Tesla names Oracle’s Larry Ellison, Walgreens executive to board as part of SEC settlement

Tesla has added two independent directors to its board — Oracle founder, chairman and CTO Larry Ellison and Walgreens executive Kathleen Wilson-Thompson — as part of a settlement with U.S. securities regulators over CEO Elon Musk’s infamous tweets about taking the company private.

The pair joined the board as of December 27, Tesla said in an announcement early Friday morning. Kathleen Wilson-Thompson is currently executive vice president and global chief human resources officer of Walgreens Boots Alliance. She also sits on public boards at two U.S.-based manufacturing companies.

The Tesla board, led by its Nominating and Corporate Governance Committee, said it considered candidates with a “wide range of skill sets” from across the globe who also hold a strong personal belief in Tesla’s mission of accelerating the world’s transition to sustainable energy.

Ellison isn’t just a Tesla “believer,” he’s also a friend and ally of Musk. Ellison came to Musk’s defense during an analyst meeting in October and disclosed that Tesla is his second-largest investment. Ellison purchased 3 million Tesla shares earlier this year.

The Oracle founder also spent $1.9 million on a microgrid energy system from Tesla in 2017 for a greenhouse farming project in Lanai, according to a regulatory filing. The farming project is part of another Ellison company called Sensei that he co-founded with friend  David Agus, an author and professor of medicine at USC.

Sensei is a new L.A.-based wellness brand that will focus first on developing hydroponic farms. Its first project involves building a hydroponic farm of undisclosed size on the Hawaiian island of Lanai, which Ellison acquired for $300 million back in 2012. Sensei president Dan Gruneberg told TechCrunch that the farm will focus on nutrition per acre, a selling point for the fruits and vegetables it plans to sell to restaurants and retailers under the brand Sensei Farms.

“In conducting a widespread search over the last few months, we sought to add independent directors with skills that would complement the current board’s experience. In Larry and Kathleen, we have added a preeminent entrepreneur and a human resources leader, both of whom have a passion for sustainable energy,” Tesla’s Board of Directors said in a prepared statement.

The appointments closes a dramatic year for Tesla and Musk, who reached a settlement with the SEC in September that included he step down as chairman of the board and pay a $20 million fine. The SEC filed a complaint earlier this year alleging that Musk lied when he tweeted on August 7 that he had “funding secured” for a private takeover of the company at $420 per share.

Musk has remained CEO and still has a seat on the board. Tesla also agreed to name two independent directors to the board.

Tesla paid a separate $20 million penalty. The SEC said the charge and fine against Tesla is for failing to require disclosure controls and procedures relating to Musk’s tweets.

Tesla’s fulfillment of the agreement with the SEC marks the beginning of a new era of corporate governance for Tesla, which some shareholders have argued is too tightly controlled by Musk and others closely aligned to him, such as his brother Kimbal Musk.

In 2017, Tesla diversified its board and added James Rupert Murdoch, the CEO of Twenty-First Century Fox Inc., and Linda Johnson Rice, chairman and CEO of Johnson Publishing Company.

Other board members include: Robyn Denholm, who joined the board in 2014; Brad W. Buss, who has been on since 2009; Antonio Gracias; and Ira Ehrenpreis, one of longest-serving board members, who joined in 2007. Denholm was named Tesla chairman in October.