Tesla appoints third new legal leader in two years

Compliance head David Searle takes over from Bill Berry as acting head of legal

Tesla has appointed its head of compliance as acting head of legal and corporate secretary, the third person to lead the electric car giant’s legal team in the past two years.

David Searle joined Tesla last February as deputy GC and head of compliance after an almost two-year stint at Walmart, where he served as VP and chief ethics and compliance officer.

Searle updated his LinkedIn profile last week to include his new titles, according to Bloomberg Law, indicating he started in the acting head of legal role last October. He has taken over as Tesla’s legal leader from William Berry, a veteran of Google’s in-house team who according to his LinkedIn profile led Tesla’s legal team for several months last year as vice president of legal and left the company in December.

Berry had himself replaced acting general counsel and corporate secretary Alan Prescott, who departed Tesla last April after just shy of 18 months in the role to be CLO at Luminar, a Peter Thiel-backed unicorn that builds laser sensor technology for autonomous vehicles.

A former federal prosecutor, Searle spent the majority of his career in Houston before relocating to Walmart’s hometown of Bentonville, Arkansas for his role at the retail giant. Prior to that, he spent four-and-a-half years as chief compliance officer and deputy GC at Bristow Group, an industrial aviation operator that primarily serves the offshore energy sector, and earlier had stints as director of compliance at chemicals distributor Nexeo Solutions and as audits and investigations counsel at energy tech company Baker Hughes. Before going in-house he was an associate at Baker Botts.

Searle’s LinkedIn profile shows he is once again based in Texas, Tesla having relocated its headquarters to Austin last December after CEO Elon Musk clashed with officials in the company’s previous home state of California over restrictions that halted production at its factory there during the pandemic.

Searle is the sixth legal leader Tesla has had within a decade, the company having lost three general counsel – Todd Maron, Dane Butswinkas and Jonathan Chang – between December 2018 and December 2019. Maron, the longest serving of these, was once Musk’s divorce lawyer and left the company at the end of 2018 after more than four years at its top lawyer. Butswinkas, a partner at Williams & Connolly, was in the role for just two months while Chang left for the GC role at AI hardware developer SambaNova.

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.


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