Analysts unnerved by surprise exit of Tesla CFO: ‘Significant loss’

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX.

Peter Parks | AFP | Getty Images

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX.

Tesla’s announcement on Wednesday that the company’s chief financial officer is retiring has unnerved Wall Street’s top analysts and overshadowed the company’s sales beat in the fourth quarter.

Many viewed the loss of longtime executive Deepak Ahuja as the most prominent figure in a recent string of high-profile departures as the electric car manufacturer struggles to retain talent. The company said in September that chief accounting officer Dave Morton was leaving the company after less than a month on the job, while head of human resources Gabrielle Toledano decided last year not to rejoin the company after a leave of absence.

Others chose to highlight Ahuja’s unseasoned replacement, Zack Kirkhorn, who will take the financial reins of the $53 billion public company just six years out of business school.

“We see the departure as a significant loss of institutional knowledge, and note that Kirkhorn is a first-time public company CFO,” wrote AB Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi.

To be sure, Tesla reported better sales in the fourth quarter than Wall Street analysts had expected with revenues of $7.23 billion, more than double its $3.29 billion in revenue during the same quarter in 2017. And while profit fell short of projections, the company’s stock crept higher immediately following its earnings announcement based on the solid sales numbers and a decent 2019 outlook.

However, the equity quickly declined after CEO Elon Musk announced during the earnings conference call that Ahuja is leaving after almost 11 years at the company. The stock was last down more than 4 percent in premarket trading Thursday morning.

Here’s what Wall Street analysts thoughts about Deepak Ahuja’s departure.

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