General Motors poaches Delta CFO to fill finance seat

Jacobson will take over as GM's CFO on Dec. 1

General Motors Co. has hired longtime Delta Air Lines Inc. chief financial officer Paul Jacobson as its new CFO, landing a high-profile executive from outside the car business as the auto maker manages through the pandemic and technological disruption.

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Mr. Jacobson, Delta's CFO since 2012, will leave Delta as the Atlanta-based airline tries to rebound from coronavirus-induced losses. While the car industry has recovered from the depths of the Covid-19 crisis, Delta and other airlines continue to face depressed demand for air travel and are burning through millions of dollars a day.

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Mr. Jacobson will take over as GM's CFO on Dec. 1, the auto maker said Friday. John Stapleton, who took over as GM's interim finance chief following the departure in August of Dhivya Suryadevara, will stay in that role until then, the company said.

"GM's vision is compelling," Mr. Jacobson said in a statement from GM. "They are executing a historic technology shift to electrification from a position of strength."

Delta named two executives to become interim co-finance chiefs while it searches for a permanent successor. Gary Chase, senior vice president for business development and financial planning, and Bill Carroll, senior vice president finance and controller, will share the responsibilities. Delta said it would conduct a global search for its next CFO.

The 48-year-old Mr. Jacobson in April called off his planned retirement from Delta to help the company manage fallout from the pandemic, which has forced airlines to drastically slash costs, cut thousands of jobs and retire various aircraft.

"Paul has chosen to stay with Delta not only as we rebuild, but for many years to come as we continue our climb," Delta Chief Executive Ed Bastian wrote in an April 21 memo to employees.

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Mr. Jacobson has been instrumental in steering the airline through the pandemic. He raised billions of dollars in new funding through bond sales and used the company's frequent-flier program to tap additional capital. The airline ended its most recent quarter with close to $22 billion in liquidity and reduced costs, and paused new orders for aircraft.

Under Mr. Jacobson, Delta spent years paying down its debt before the beginning of the pandemic, which meant the company had a stronger balance sheet than some of its competitors.

As senior vice president and treasurer, a role he held from 2005 to 2012, Mr. Jacobson helped reshape the finances of the air carrier after it emerged from bankruptcy in 2007. He joined the company in 1997. "My heart is with the people of Delta," Mr. Jacobson said in April following his decision to stay with the airline.

Ms. Suryadevara left GM in August in a surprise departure, after two years as GM's finance chief, to join financial-technology startup Stripe Inc. She spent nearly her entire career at GM and is highly regarded among Wall Street analysts.

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Ms. Suryadevara led GM's efforts to add more than $20 billion in debt last spring to cushion the company from pandemic-related losses. She also helped set up GM's autonomous-car business, Cruise, to receive outside investment, leading to more than $7 billion in fresh capital.

Mr. Jacobson will join GM at a time of pressing challenges as well as longer-term changes to the auto maker's business model.

The auto maker has clawed its way back from the early days of the Covid-19 crisis, when it burned through about $9 billion in cash during the second quarter as its North American factories sat idle. Since then, demand for cars has snapped back faster than predicted, with vehicle output and sales roughly matching pre-pandemic levels.

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GM shares have more than doubled since March. They closed down about 1% on Friday. GM reports third-quarter earnings on Thursday.

Like other auto makers, GM faces the challenge of investing in potential growth areas such as electric and driverless cars, which today have uncertain payoffs, while also nurturing its traditional business of gas- and diesel-powered vehicles.

GM Chief Executive Mary Barra is placing big bets on battery-powered vehicles and Cruise. The company will spend $20 billion to build out those businesses through mid-decade, executives have said.

"Paul is a great addition to the GM senior leadership team," Ms. Barra said.