Can any new Tesla chairman stand up to Elon Musk?

In a deal struck Saturday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to settle fraud charges, Tesla Inc. agreed to bring in two new independent directors to its nine-member board and name an independent chairman to replace Elon Musk. Musk keeps a seat on the board and remains the company’s chief executive.

The new chairman’s job might be the opportunity of a lifetime — or a no-win nightmare.

“I think they will be flooded with candidates,” said Erik Gordon, business professor at the University of Michigan. “It’s an interesting, exciting company. People would find it hard to resist being inside the boardroom at Tesla.”

But, he added, “I think it’s going to be a nearly impossible job.”

That’s because Musk retains great power. He owns 22% of the company and has presided over Tesla’s board of directors since he became chairman in 2003, with little to no apparent pushback from the directors he chose.

“He still controls the board, whether you get two directors or not,” said Charles Elson, professor of business and corporate governance specialist at the University of Delaware. “As long as Musk is in the room, he’ll dominate through his ownership and the idea that he’s indispensable to the company.”

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