Driving Out of Crisis Mode

GM’s Juan Rajlin leads an effort to transform the auto giant’s treasury.

Growing up in his native Argentina, Juan Rajlin, assistant treasurer at General Motors, lived through his share of economic crises. That experience led him to study macroeconomics at Universidad Torcuato Di Tella in Buenos Aires.

After working in treasury at Royal Dutch Shell in Argentina for two years, he decided to study finance and international business at Columbia University, where he earned an M.B.A. He then joined GM, serving in several roles in the treasurer’s office in New York, then as treasurer in Europe. The strategic efforts Rajlin led included establishing a restructuring plan for operations on the continent, managing M&A activities for Opel/Vauxhall and Saab, and coordinating financing by several European governments.

Since assuming his current post in 2010, Rajlin, 36, has been transforming GM’s treasury operations by upgrading systems and reorganizing the global treasury group. He also completed $1.5 billion in capital market transactions last year and was involved in the $3.5-billion acquisition of AmeriCredit, GM’s new captive finance company.

Along the way, Rajlin was also on hand to help GM as it went through a government-arranged bankruptcy.

 

What was it like working for the government?
We went from thinking about how to raise liquidity for working capital, to thinking about deleveraging and building a fortress balance sheet that could weather anything. And we’re there now. We have very low debt and very high liquid balances. We’re prepared for any business cycle.

The other thing we did is go from a crisis mode to focusing on strategic growth. For example, during the past decade we had underfunded our financial systems—especially treasury. Now we have invested in a single system for cash management, debt management, forex and commodity trading, with all our activities around the world on a single system. This is the kind of thing you can do when you’re not in emergency mode.

What has been your biggest challenge at GM?
It was 2½ years ago when I was treasurer of European operations. I had always been in the treasury world and had wanted an assignment that was closer to the actual business, which this was. For example, we were looking at the business plan in Europe and at ways to take costs out. That involved taking labor out, closing plants, making price increases and putting together a whole recovery plan. We went from losing money to break-even this year.

What has been your most rewarding project?
The recent acquisition of GM Financial, which has been a huge success. We’ve owned AmeriCredit for a year and everything has worked out as planned. I’m pretty proud of that.

To what do you attribute your rapid rise to assistant treasurer of a major corporation?
Whenever there are projects where the content is very rich, I try to get involved. I try for assignments and projects that make big contributions. The way GM is organized, it’s rotational, with people moving every 18 months. So when there are big projects, like the reorganization in Europe, I’ll raise my hand. If you do a good job, then you get more. There is risk, to be sure, but I don’t tend to think about that. If the risk is am I going to deliver, I know I will.

Are there any skills you’d like to improve?
For me, having more operating experience will be important. That’s true in general for finance professionals.

What are your long-term goals?
I’m not much of a goal setter. I just look at where I should be spending my time. I don’t plan forward so much. Maybe that’s my Latin American background—living in the moment. At some point, I would like to get into the operating world, and GM is one of the best places for that.

 

For the complete 2011 40 Under 40 list, see Ready to Take Charge.

You can find more coverage of the 40 Under 40 list here.

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