General Motors names new CFO from outside auto industry


General Motors has officially chosen someone from outside of the auto arena to fill the empty CFO position after former CFO Dhivya Suryadevara suddenly departed in August for the e-payments company Stripe, Inc. GM’s press release announced that Paul Jacobson, 48, will officially begin serving as GM’s executive vice president and CFO on Dec. 1, 2020. GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra stated that GM and Paul “share a commitment to delivering a best-in-class customer experience, operational and financial excellence, and disciplined capital allocation.”

Jacobson has played an important role in the success of Delta Airlines, having served in executive positions since 1997 including his most recent position as CFO, which began in 2012. He was instrumental in helping Delta’s balance sheets recover after the Sep. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and more recently his roles in leadership helped Delta gain the title of Fortune’s Most Admired Airline eight times in the past decade. In early 2020, he announced he would retire but later rescinded after Delta CEO Ed Bastian convinced him to stay amidst the coronavirus crisis that has crippled the airline industry.

Jacobson, who aspired to be a pilot throughout his childhood, is quite respected publicly as well. The Institutional Investor magazine’s poll of Wall Street analysts and investors has named Jacobson the airline industry’s best CFO an impressive eight times. He was able to reduce Delta’s debt by almost $10 billion during his tenure, which is certainly attractive to GM seeing as the auto giant’s Q2 revenue dropped 53% due to shut down assembly plants and a $9 billion loss from cash spent. Just this year, Jacobson has been able to maneuver through the sale of bonds as well as Delta’s loyalty programs to raise billions of dollars in capital and new financing, and GM is also undoubtedly in dire need of a fruitful recovery strategy.

Jacobson stated that GM’s vision is “compelling because it embraces the needs of society, customers and investors, and they are executing an historic technology shift to electrification from a position of strength.” GM is hoping Jacobson can help the auto giant restructure and progress into new technologies that will help it stay relevant. This includes ramping up its success in the electric vehicle game, where it has been sluggish compared to other automakers despite its push to create all-electric vehicles.

GM’s 2019 Sustainability Report noted that the company promised it would bring no less than 20 electric vehicles to the market by 2023, which includes an all-electric “globally sized luxury three-row SUV” under GM’s luxury brand, Cadillac. When asked about the current state of operations in July, GM’s Sustainability Officer Dane Parker stated, “Where we are is necessary, but we need to improve as we move forward.” GM is hoping that going forward, Jacobson can help the company maintain its mantra of “zero crashes, zero emissions, zero congestion.”

John Stapleton, who has been serving as interim-CFO, will return to his position as CFO of GM North America. Meanwhile, Delta executives Gary Chase and Bill Carroll will share the role of interim-CFO for the airline while it seeks a permanent replacement for Jacobson.