A Tesla showroom is shown in San Francisco, California, in this August 2 2017 file photo. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/JUSTIN SULLIVAN
A Tesla showroom is shown in San Francisco, California, in this August 2 2017 file photo. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/JUSTIN SULLIVAN

San Francisco — Zach Kirkhorn landed his first job out of school with McKinsey and joined Tesla while still in his mid-20s. He’s now about to take over a finance department that’s been through months of tumult.

Kirkhorn, 34, will become chief financial officer of the electric-car maker after a few months more grooming by his predecessor, Deepak Ahuja. CEO Elon Musk revealed the shake-up in the closing minutes of Tesla’s earnings call on Wednesday, and the surprise announcement sent the shares tumbling as much as 5.9%.

Tesla saw a wave of executive departures in 2018 that hit the finance team particularly hard. Chief accounting officer Dave Morton resigned in September after less than a month. Justin McAnear, vice president of worldwide finance, left in October.

Ahuja retired in 2015 but returned in 2017 when his successor, Jason Wheeler, announced he’d quit after just 15 months. He plans to go back into retirement after a few months and continue to serve as a senior adviser, probably for several years, according to Musk.

‘Incredibly talented’

The CEO joked on the call that he didn’t think the few years Kirkhorn spent at Harvard Business School were necessary (he earned his MBA in 2013). While he’ll rank among the youngest CFOs at major US companies, he has a few years on David Knopf, who took over the role for Kraft Heinz at 29 in 2017.

“Zach’s incredibly talented and has made a huge contribution to Tesla over the years,” Musk said, adding that his new CFO was “a very well-known quantity to the whole team and has the respect of the whole team”.

Tesla shares already were trading lower before the CFO announcement. While the company came up short of analysts’ estimates for fourth-quarter profit, it posted $910m in free cash flow. Musk also assured investors Tesla will be able to “comfortably” pay off a $920m convertible bonds maturing in March.

“I feel we’re starting 2019 with a very strong financial foundation,” Kirkhorn said. “We have enough cash to continue launching new programmes and developing new technologies, and we’re able to service upcoming debt obligations with our forecasted cash flows.”

Bloomberg