand. The blame lies on management, not on customers.


> Harassing retail staff

Asking to speak to a manager is not harassment.

> Instead you should have called the TIO, ACCC or escalated via email.

Not all of these are obvious actions when you're owed money and not getting a response from the obvious first lines of communication. Walking into a shop and asking to speak to a manager is, however, a natural next step.

> The customer service issues at Telstra are incredibly deep and complex.

That's not the fault of the customer.

> Telstra may not have a great customer service reputation. But they are one of the most revered telcos globally.

I've seen no evidence to support that in my line of work. Maybe "most revered in Asia" or "Australia" would be more accurate? Either way, "most revered telcos globally" is clearly an exaggeration.

> And they will do it again with 5G.

Pure speculation. Plus I happen to know a telco who's already begun the process of rolling out 5G transmitters. But I cannot say any more than that.


In what sense is asking someone to call their manager "harassment"?

If I call a customer service line and ask to escalate (because the bottom tier staff are useless and can only click the same buttons in a UI as I can anyway) is that harassment?

Why is it harassment for a customer to use the time of a company's employees (whilst they're on the clock), but not for a company to use the time of a customer for no reason at all, as a dark pattern to prevent customers from obtaining recourse?

A refund should be a simple matter. Cancel order, send payment, done. Without 50,000 levels of bureaucracy involved, in the UK it could be done via Faster Payments in one second.


>2. The customer service issues at Telstra are incredibly deep and complex. It's a 40+ year old company where some of the processes still rely on dot matrix printers and faxes and there are thousands of IT systems.

The fact that top management has allowed this mess to go on for so long says to me they decided to keep customer service bad because they could make more money that way.


You should have waited for the police to arrive and stated your case. A friend had a similar thing happen in a case of demanding rent from a ex room mate while I was with them. They threatened to call the police. I said go ahead. There was another witness present by myself so it wasn’t like they could claim falsely that my friend had done anything wrong. When the police arrived, I explained to them the situation and they told me my friend would not be able to demand the money then and there but asked to see the paperwork and once verified, explained to us the process for legally squeezing the money out of the room mate right in front of them. Needless to say, that shut the ex roomie up and they scraped together their share of rent within a week. Police will usually side with the law and they generally don’t like watching people get taken advantage of.

If people are in the store I’m responsible for and they blackmail me I would call security or the police, too. That‘s unacceptable behavior.

I understand your frustration, and it really sucks that Telstra put you into that situation, but that doesn’t make your behavior ok and excuse abuse of employees.


Who said anything about blackmail or abuse of employees? The GP said he asked to speak to a manager and, I quote, "wasn't being threatening at all."

I don't see an issue with refusing to leave a store when you're denied a refund you're legally owed. That's literally the least threatening form of protest one can make.


>I don't see an issue with refusing to leave a store when you're denied a refund you're legally owed.

The issue is you are literally trespassing at that point. It is illegal, you are committing a crime.

You can't take the law into your own hands. If you are "legally owed" a refund, you can take that to court, prove it, and receive judgment for your refund.

What you cannot do is judge for yourself that you are legally owed a refund and therefore entitled to stay in a retail store regardless of whether or not you are wanted there. That is not a protest, it is just exhibiting a shocking lack of self-awareness and -- trespassing.


> The issue is you are literally trespassing at that point. It is illegal, you are committing a crime.

Australian law might differ significantly to what I'm familiar with but my understanding is your two points here might not be true for someone who simply refuses to leave when asked:

I don't think a regular sales person has the authority to declare a customer as a trespasser. Wouldn't that have to come from the land owner - ie someone senior within the organisation? (assuming Telstra own the land - which isn't usually the case with shops anyway). There typically requires some formal warning too (I don't think a verbal "I'll call the police" counts, but I might be wrong). Plus if Telstra do own the land and then call someone senior then you've still won because the whole point of the sit in was to speak to a manager.

Also trespassing isn't automatically a crime. Not all offences are criminal offences thus you can be breaking the law without committing a crime. Trespassing is one of those laws that can be a criminal offence but it's not automatically one. I very much doubt someone politely refusing to leave is automatically a criminal offence.

> That is not a protest, it is just exhibiting a shocking lack of self-awareness and -- trespassing.

The two aren't mutually exclusive.


So nothing illegal (however technically) can be a protest? Rosa Parks might have something to say about that.

Except that for many companies e.g. Apple, Telstra the retail stores are not the same legal entity as the company who owes you the money. Telstra's retail structure for example is mostly franchise.

So you may as well just go to McDonalds and ask them for a refund.


I understand your point however the GP did say he went to a Telstra owned store.

This is not abuse of employees, this is abuse of customers.

Define blackmail.

> That's what Denholm is bring to the table: the worst customer experience in Australia with regard to telecommunications

Being charitable, its possible that the reason she was there for less than 2 years was that she disliked the culture and found herself unable to change it.


She was the CFO there not the CEO, how does this reflect on her performance?

She's signing off on paying for the delivery of incredibly bad customer service.

Outsource everything to call centres where the agents have no authority to resolve an out of the ordinary issue and have difficulty escalating out of the ordinary issues to someone who can fix it.

How does the operation of a business not reflect on the whole C-suite? Who else is responsible?


If you paid them and they refuse to deliver, couldn't you sue them for fraud?

I got the money back 16 days and 15+ hrs on the phone and one police threat later.

Ultimately the amount of money we're talking about is trivial to me, but that's not the point.

Telsa already has a bad reputation for after sales support and spare parts. They're not doing themselves any favours here.


At least this is rather straight to fix in the us. Not related to the post itself, but in the us you just resolve the issue with your credit card company by filing a dispute.

I did this too. I was advised estimated time to resolve if successful is forty days and dependent on the other party agreeing they’ve made a mistake.

For disputes, the onus is on the merchant to prove they did not make a mistake.

In most companies, the CEO reports to the chairman of the board and the chairman of the board reports to the shareholders ( particularly the major shareholders ).

The biggest TSLA shareholder is elon musk and many of the large shareholders are friends/backers of elon musk.

So this is a purely superficial move for optics.

She gets a nice sinecure with a fat paycheck. Musk gets the feds off his back.


That's not how it works.

The CEO reports to the board. The Chairman reports to the board. The board reports to the shareholders but only indirectly via shareholder meetings where votes will decide on renumeration, board composition etc.


> The Chairman reports to the board.

The chairman is the head of the board. He doesn't report to the board. He, along with the rest of the directors, reports to the shareholders.

The chairman has a fiduciary duty to the shareholders, not to his fellow board members.


The chairman is typically elected by the board, but there's a lot of variety. Some smaller ones just make a schedule early to basically rotate through members for two years periods. I think there's a lot of variety in this part depending on the company, board, shareholders, etc.

I doubt Musk is stupid enough to do this. I’m sure Tesla is complying with the order.

Denholm!

Offer them a nice cup of tea...

I hope he doesn't find his dads old service revolver.

I call John Sculley.

He was CEO; she's chair of the board. No valid comparison.

I just meant as a general trajectory. The board is losing faith in the founder. Not a good sign. Rarely ever is.

Side note: I'm pretty sure we've interacted somewhere else online. Either on HN or reddit.


Tesla needed a new chairman as part of their SEC settlemant for Musk’s tweet.

Well aware of that. They (board) were a tad too eager to see this happen and only 'supported' him begrudgingly.

They’ve... seen Telstra’s share price, right?

Telstra's major asset is a large copper telecommunications network. The government, as a matter of policy, is tearing that network up and replacing it with a publicly owned fiber network. This is not a great situation for Telstra, to say the least.

This has been going on for a while, but a hazy memory suggests there have been shenanigans afoot regarding cash compensation for the damage done - that could cause all sorts of gyrations in the share price. At any rate, the market has become so political I wouldn't read too much in to Telstra's share price without having a detailed understanding of the situation. The board is not in control of the political process.


Your assessment isn't correct at all.

Telstra sold the copper network to NBN in 2014. And NBN isn't replacing that network at all. They are still using it for FTTC, FTTN and FTTB which will make up the large bulk of the NBN rollout along with HFC which they acquired from Optus.

And it's widely known in the industry that Telstra is positioning itself to potentially buy back the NBN given they recently split the company into two: Retail and Operations.


Forgive me if I have any misconceptions or out-of-date knowledge, but while Testra owned the copper telephone network (including, I believe, the copper cabling within everybody's houses), it's only FTTN that uses the traditional copper network -- as it uses copper cabling between the premises and the node (with the node being those above-ground grey pillar box in every suburb, I believe).

FTTC and FTTB don't use the much of the copper network at all: the only copper cabling in FTTC is between the end-user's premises and the small underground pit on every block (a very short stretch for vectored VDSL2 signals at 100 Mbit/s duplex). FTTB is fibre optic cabling to an apartment building, so the only copper cabling there is within the building.

(Side note: From my past research, FTTC with vectored VDSL2 seemed like a great cost-effective technology: leveraging a small amount of pre-existing copper cabling to save digging up every garden in Australia to install the final few meters fibre-optic cabling, with the optional upgrade path to full FTTP being allowed to be done at any time into the future, if a households willing to pay for the upgrade.)


I can't remember where Telstra's ownership stopped whether it was to the first in-house socket or to the curb. It's all a bit irrelevant now as NBN owns the network and its problems.

Because what NBN is finding is that the last bit of copper is actually responsible for a lot of the problems. And so even though FTTC for example should be seeing significantly better results than FTTN in fact it isn't the case. So much so that NBN is looking at whether to go into people's houses to fix up the wiring.

FTTC is definitely a better option than FTTN especially since with G.Fast you are able to attain 1Gbit/s speeds.


> I can't remember where Telstra's ownership stopped whether it was to the first in-house socket or to the curb.

It's at the Network Boundary Point (NBP), which varies from premises to premises.

Free-standing houses that are more than 5-10 years old, it'll probably be the first socket. For newer houses, there's a NBP that's either on the side of the house, or near the edge of the property.

For Strata / Multiple-Dwelling Properties, it may be a Distribution Frame.

Way back in the 90s, before Telecom Australia became Telstra, the ownership of all the internal wiring (defined as anything from the NBP onwards) was transferred to the owner of the premises. This was part of the competition stuff - allowing competitive bids on builds for wiring new premises, business, etc.


> Telstra sold the copper network to NBN in 2014.

Yeah, hence the big cash payout. 2014 is associated with the peak share price by 1-2 years, so they might have been given a big cash infusion, share price jumps, returned it to the shareholders slowly over a couple of years because they specialise in network maintenance which is no longer a competitive advantage.

> They are still using it for FTTC, FTTN and FTTB which will make up the large bulk of the NBN rollout along with HFC which they acquired from Optus.

My parents house was connected to the NBN, their copper landline was disconnected, as was everyone on their street (they had no choice in the matter). And FTTC, FTTN and FTTB all involve ripping a lot of copper out of the ground to be replaced by fiber.


Shenanigans is an understatement. The government "compensated" Telstra for giving up it's network monopoly and after dropping Labor's plan of fiber to the property for existing connections bought the copper network anyway so Telstra double dipped.

I've already had my NBN connection out for a whole week due to a failure in the copper.


So previously a private company monopolized the business and now government would monopolize it. I wonder which one is the worse...

The private company was privatised after previously being a government run organisaion. They floated it to get a bunch of income, but the nature of large infrastructure is that it's incredibly costly to build a new network. Thus, Telstra simultaneously acted as a private company (trying to deliver returns to shareholders) whilst being this sort of Frankenstein's monster of regulated wholesale monopoly, which hamstrung Australian broadband development something incredible.

What many people don't know as well was that Telstra was subject to a Structural Separation Undertaking which meant that their Operations arm of the business would treat their Retail arm as like a seperate company. Otherwise it would be unfair for competitors.

Except that this was routinely broken meaning the entire telecommunications market was constantly distorted. It really was the worst of all worlds.


The private company one is worse

It's been an issue long before the NBN. Even after the dot-com bust, through the ADSL roll-out era where their wholesale arm had a stranglehold on the network, plus the high speed cable network from Foxtel, they've consistently mismanaged themselves and failed to deliver for shareholders despite their incredible advantages relative to other players.

For example, the T2 float in 1999 was done at about $7.50. It took until about 2014 for the dividend yields to stack up enough that when combined with the share price, T2 shareholders could break even in nominal (not real) terms.

Telstra's management, given its position of advantage in the Aussie telco industry, has been a shambles for a lot longer than the NBN.


I just want to chime in here to say: when I recently tried to purchase an iPhone SE from Telstra's online store, the device was out of stock. They couldn't tell me when they expected to have it back in stock, or it was being end-of-lifed. No straight answers.

I spent 15 hours, over two weeks, on the phone to Telstra trying to get the order cancelled and my money back. I gave up with that.

And went in to a Telstra owned Telstra store and politely but sternly demanded my money back by asking the managed to call his escalation point(s) until he found someone who could authorise the return of my money.

After half an hour he was asking me to leave and I repeatedly said "not until I have my money back". I wasn't being threatening at all, rather I was pleading with him to understand my position.

He picked up his mobile and said he was dialling the police.

That's how Telstra treats it's customers.


Who are "They" and what does the share price have to do with a new Chairman being appointed?

The rest of the board, and supposedly Musk is being replaced to get a little bit more financial responsibility in Tesla. If Ms. Denholm has a bad track record, then that might not be good news, but I would assume Ms. Denholm was not an impulsive choice, and the board has good reason to seperate her abilities from Telstra's bad performance.

It's a self fulfilling prophecy: companies that aren't doing good hire certain C-execs to turn things around, and they don't always succeed. Robyn in particular was hired in the middle of current Telstra drop.

> The rest of the board, and supposedly Musk is being replaced to get a little bit more financial responsibility in Tesla.

He’s being replaced as consideration for a settlement agreement with the SEC.

It seems likely Tesla chose Denholm because they have a bad PR problem, and it will be difficult for media companies to portray her as a villain.


Difficult to portray her as a villain?

Telstra is widely regarded as the worst company in Australia to deal with as a residential customer.


I'm referring to the kind of vilification that would cause brand damage for Tesla, so consumer-facing vilification.

Consumer-facing vilification in US media isn't really about what the person has done or what kind of person they are, it's more about what form of caricature can be depicted of them based on racial, gendered, and political stereotypes.

Denholm doesn't fit into a category of race, gender, and political affiliation that easily lends itself to a villainous caricature, and to the contrary does fit into such a category that would make it broadly unacceptable to consumers for a media company to create a villainous caricature of her. In other words, if a media company attempted to do so, it would damage the media company's consumer brand instead of Tesla's. This creates a disincentive protecting Tesla from attacks from media companies (all of which have a great financial interest in oil and legacy automakers, and very little financial interest in Tesla).

This is an increasingly common consideration for organizations responding to or seeking to preempt PR issues, especially for publicly traded companies with consumer brands, and other frequent targets of the media companies (such as police departments, private health insurance companies, and educational institutions).


There are far worse companies than Telstra e.g. banks, life insurance.

And she was the CFO so she isn't responsible for customer service.


Perhaps compared to James Murdoch, who was also rumoured to be in contention, she’s less easy to portray as a villain.

But she is easy to cast as an ‘insider’, which is not what many thought ‘an independent Chairman’ meant. The cynics might suggest that Tesla chose her because she is less likely to rock the boat.


.. which is odd, given how much of a villain she is in the Australian context.

And you'll asses his "financial responsibility" based on the short-term movements of a stock in a regulation-first market?

I'm not assessing anything, I think the guy is the greatest person ever put on this planet. I'm just saying what I think the board is doing.

"The announcement late Wednesday comes ahead of a Nov. 13 deadline that was part of Mr. Musk’s settlement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to end claims he misled investors. That deal required Mr. Musk to step aside as head of the board for three years in favor of an independent chairman."

He is being forced out due to legal issues, I don't think it's a statement from the board against Musk specifically


She does not even have a Wikipedia page.

> Ms. Denholm, the chief financial officer of Australian telecommunications firm Telstra Corp., has served on Tesla’s board since 2014 but has fewer ties to Mr. Musk than most of the company’s directors.

Yin and yang


Awesome Recode Decode interview featuring Musk from last week : https://www.recode.net/2018/11/2/18053428/recode-decode-full...

I'm not sure how you can like this interview. It's extremely combative and the questions from the interviewer seem childish like she is deliberately not listening to Elon's answers. I'm no Elon fan but this is impossible to listen to.

Kara Swisher is like that sometimes, and I don't like it too. On Steve Jobs last interview to her and Mossberg, Mossberg was trying to capture how Steve thinks, but Kara was only interested in the current event of apple dropping google on the maps app.

Sometimes? She is always like that. Once she has someone in her grip, she won't let go, ever. I don't understand how she can be so one-sided as a journalist, if we can even call what she does journalism.

A few years ago she decided she'd get Uber down. Oh boy. Every single thing she was writing was worst than a People magazine article about the Kardashians. 0 objectivity. Straight up fake news, etc.


>0 objectivity. Straight up fake news

Please post a link to an article written by Swisher on Uber that had absolutely "zero objectivity".

This trend of calling articles you disagree with or mediocre journalism "fake news" is frightening.


I really liked how Musk handled himself. Combative and stern at times, especially when Kara Swisher said she doesn’t own an electric car :). Overall not a great interview. She kept harping on Model 3 production. I hate it when interviewers try to dissect the past. It’s more exciting to talk about the future, get Musk thinking.. but no let’s just dig about the past.

Or ask questions that have already been asked asked multiple times in other interviews. Even worse, asking questions that Musk has addressed in his Public Releases. You are interviewing one of the top CEO's of the current times who has little time as it, please stop having him repeat himself. I get that maybe your audience hasn't watched hours of his interviews/public releases but it still irks me so much



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