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Elon Musk gets green light from shareholders to get back $44.9B Tesla pay package

The pay package is likely to remain tied up in the Delaware Chancery Court and Supreme Court for months as Tesla tries to overturn the Delaware judge's rejection. Photo via Getty Images

Tesla shareholders voted Thursday to restore CEO Elon Musk's record $44.9 billion pay package that was thrown out by a Delaware judge earlier this year, sending a strong vote of confidence in his leadership of the world's largest electric vehicle maker.

The favorable vote doesn’t necessarily mean that Musk will get the all-stock compensation anytime soon. The package is likely to remain tied up in the Delaware Chancery Court and Supreme Court for months as Tesla tries to overturn the Delaware judge's rejection.

Musk has raised doubts about his future with Tesla this year, writing on X, the social media platform he owns, that he wanted a 25% stake in the company in order to stop him from taking artificial intelligence development elsewhere. The higher stake is needed to control the use of AI, he has said.

Tesla also has struggled with falling sales and profit margins as demand for electric vehicles slows worldwide.

But at the company's annual meeting Thursday in Austin, Texas, Musk reassured shareholders that he will stick around, telling them he can't sell any stock in the compensation package for five years.

“It's not actually cash, and I can't cut and run, nor would I want to,” he said.

The company said late Thursday that shareholders had voted for Musk's compensation plan, which initially was approved by the board and stockholders six years ago.

Tesla last valued the package at $44.9 billion in an April regulatory filing. It was once as much as $56 billion but has declined in value in tandem with Tesla's stock, which has dropped about 25% so far this year.

Chancellor Kathaleen St. Jude McCormick ruled in January in a shareholder’s lawsuit that Musk essentially controlled the Tesla board when it ratified the package in 2018, and that it failed to fully inform shareholders who approved it the same year.

Tesla has said it would appeal, but asked shareholders to reapprove the package at Thursday’s annual meeting.

A separate vote approved moving the company’s legal home to Texas to avoid the courts in Delaware, where Tesla is registered as a corporation.

“Its incredible," a jubilant Musk told the crowd gathered at Tesla's headquarters and large factory in Austin, Texas. “I think we’re not just opening a new chapter for Tesla, we’re starting a new book.”

Musk and Tesla didn’t win everything. Shareholders approved measures that trimmed board member terms from three years to one and cut the required vote on shareholder proposals to a simple majority.

Legal experts say the issue of Musk’s pay will still be decided in Delaware, largely because Musk’s lawyers have assured McCormick they won’t try to move the case to Texas.

But they differ on whether the new ratification of the pay package will make it easier for Tesla to get it approved.

Charles Elson, a retired professor and founder of the corporate governance center at the University of Delaware, said he doesn’t think the vote will influence McCormick, who issued a decision based on the law.

McCormick’s ruling essentially made the 2018 compensation package a gift to Musk, Elson said, and that would need unanimous shareholder approval, an impossible threshold. The vote, he said, is interesting from a public perception standpoint, but “in my view it does not affect the ruling.”

John Lawrence, a Dallas-based lawyer with Baker Botts who defends corporations against shareholder lawsuits, agreed the vote doesn’t end the legal dispute and automatically give Musk the stock options. But he says it gives Tesla a strong argument to get the ruling overturned.

He expects Musk and Tesla to argue that shareholders were fully informed before the latest votes, so McCormick should reverse her decision. But the plaintiff in the lawsuit will argue that the vote has no impact and isn’t legally binding, Lawrence said.

The vote, he said, was done under Delaware law and should be considered by the judge.

“This shareholder vote is a strong signal that you now have an absolutely well-informed body of shareholders,” he said. “The judge in Delaware still could decide that this doesn’t change a thing about her prior ruling and doesn’t require her to make any different ruling going forward. But I think it definitely gives Tesla and Musk strong ammunition to try to get her to revisit this.”

If the ruling stands, then Musk likely will appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court, Lawrence said.

Multiple institutional investors have come out against Musk’s sizeable payout, some citing the company’s recent struggles. But analysts said votes by individual shareholders likely put Musk’s pay over the top.

Early Friday, Tesla disclosed that shareholders voted for Musk's pay package by 1,760,780,650 to 528,908,419, with about 77% of all votes in favor. The company's shares jumped 3% by the time the markets closed Thursday and were up 1.2% in premarket trading early Friday.

After the votes were announced, Musk began telling shareholders about new developments in the company's “Full Self-Driving” system. He has staked the company's future on development of autonomous vehicles, robots and artificial intelligence.

“Full Self-Driving” keeps improving with new versions, and its safety per mile is better than human drivers, Musk said.

"This is actually going to work. This is going to happen. Mark my words, this is just a matter of time,” he said.

Despite its name, “Full Self-Driving” can’t drive itself, and the company says human drivers must be ready to intervene at all times. Tesla’s “Full Self-Driving” hardware went on sale late in 2015, and Musk has used the name ever since as the company gathered data to teach its computers how to drive.

In 2019, Musk promised a fleet of autonomous robotaxis by 2020, and he said in early 2022 that the cars would be autonomous that year. In April of last year, Musk said the system should be ready in 2023.

Since 2021, Tesla has been beta-testing “Full Self-Driving” using volunteer owners. U.S. safety regulators last year made Tesla recall the software after finding that the system misbehaved around intersections and could violate traffic laws.

Musk also said the company is making huge progress on its Optimus humanoid robot. Currently it has two working at its factory in Fremont, California, that take battery cells off a production line and put them in shipping containers, he said.

Despite laying off the team working on Tesla’s Supercharger electric vehicle charging network, Musk said he thinks the company will deploy more chargers this year “that are actually working” than the rest of the industry. In the second half of the year, he expects to spend $500 million on Superchargers, Musk said.

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A View From HETI

Governor Abbott said he was sending a letter to the Public Utility Commission of Texas requiring it to investigate why restoration has taken so long and what must be done to fix it. Photo via X/Governor Abbott

With around 270,000 homes and businesses still without power in the Houston area almost a week after Hurricane Beryl hit Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott on Sunday said he's demanding an investigation into the response of the utility that serves the area as well as answers about its preparations for upcoming storms.

“Power companies along the Gulf Coast must be prepared to deal with hurricanes, to state the obvious,” Abbott said at his first news conference about Beryl since returning to the state from an economic development trip to Asia.

While CenterPoint Energy has restored power to about 2 million customers since the storm hit on July 8, the slow pace of recovery has put the utility, which provides electricity to the nation’s fourth-largest city, under mounting scrutiny over whether it was sufficiently prepared for the storm that left people without air conditioning in the searing summer heat.

Abbott said he was sending a letter to the Public Utility Commission of Texas requiring it to investigate why restoration has taken so long and what must be done to fix it. In the Houston area, Beryl toppled transmission lines, uprooted trees and snapped branches that crashed into power lines.

With months of hurricane season left, Abbott said he's giving CenterPoint until the end of the month to specify what it'll be doing to reduce or eliminate power outages in the event of another storm. He said that will include the company providing detailed plans to remove vegetation that still threatens power lines.

Abbott also said that CenterPoint didn't have “an adequate number of workers pre-staged" before the storm hit.

Following Abbott's news conference, CenterPoint said its top priority was “power to the remaining impacted customers as safely and quickly as possible,” adding that on Monday, the utility expects to have restored power to 90% of its customers. CenterPoint said it was committed to working with state and local leaders and to doing a “thorough review of our response.”

CenterPoint also said Sunday that it’s been “investing for years” to strengthen the area’s resilience to such storms.

The utility has defended its preparation for the storm and said that it has brought in about 12,000 additional workers from outside Houston. It has said it would have been unsafe to preposition those workers inside the predicted storm impact area before Beryl made landfall.

Brad Tutunjian, vice president for regulatory policy for CenterPoint Energy, said last week that the extensive damage to trees and power poles hampered the ability to restore power quickly.

A post Sunday on CenterPoint's website from its president and CEO, Jason Wells, said that over 2,100 utility poles were damaged during the storm and over 18,600 trees had to be removed from power lines, which impacted over 75% of the utility's distribution circuits.

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