From helping out at her parents western Sydney service station to heading up one of the world’s most talked-about car manufacturers, Robyn Denholm’s rise to the top of Tesla is an Australian success story.
The electric car manufacturer announced on November 7 US time (November 8 in Australia) that Ms Denholm, currently the chief financial officer and head of strategy with Telstra, has taken on the mantle of the business’ chair.
It’s just the latest senior appointment in an illustrious career spanning three decades and almost as many continents.
The New Daily decided to take a look at the dynamic Australian businesswoman, mother, and golfing enthusiast that just become one of the technology industry’s most important players.
Who is Robyn Denholm?
Ms Denholm grew up in the quiet western Sydney suburb of Milperra, closer to Blacktown and Cabramatta than the state’s capital.
According to a blog by Telstra business partner VoicePlus, Ms Denholm helped her parents out at their service station, reportedly tinkering with the cars that came in.
In 1984, Ms Denholm took the first step in her professional life by joining the ranks of now-defunct accounting firm Arthur Andersen and covering various audit roles in her five year tenure with the business.
She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in economics, industrial relations, and accounting from the University of Sydney a year later, and went on to complete a master’s in commerce at the University of New South Wales in 1999.
By 1989, Ms Denholm had left Arthur Andersen for Toyota, where she first discovered her passion for technology and its applications in business, according to an interview with Sky Business in 2014.
“I’d been working with a number of the IT groups at Toyota, and actually it sparked an interest in me that I didn’t – up until that point – know that I had,” she said.
After a seven year stint with Toyota, Ms Denholm joined computer and software manufacturer Sun Microsystems, working her way from chief financial officer to senior vice-president of corporate strategic planning -by the time she left for Juniper Networks in 2007.
It’s this role that Tesla specifically referenced in their announcement of Ms Denholm’s chair appointment, noting that Juniper’s revenues enjoyed “significant increases” under her leadership.
“When I left Juniper in the middle of 2016 I fully intended to take a year off to travel and play golf with my husband,” Ms Dennholm told executive search firm Odgers Berndtson in January 2018.
“Only five months into that break I was approached to return to Australia for the Telstra [chief operating officer] role, which was an opportunity I simply couldn’t pass up.”
Advocating thought diversity
Throughout Ms Denholm’s career, she’s repeatedly pushed for diversity of thought on the teams she’s been a part of.
“I have a fundamental belief that if you put different people with different experiences together around a table, you actually can create something different,” she said during a talk she gave for Telstra in 2017.
“If you’re faced with the same problem and you’ve the same background and the same thinking, you’ll normally try to solve the problem the same way”.