On Wednesday General Motors announced that 39-year-old vice president of corporate finance, Dhivya Suryadevara, would replace current CFO Chuck Stevens, who has been working at the auto company longer than Suryadevara has been alive.
Suryadevara has quickly climbed GM's ladder since she began working there 14 years ago, and her appointment as CFO is significant: She is the first female CFO in the automaker's 110-year history and makes GM one of only two Fortune 500 companies that have both a female CEO and CFO. Hershey, led by CEO Michele Buck and CFO Patricia Little, is the other company holding that distinction.
GM CEO Mary Barra, who has made significant strides to increase female leadership in the company, says Suryadevara is ready.
"Dhivya's experience and leadership in several key roles throughout our financial operations positions her well to build on the strong business results we've delivered over the last several years," Barra said.
Although Suryadevara never imagined going into the automotive industry, she told Real Simple that she's always enjoyed anything "challenging and complicated."
That was the theme of her upbringing in Chennai, India. After her father passed away when Suryadevara was young, all parenting duties fell onto her mother.
"My mom had to raise three children on her own, which is difficult to do anywhere, let alone in India," she said. "She wanted to make sure there were no corners cut when it came to our education and to prove that we could have the same resources as a two-parent household."
Her mother's high expectations stayed with Suryadevara as she completed her bachelor's and master's degree in commerce at the University of Madras. When she was 22, Suryadevara traveled to the U.S. for the first time to attend Harvard Business School, where she got an MBA.
The move was a major culture shock, and grappling with student loans added even more pressure to the experience.
The effort paid off when Suryadevara landed an internship in 2002 at the World Bank before joining UBS as an investment banker. When the time came to move on, she set her sights on GM.
"It struck me right away that there was no shortage of interesting things to do there," Suryadevara told Real Simple. "I saw that I was only limited by how much effort and time I wanted to put in, which is what made me want to work harder."
She rose to CEO and chief investment officer of GM Asset Management in 2013. While running GM's $85 billion pension operations, she also took on the role as vice president of finance and treasurer in 2015, and split her time between New York and Detroit.
All that juggling earned Suryadevara a spot on Fortune magazine's 40 under 40 list.
In 2017 she became vice president of corporate finance, where she "played an integral role in the Opel divestiture, Cruise acquisition, Lyft investment and more recently, SoftBank's investment in GM Cruise," according to GM.
Suryadevara is moving up the leadership ladder as the number of female CEOs is declining. This year's Fortune 500 list revealed a 25 percent decrease in female CEOs to just 24, after the departures of several women, including Campbell Soup Co.'s Denise Morrison and Avon's Sheri McCoy.
At the same time, the share of female CFOs is increasing: There are now 64 in the Fortune 500, nearly double the amount a decade ago, according to Fortune.
"Any time a woman is added to the C-Suite it's something that should be celebrated," she told Bloomberg. "Given that the rate of change for women into the C-suite and into the CEO level has been so slow, any time we see one, it is certainly progress."
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