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Judge strikes down Elon Musk’s massive, multi-billion-dollar pay package

Delaware Judge Invalidates Elon Musk’s Massive Pay Package

In a significant legal development, Chancellor Kathaleen McCormick of the Delaware Chancery Court has nullified the hefty pay package awarded to Tesla CEO Elon Musk in 2018. This decision, following a bench trial that concluded in November 2022, marks a significant blow to the compensation plan that once elevated Musk to one of the wealthiest individuals globally.

The court’s ruling, issued on Tuesday, deemed that Musk and Tesla’s board failed to adequately demonstrate the fairness of the compensation plan, leading to its dismissal. This decision has substantial financial implications, particularly considering the astronomical value of the 303 million stock options Musk received as part of the package, now estimated at a staggering $51 billion.

The legal battle unfolded in Delaware, a jurisdiction of significance for many US corporations, including Tesla. Shareholders challenging the package argued that it was excessive and criticized the board’s lack of independence from Musk’s influence. They contended that the financial targets set for Musk to qualify for the stock options were not sufficiently rigorous, resembling internal growth projections rather than genuine performance goals.

Musk, while refraining from immediate comments on the decision, expressed his dissatisfaction with incorporating companies in Delaware. In contrast, the shareholders’ legal team hailed the judgment as a victory for investor interests, emphasizing the elimination of dilution resulting from Musk’s outsized compensation package.

Tesla’s attorneys defended the package by highlighting shareholder approval and the company’s exceptional growth under Musk’s leadership. They argued that Musk’s significant equity stake in Tesla, even without the additional stock options, represented substantial compensation. However, the court ultimately rejected these arguments, emphasizing Musk’s substantial existing wealth derived from his equity holdings.

While subject to appeal, the decision’s implications for Tesla’s future compensation practices and Musk’s continued leadership remain uncertain. As Musk seeks to maintain control over Tesla amid his diverse portfolio of ventures, including SpaceX and Twitter (now X), the court’s ruling marks a pivotal moment in the ongoing saga of corporate governance and executive compensation.

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