Setback for General Motors: The CFO leaves

The auto company loses a potential successor to boss Mary Barra. Dhivya Suryadevara is moving to Silicon Valley to join the highly rated payment service provider Stripe.

Dhivya Suryadevara, now ex-CFO GM – (photo by GM)

At the end of July, it announced the quarterly figures for General Motors. Now CFO Dhivya Suryadevara is saying goodbye to America’s largest car manufacturer and moving from the motor city of Detroit to Silicon Valley. There she becomes CFO of the Fintech Stripe, one of the highest rated start-ups in the USA. “I enjoy running complex, large corporations, and I hope to use my knowledge to further accelerate Stripe’s rapid growth,” said Suryadevara.

A big loss for GM boss Mary Barra. In 2018, she appointed the 41-year-old as the first woman to hold the position of CFO at GM. Twice (2015 and 2018) Suryadevara was included in Fortune Magazine’s list of the most influential personalities under 40 years of age.

In the long term, she was considered a candidate for the successor to Barra. In parting, the 58-year-old praised the work of her former CFO: “She helped our company to improve the balance sheet and the cost structure, to concentrate on creating value and to make the right investments for the future.”

Silicon Valley manages time and again to poach good board members from traditional corporations. In 2015, for example, Google secured the services of Ruth Porat, CFO of the investment bank Morgan Stanley.

Suryadevara will have to relocate to San Francisco after the mother of a daughter commuted between Detroit and New York while at General Motors. In Silicon Valley, she has good contacts, for example threading GM’s stake in the Lyft driving service or the takeover of the start-up Cruise, which deals with autonomous car technology.

Suryadevara worked at GM for 16 years. The native Indian came to study at Harvard Business School in the USA. “Everything was paid for with student loans,” she said in one of her rare interviews a few years ago.

“Under these circumstances, the pressure to find a job is different.” She started as an investment banker at UBS at the age of 24, only to move to GM a year later. “I am very confident about the future of GM,” said Suryadevara as she parted.

Only SpaceX is more valuable

The start-up Stripe had raised $600 million in a financing round in April. The donors include the who’s who of Silicon Valley investors: Andreessen Horowitz, General Catalyst and Sequoia Capital.

That valued Stripe at $36 billion – that’s almost as much as General Motors’ market value. As a start-up, Stripe is only surpassed in the US by the space company SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, which has a valuation of $44 billion.

The founders of Stripe are the current boss Patrick Collison and his brother John. You started the company almost ten years ago. While it was initially about making it easier for online shops to accept credit card payments, Stripe now processes all types of payments, from smartphone payments to traditional direct debits.

However, the market for payment service providers is highly competitive. The margins are low. Payment service providers only receive a small portion of the turnover of a transaction. To do this, they have to constantly invest in innovations. On top of that, in view of the corona crisis, consumers are likely to hold back on shopping and other expenses, such as travel, for the time being. Stripe’s customers include well-known companies such as Google and Facebook.

Rumors are circulating in Silicon Valley: Could the move from Suryadevara be part of preparing for an IPO? Founder John Collins waves it aside: “An IPO has nothing to do with these people.”

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