GM Bids a Brusque Farewell to the CEO of Cruise
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Surprise! Dan Ammann has abruptly left the chief executive officer role at Cruise, the autonomous driving unit that is majority owned by General Motors.
Right around that time, Cruise had applied to the California Public Utility Commission for a permit to charge for robotaxi rides sans safety driver. Only Alphabet's Waymo is on pace to do that. Cruise is a big piece of GM CEO Mary Barra’s growth strategy and Ammann was getting the company ready to execute.
Now, he’s out. This is no ordinary executive departure. Ammann was an investment banker at Morgan Stanley who played a supporting role in GM’s bankruptcy. Then he joined GM as treasurer and climbed to chief financial officer before being named president on the same day Mary Barra was promoted to CEO. He played a big role in downsizing GM’s money-losing overseas operations, selling off that bottomless well of red ink called Opel in Germany. He was central in buying Cruise. Barra sent him to run it two years ago. That’s a decade of work at the highest levels of GM.
Despite that, GM’s statement on his departure was perfunctory. “General Motors Co. announced today that Dan Ammann, Chief Executive Officer of Cruise, is leaving the company. Kyle Vogt, Cruise President and Chief Technical Officer, will serve as interim CEO.” Not another word about Ammann.
When Dhivya Suryadevara left as CFO of GM in August 2020 to go to fintech startup Stripe, Barra was downright effusive. “Dhivya has been a transformational leader in her tenure as CFO,” Barra wrote at the time. “She has helped the company strengthen our balance sheet, improve our cost structure, focus on cash generation and drive the right investments for our future. We wish her every success.”
Does this mean Ammann was pushed out? Cruise and GM aren’t saying. But when the parting note sounds like a parting shot, something has gone seriously wrong.
It doesn’t seem like it’s the operations. Barra wants to see Cruise develop self-driving taxi services and build a new business for GM. Ammann was putting the pieces in place to do it.
If I had to look for a place where the Ammann and GM’s board disagreed, it might be the pace at which Cruise goes public. Ammann stood to get $25.6 million in restricted stock if Cruise was sold or went public, and he’d get 101,000 warrants in the self-driving startup. An IPO would also bring in a lot more cash to develop fleets of robotaxis. Ammann, a former investment banker, may have wanted to get cash while SPAC and IPO money are still generously flowing, or at least make a deal before too long.
Barra and GM’s board might prefer the status quo. When asked by an analyst about a Cruise IPO on the third quarter earnings call, Barra said the integration of GM and Cruise was an advantage and that the company is well-funded. They jointly built the Cruise Origin, a purpose-built autonomous shuttle. Even Waymo doesn’t have that capability.
The timing of taking Cruise public could be a point of contention. Or Ammann could be leaving for a competitor. Whatever caused the split, it was a brusque farewell for an executive who played such a big role in transforming GM.
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