We are pleased to publish an interview with one of our illustrious alumni in the CFO position. Mr. Deepak Ahuja has a high profile career in auto industry. It includes long working experience with Ford Motor Company. Since August, he has been working as Chief Finance Officer at Tesla, California. The company is involved in cutting-edge technology for manufacturing of electric sports cars.
For the chronicle, Yogesh K. Upadhyaya discusses with him his career in the US auto industry.
Q-1: Welcome, Sir. Please tell us about yourself
I spent my formative years in Mumbai before coming to Banaras and discovering a whole new world. Growing up in a family where both my parents managed their own businesses gave me early experiences in entrepreneurship. At an early age I would help my parents; although I did not feel a strong urge to join them in their business, this later created a strong desire to be involved on the business side of things. An education in Engineering was a conduit to independence and ultimately a career in broader business management.
After graduating from Banaras I came to the US to obtain an MS in Materials Engineering at Northwestern University. I later got my MBA from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, while working for six years as an R&D Engineer developing advanced cutting tools for Kennametal, Inc. I changed careers at this point and started afresh as a Financial Analyst at Ford Motor Company.
Q-2: You had very rich experience at Ford Motors Company.
Joining Ford’s Finance Career Foundation program after my MBA was a very attractive option as it leveraged my engineering background while providing a broad exposure in finance across all functions. Ford’s international presence globally was another big attraction.
My first assignment was in a Stamping plant where I got the opportunity to work for a few months as a Production Supervisor over a group of union workers. This valuable experience served as a foundation for many future assignments. I did finance stints in Marketing & Sales, Treasury, Acquisitions and Divestitures, Product Development and ultimately as CFO of a Ford/Mazda JV in Michigan and CFO of Ford Southern Africa. The assignment in Africa was fulfilling and a rich experience both professionally and personally, including for my wife and two daughters.
The automotive business is very asset intensive and is dependent on economies of scale as well as very efficient value chain in order to realize the razor thin margins. Spending money diligently and uncovering every opportunity to reduce cost, while launching products that customers want is the core of the business model. Unfortunately, improper execution and the legacy of union behaviors and perks have handicapped the large auto manufacturers in the U.S. Having said that, the recent Government bailout of the auto companies provides a great opportunity to restructure these businesses so that they can become viable in the long run.
Q-3: Why did you decide to join Tesla Motors?
Tesla is a start-up company with a disruptive technology. Our vision is to go beyond the focus of traditional automotive companies on hybrid technology by commercializing a no-compromise all-electric car. The Tesla Roadster is not only very fuel efficient but also has very strong performance, sexy styling and is aspirational. The next product of Tesla is planned to be a 5 pass/4 door sedan which retains all the above attributes but has much more functionality and is more affordable. Joining Tesla provided a once a lifetime opportunity to help grow a company that is attempting to transform the automobile in the 21st century. Tesla has already delivered cars to a bevy of Hollywood stars including George Clooney and Di Caprio, as well as several media personalities and founders of Silicon Valley companies.
When I got the opportunity to join Tesla as the CFO, it was difficult to resist. The energy, drive and vision of Elon Musk, the CEO and Chairman of Tesla are compelling. Elon’s another venture, SpaceX, just won a $1.6B contract from NASA to launch 12 rockets to the International Space Station.
Q-4: You advise to engineers looking up to work as CFO or financial executive.
Every IT-BHU Alumni will tell you that their education in Banaras went far beyond academics. All of us learnt survival instincts and life skills that have made so many very successful in their careers. I am humbled by the degree of success achieved - whether it is in Engineering, Research, IT, Finance, General Management or a host of other fields. Ultimately one has to follow one’s aptitude, work hard, take a degree of risk and things will work out.
Q-5: Please describe your college days
The depth of friendships made during my five years at IT-BHU can’t be replicated easily. Over time the difficulties and challenges of those years are forgotten and we are only left with good memories and great friends. In retrospect, I wouldn’t exchange those days for anything else.
Sir, it was nice talking to you.
Deepak can be reached at:deepakahuj[AT]gmail[dot]com
Education of Deepak Ahuja
· B. Tech. (Ceramic Engineering) at Institute of Technology, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, India (1985)
· MS (Material Engineering) at Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA (1987)
· MBA at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, USA (1993)
1) Deepak Ahuja, Seasoned Auto Industry Finance Executive, Joins Tesla Motors as CFO
2) Deepak’s profile on Tesla Motors
3) Getting In Gear: 2009 Tesla Roadster (Base price: $109,000)
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Institute of Technology, Banaras Hindu University
Varanasi 221005, UP