Tesla: James Murdoch firming as chairman candidate

Wanted at Tesla: A manager who can handle Elon Musk

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.

Elon Musk has denied a report in the Financial Times that James Murdoch is poised to replace him as chairman of Tesla. The SEC intends to distribute the penalties to affected investors, it said.

Murdoch, the CEO of Twenty-First Century Fox Inc. and a Tesla board member, is the lead candidate for the job, the Financial Times said, citing two people briefed on the discussions. Tesla did not respond to a request for comment. Gracias is also a stakeholder in Musk's other major venture SpaceX, which makes his independence less than clear.

Musk agreed he would step down as chairman by mid-November but remain as chief executive officer, after he and Tesla reached a settlement with U.S. financial watchdog the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) last month in which they agreed to pay $20m each to financial regulators. The deal with the SEC eased uncertainty over Tesla's future because the agency's lawsuit initially sought to bar Musk from serving as an officer or director of a public company, a prospect that rattled investors.

"The question when it comes to James Murdoch is, 'Is he the guy who'll be able to establish that level of authority with Elon Musk?'" asked Abby Adlerman, CEO of Boardspan, a corporate governance consulting company.

James Murdoch could become the next head of Tesla's board of directors.

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Earlier this year, the leading U.S. proxy advisors Glass Lewis & Co and International Shareholder Services, along with the union-affiliated investment advisor CtW Investment Group, all recommended that investors vote "against" Mr Murdoch's re-election as a Tesla director during the companies annual June 5 meeting.

While the latter cited a lack of relevant experience and a "troubled history as an executive and director", both proxy firms warned that Murdoch already served on too many boards. According to Variety, Murdoch is also mulling the possibility of setting up a technology investment fund, which would presumably dovetail nicely with a Tesla chairmanship.

Murdoch was forced out as chairman of Sky, then BSkyB, in 2012 after being embroiled in Britain's phone-hacking scandal.

In a vote of confidence for Musk, shareholder T. Rowe Price Group Inc said in a regulatory filing on Wednesday that it had raised its stake by almost half to 10.2 per cent at the end of September from just under 7 per cent in June.

He returned in 2016 after working for several years at Fox. One of the FT's sources said external candidates were still being considered.

Mr Murdoch is now chief executive of the United States media giant 21st Century Fox, but he will step down after the firm completes the sale of much of its business to Walt Disney.

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