Pundits Zig; Whitacre Zags

Although automotive analysts have been talking about how Ray G.

Although automotive analysts have been talking about how Ray G. Young, GM vp and CFO, was going to be taking leave of GM sooner rather than later, company chairman and CEO Ed Whitacre, Jr., has proven a certain level of unpredictability as he has named Young vp International Operations, effective February 1, 2010.

Sure, this means that he is no longer going to be CFO, as the pundits had predicted. But presumably he is going to be staying within the GM organization.

Young is no stranger to foreign assignments. Born in Canada in 1961 to parents who had immigrated from Guangzhou, China, Young started out with GM at its Canadian HQ, then was moved to GM Treasury Operations in New York in 1988 (he was no stranger to the U.S. having gotten his MBA at the University of Chicago in ’86). From New York he transferred to Brussels in ’93, the back to North America in ’96, when he became vp of Finance of CAMI Automotive, the GM-Suzuki joint venture (which GM of Canada acquired on December 4, 2009). In ’98 he moved to Suzuki HQ in Hamamatsu, Japan, helping orchestrate other ventures between GM and Suzuki, and being a member of the GM Asia Pacific Strategy Board. Back to GM HQ as vice president and CFO in 2001, then off to Brazil in ’04, as president and managing director of GM do Brasil and Mercosur Operations. Then to the U.S. as GM group vice president, finance. He was named GM vice president and CFO in 2008.

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During a preview of the Chevy Equinox held in Plymouth, Michigan, early in June, 2009, Young was on hand. Young had been spending his time in New York and Washington, dealing with the bankruptcy filing of the Old GM. He admired the vehicle—and is shown in the accompanying photo checking it out—and said, “This is why I got into this business.”

Sure, he may be a numbers guy. But at the end of the day, admiration of the product that you’re calculating is key.

As Whitacre put it in his official statement, “Looking ahead at the needs of our business, it has become clear that Ray’s vast global experience and financial expertise will be essential in managing the challenges and dynamics of growing our international business.” Given Young’s experience in North America, Europe, Asia, and South America, seems that that’s no understatement.