Telstra chief financial officer Robyn Denholm is leaving the telecommunications giant to replace Elon Musk as chairman of Tesla.

Ms Denholm joined Telstra in January 2017 after returning from the United States where she was chief financial officer at Juniper Networks and has remained on the board of Tesla since joining in 2014. She become Telstra CFO and chief operating officer under an executive shake-up in July.

Mr Musk was forced to step down as chairman of Tesla after agreeing to a $US40 million settlement with the US Securities and Exchange Commission where the regulator alleged he misled investors with statements on Twitter declaring he had secured finance for a buyout of Tesla.

“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,” Ms Denholm said.

Part of the settlement included Mr Musk giving up his dual role of chairman and chief executive. Mr Musk remains CEO. It had been rumoured that James Murdoch, son of Rupert Murdoch and ongoing 21st Century Fox CEO, might replace Mr Musk as chairman.

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Ms Denholm has been on Tesla’s board since 2014. She will serve out six months at Telstra and will leave on May 6, 2019. However, her chairmanship of Tesla will begin November 13.

“To ensure a smooth transition during the remainder of Robyn’s time at Telstra, Elon will be a resource to Robyn and provide any support that she requests in her role as chair,” Tesla said in a statement.

“Robyn will continue to provide the necessary focus and time to Telstra during the remainder of her time there, and she will also temporarily step down as Chair of Tesla’s Audit Committee until she leaves Telstra.”

The loss of Ms Denholm is a blow to Telstra and its chief executive Andy Penn, with the telco at a critical juncture as it seeks to implement a radical turnaround plan, labelled Telstra2022.

Ms Denholm was already being spoken about as a potential successor to Mr Penn.

“We are sorry to see Robyn leave Telstra. We know that it has become increasingly difficult to balance her responsibilities as Telstra CFO with the increased activity of the Tesla Board.” Mr Penn said.

“We are undertaking a search for a new chief financial officer and will provide an update on a replacement appointment as soon as possible.”

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