Human resources (HR) has been elevated to board level by the appointment of Kathleen Wilson-Thompson to Tesla’s board of directors. She was the global head of HR at Walgreens Boots Alliance, the transatlantic drugstore retailer, and is now officially the first HR leader on a company board. Oracle founder Larry Ellison was also appointed to the board, which increased its director headcount from nine to 11. Wilson-Thompson’s appointment demonstrates that Tesla wants to focus on building a cohesive team, which has thus far eluded the firm. At Walgreens, she paired corporate leaders with members of her HR team and developed a pipeline to train HR talent. Tesla’s regulatory filing said, “Kathleen brings a passion for building and promoting great workplaces.” While Tesla has forged ahead and pushed its competitors to engineer electric vehicles, competitors are catching up and Tesla finds itself in need of a hand to guide its management of staff. Former Tesla executives said that many in Tesla’s senior ranks are driven as much out of fear of making mistake as to achieve extraordinary things, and since 2016, the timing and numbers of executive departures at Tesla has hung like a cloud over the company. The company, however, is now transitioning from a startup to a massive automotive company, and Wilson-Thompson could be the bridge between continued innovation and ensuring employees are not burned out. Her deep international and management skills can marry the realities of running a company with 40,000 employees and Musk’s uncompromising mission. Wilson-Thompson is emblematic of the executives other big companies may recruit more of for their boards – and maybe even as top day-to-day leaders.
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