Tesla finance head Zachary Kirkhorn has resigned, startling analysts who saw the 13-year veteran as a prospective successor to CEO Elon Musk and sending Tesla shares down 3.5% on Monday.
The corporation did not provide an explanation for his departure. Accounting chief Vaibhav Taneja, who joined Tesla in 2016 as part of the $2.6 billion transaction for Solarcity, will take over for Kirkhorn.
His departure has prompted questions about Musk’s succession strategy at the world’s most valuable automaker, where he also retains major positions at SpaceX and X social media, formerly known as Twitter.
Soft-spoken Kirkhorn was considered an effective counterbalance to the more volatile Musk, and he was one of the most visible executives, frequently speaking on analyst calls and giving presentations on strategy and products.
“He was able to be an effective liaison communicator between Elon and other executives…that would be a skill set that is hard to come by and very valuable but difficult to quantify,” said Thomas Martin, senior portfolio manager at Tesla investor Global Investments.
During Kirkhorn’s tenure, Tesla earned its first quarterly profit after launching the mass-market Model 3 compact automobile, and the company was valued at more than $1 trillion.
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“Being a part of this company is a special experience, and I’m extremely proud of the work we’ve done together since I joined over 13 years ago,” Kirkhorn wrote on LinkedIn. Kirkhorn did not respond to inquiries via LinkedIn.
“That he’s going to be around until the end of the year is evidence that this is just for personal reasons, and the personal reason is likely that working with Elon Musk is really hard, and he’s done it for 13 years,” said Gene Munster, managing partner at Deepwater Asset Management.
Kirkhorn’s resignation is the most significant change at the firm since long-time CEO Jerome Guillen, who managed the company’s semi-electric trucks, left in 2021.
Taneja, 45, takes on the role of “Master of Coin” in addition to his responsibilities as chief accounting officer. This year, the Austin, Texas-based manufacturer slashed pricing on its vehicles, prioritizing sales growth and market share while squeezing its industry-leading margins.
Tesla has also hinted at more price reductions, citing “turbulent times” in which rising borrowing costs are weighing on the sales of electric-vehicle manufacturers.