Meet Tesla's newly minted millennial CFO

Mr Zach Kirkhorn, who joined McKinsey & Co fresh out of school and Tesla in his mid-20s, is the electric-car maker's incoming chief financial officer.
Mr Zach Kirkhorn, who joined McKinsey & Co fresh out of school and Tesla in his mid-20s, is the electric-car maker's incoming chief financial officer.PHOTO: TESLA

NEW YORK • Mr Zach Kirkhorn landed his first job out of school with McKinsey & Co and joined Tesla while still in his mid-20s. He is about to take over a finance department that has been through months of tumult.

Mr Kirkhorn, 34, will become chief financial officer of the electric-car maker after a few months more grooming by his predecessor, Mr Deepak Ahuja.

Chief executive officer Elon Musk revealed the shake-up in the closing minutes of Tesla's earnings called on Wednesday and the surprise announcement sent the shares tumbling as much as 5.9 per cent.

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

Mr Ahuja, 56, retired in 2015 but returned in 2017 when his successor, Mr Jason Wheeler, announced he had 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 Mr Musk.

The CEO joked on the call that he did not think the few years Mr Kirkhorn spent at Harvard Business School were necessary - he earned his MBA in 2013. While he will rank among the youngest CFOs at major United States companies, he has a few years on Mr 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," Mr 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 were already trading lower before the CFO announcement. While the company came up short of analysts' estimates for fourth-quarter profit, it posted US$910 million (S$1,228 million) in free cash flow. Mr Musk also assured investors Tesla will be able to "comfortably" pay off US$920 million worth of convertible bonds maturing next month.

"I feel we're starting 2019 with a very strong financial foundation," Mr 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

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 02, 2019, with the headline 'Meet Tesla's newly minted millennial CFO'. Print Edition | Subscribe