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Tesla chairwoman on Elon Musk's promises: Setting 'audacious goals' drives success

Key Points
  • Tesla CEO Elon Musk's "audacious goals" have helped drive the company's success, Chairwoman Robyn Denholm says.
  • Denholm cites Tesla's new factory in Shanghai that was built in 10 months and its recently achieved production of 97,000 vehicles a quarter as examples of such goals.
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Tesla chairwoman on CEO Elon Musk's promises and the automaker's China expansion

Tesla CEO Elon Musk's "audacious goals" have helped drive the company's success, Chairwoman Robyn Denholm said Friday.

In a CNBC interview, Denholm cited the electric car maker's new factory in Shanghai that was built in 10 months and its recently achieved production of 97,000 vehicles a quarter as examples.

"To achieve what Tesla has achieved over the last five years, over the last 10 years, you have to set audacious goals and big goals ... and then have everybody in the company work like crazy to get there," she said on "Squawk Box."

"I think part of it is setting those very big goals so that the company can rally and get behind them and move forward, and move the whole industry forward," said Denholm, who replaced Musk in November following his removal from that position as part of a settlement with the SEC over his infamous tweets. 

Denholm's remarks come two days after the company reported a surprise third-quarter profit and told shareholders it is ahead of schedule with the new factory in Shanghai, which has started trial production of its Model 3.

"There is a huge opportunity for growth in China," she said, adding that Tesla is taking lessons it learned from launching production and vehicles in the U.S. to China.

Tesla's shares spiked more than 20% after hours Wednesday. The stock closed Thursday at $299.68, a 17.67% increase. Analysts had expected a quarterly loss, while revenue basically matched forecasts. The company also said it was ahead of schedule on its long-awaited Model Y crossover.

Baron Capital founder Ron Baron, who appeared on "Squawk Box" with Denholm, said although Musk often takes the center of attention, Tesla's entire team is driving the company to hit its goals.

"They have 42,000 employees. This is not reliant upon one man," he said from the sidelines of his annual investment conference in New York. "But he has empowered people to be able to make decisions and to be able to do what's best for the company."

Baron Funds owns more than 1.62 million Tesla shares, worth nearly $488 million based on Thursday's close of $299.68 per share. The buy-and-hold billionaire's average cost of acquiring Tesla shares over the years, starting in 2012, stands at $218.75 each.

Thursday's surge squeezed Tesla's short sellers, traders betting the stock would go lower, to the tune of an estimated $1.4 billion in losses, according to S3 Analytics. Tesla is the most heavily shorted stock in the U.S., and the most heavily shorted automaker in the world. Those who short a stock borrow shares in hopes of buying them back in the future at a profit after the stock drops.

Tesla's shares have been on a wild ride since nearing all-time highs in August 2018. It's been more than a year since Musk tweeted he had "funding secured" to take the company private at $420 per share — plans abandoned weeks later. However, the now-infamous tweet on Aug. 7, 2018, led to a Securities and Exchange Commission probe on accusations of "false and misleading" statements. Musk and Tesla reached a settlement with the SEC in September 2018, which required, in part, Musk to relinquish his role as chairman of the board.

Ark Investment Management founder and CEO Catherine Wood told CNBC that Thursday's surge in Tesla stock is just the beginning of an eventual rise to $4,000 per share and possibly beyond.

The stock was up 1.8% early trading Friday.

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Watch CNBC's full interview with Tesla Chairwoman Robyn Denholm