Elon Musk and Tesla have 'outmaneuvered' the SEC, says management guru Jeff Sonnenfeld

Key Points
  • Tesla has outmaneuvered the SEC by appointing Oracle's Larry Ellison to its board, says Sonnenfeld.
  • He calls Ellison a "clone" of Musk.
  • "The SEC has been had on this one," he says.
Tesla board pick of Larry Ellison is a clone of CEO Elon Musk, says Jeff Sonnenfeld
Tesla board pick of Larry Ellison is a clone of CEO Elon Musk, says Jeff Sonnenfeld

Tesla has outmaneuvered the Securities and Exchange Commission by appointing Larry Ellison and Kathleen Wilson-Thompson to its board, management expert Jeffrey Sonnenfeld told CNBC on Friday.

The electric-car company made the appointments on Friday to comply with an SEC settlement.

"The SEC has been had on this one," said Sonnenfeld, senior associate dean at the Yale School of Management and a CNBC contributor.

Elon Musk in 2017.
Mark Brake | Getty Images

Tesla and CEO Elon Musk agreed in September to appoint a new chairman and two independent board members after the SEC accused Musk of misleading investors with a tweet about taking the company private at $420 a share.

Sonnenfeld called Ellison, the co-founder and executive chairman of Oracle, a "clone" of Musk.

"He's a genius, knows technology, self-made guy and very articulate," he said on "Closing Bell."

"But he's a pretty angry guy. Hair-trigger sensitivity to criticisms, loves to lash out at analysts," he added.

In October, Ellison said he is "very close friends to Elon Musk" and has defended the CEO against ongoing criticism of his behavior. In addition to the take-private tweet, Musk appeared to smoke pot on a podcast in September.

Ellison is also a very big investor in Tesla. He owns 3 million shares of its stock, according to a company spokesperson.

Sonnenfeld said Musk "has brilliantly outmaneuvered" the SEC "by picking somebody who can really very effectively run cover for him, protect him. This is not a guy who is going to push for vetting the tweets."

When asked for comment on Sonnenfeld's remarks, a Tesla spokesperson referred to other analyst comments, like that of Wedbush Securities' Dan Ives. On Friday, Ives called the appointments a "major step forward."

Ellison "could help channel Musk's energy and passion into positives going forward thus moving further away from the 'going private tweetstorm' from a few months ago, which continues to be a lingering overhang on the name," Ives wrote in a note to clients.

Oracle did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Tesla shares closed 5.6 percent higher on Friday.

— CNBC's Sara Salinas and Lora Kolodny contributed to this report.