CFO: GM is becoming more diverse, inclusive

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DETROIT With plans to reshape its vehicle lineup, cut its work force, shut down several plants and invest heavily in electric-vehicle production, General Motors is transforming its business model for the future, CFO Dhivya Suryadevara said. That transformation includes cultural shifts within the company.

“We will be taking deliberate, tough decisions that we need to take to position the company for success,” Suryadevara said at the Automotive News Leading Women Conference on Wednesday, Oct. 16.

Some decisions are more difficult than others, but each should lead to an “appropriate rate of return,” she said. “We can’t do all things for everyone at all times and all places. We’ve got to pick where we play so that we can win in those segments and markets.”

GM aims to lead in the industry’s transformation, rather than follow the crowd, she said.

Among GM’s goals is a more diverse, inclusive culture. Suryadevara is one of three women among GM’s top executives, along with CEO Mary Barra and recently named Chief Marketing Officer Deborah Wahl.

“I want to leave the legacy that we helped make those critical decisions that set the men and women of General Motors and the entire industry to a position to succeed,” Suryadevara said.

The automaker has cultivated a more accountable and team-oriented culture, she said.

Women make up about a quarter of GM’s salaried work force, and half of the company’s board members are women. “We have more work to do, but it’s been a big improvement,” Suryadevara told an audience of more than 600 female automotive professionals.

Recruiting a diverse work force is a multistep process, she said. “It needs to percolate every single decision you make in every part of the talent management process.”

To retain employees, male or female, leaders should explain how the company’s vision applies to them, she said. “Allowing people to have a shared sense of purpose in getting to the vision is very important.”

Barra has a strategic vision that incorporates electric and autonomous vehicles but is also people-oriented and cares about GM employees, Suryadevara said.

Employees “want to work incredibly hard to deliver the vision she has set out for us,” she said.

Suryadevara suggested giving employees opportunities to learn multiple areas of the business to help their professional growth.

Leaders should ask themselves: “How do we give people the best set of experiences to get to the place they want to get to?” she said.

Suryadevara’s career path illustrates that commitment. She rose to CFO and leader of corporate strategy after joining GM as a financial analyst in 2005.

Less than three months after becoming CFO, GM announced a restructuring plan that included slashing 15 percent of its North American salaried jobs and ending production at five North American plants. The moves, announced in late 2018, are expected to cut $6 billion in expenses by 2020.

The complexity of the automotive industry drew Suryadevara to GM and has enticed her to stay.

“This is a business where there is a ton of transformation going on and there’s a lot of complicated, challenging progress that you work on,” Suryadevara said. “That really drew me to this business because I like those challenging problems.”

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