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David W. Meline, vice president and chief financial officer for GM, presented an optimistic view of the automaker's future during an Oct. 2 lecture at the Kellogg School.

Global scale key to automotive success, says GM exec

Kellogg visit by CFO David Meline touts growth opportunities, fiscal agenda

By Crystal Gentilello

10/4/2007 - The Kellogg School welcomed David W. Meline, vice president and chief financial officer of General Motors North America during an event hosted by the Automotive Club and Finance Club on Oct. 2. Meline talked to Kellogg students and faculty about the global automotive industry and the strategic and financial challenges it poses.

Opening his presentation with a series of Cadillac and Chevy commercials, Meline followed by tackling what the media pegged GM’s darker days.

“The key areas we are focusing on in turning around our business are addressing the cost structure, improving revenue margins and strengthening the balance sheet.” This, as well as efforts to improve brand health, enabled the GM retail market share to stabilize — launch vehicles now comprise 40 percent of U.S. total sales year to date 2007.

Meline joined GM Corporation in 1986 at the treasurer’s office in New York, where he fulfilled several roles, including director of foreign exchange, director of executive compensation, and director of business development. Subsequently, he held positions for GM in Kenya, Brazil, South Korea and Switzerland, resulting in 14 years abroad. Before being appointed to his current role on Jan. 1, Meline held the same positions for GM Europe, based in Zurich.

“You need to have global scale in order to stay in this game,” said Meline. GM’s focus today is leveraging its global capabilities and presence. The Chevrolet Captiva, for example, was designed in Germany, engineered in Korea, manufactured globally and sold worldwide, he noted. Meline also said that key emerging markets are expected collectively to deliver more than 150 percent growth this decade. Today 60 percent of GM’s business is generated internationally. Meline added, “We feel well positioned to maintain this success and ride this growth curve.”

Meline highlighted the need to look ahead and focus on technology leadership. “We will need 70 percent more energy in 2030 than in 2004,” he said, emphasizing the importance of focusing on alternative energy initiatives. “We believe it is inevitable that business will move in this direction. The automotive industry needs to be investing heavily right now in support of that aim.” GM currently offers ethanol fuel and hybrid technology operated vehicles.

The event attracted a large audience and sparked much discussion among students interested in the automotive industry and finance sector. “We received very positive feedback,” said Vessela Kapoulian ’08, co-chair of the Kellogg Finance Club. “This was a great way for students to get a senior leader’s perspective on the auto industry and GM’s approach to the financial and strategic challenges and opportunities the i ndustry presents.”