The top 25: Jon Lauckner, General Motors

As car maker General Motors’ chief technology officer, vice-president of research and development and president of GM Ventures, it is Jon Lauckner’s mission to drive the development of innovative automotive technologies, help bring them to market and try to ensure the next generation of GM cars, crossovers and trucks are the safest and the most efficient user-friendly cost-effective and technologically advanced vehicles in the industry.

“The overall intent of GM Ventures is to create a competitive advantage for the company,” he said. “The automotive industry is facing an unprecedented period of disruption, much of it in non-traditional technical areas. So there are two choices, avoid the consequences or become an active participant and drive it.”

GM Ventures said it had remained committed to the key elements of its operating model. First, make profitable equity investments in startups that are developing advanced automotive-related technology. Second, focus on five key technology areas, including advanced propulsion, connected vehicles, advanced materials, sensors, processors, memory and advanced manufacturing. Third, negotiate commercial agreements to get first-to-market advantage.

Since its launch in mid-2010, GM Ventures has evaluated more than 1,900 companies, invested in 36 startups, and has had nine exits with an average cash-on-cash return of 1.6 times, Lauckner said. It has been the lead investor in 20 funding rounds and has a portfolio of 22 startups in the US, Europe, Israel and China.

Of its portfolio’s recent deals, US-based ride hailing platform Lyft last month closed a $600m series G round featuring e-commerce firm Rakuten that valued it at $7.5bn, after GM had led the series F at the start of last year with a $500m investment. In February, GM Ventures had led a funding round for US-based nanostructured steel materials producer NanoSteel that was sized at $15m, according to a securities filing seen at the time.

GM is not only a corporate venturer but also a customer that can offer a technology support platform for startups.

“We are a little different from other CVCs because we combine venture investing with the intent to be the first automotive customer of our portfolio companies by using GM resources to support them,” Lauckner said. “If we decide to invest in a startup, it is an indication there is a significant probability that we will use the company’s technology.”

For example, GM Ventures invested in Tula Technology, a startup with a variable cylinder deactivation software technology that can improve fuel efficiency on select GM vehicles by as much as 15% without degrading power capability. This joint effort combines software expertise from Silicon Valley with propulsion system expertise from General Motors.

GM chairman and CEO Mary Barra said: “Under Jon Lauckner’s leadership and vision, the GM Ventures team operates with an entrepreneurial spirit, common purpose and clear direction to focus on technologies that matter most for our customers. The strategic investments being made in breakthrough technologies will accelerate GM’s strategy to earn customers for life, while also helping us build the most valued automotive company.”

GM Ventures’ simple measure of success is whether technologies in which it invests today are used in GM’s vehicles of tomorrow, driving greater sales and better business results. “I am impressed by the depth and breadth of technology being developed by startups and the impact it can have on vehicles of the future and personal mobility,” said Lauckner.

He began his career with General Motors in 1979, working in several assignments in powertrain and vehicle engineering. Later, he worked in the marketing and product planning staff. From 1992 to 2005, he pursued various product development assignments in South America and Europe, and he returned to the US from Europe in mid-2005 to a new position as vice-president of global program management. In 2009 he was named vice-president of global product planning.

The following year, Lauckner become responsible for forming GM’s venture capital subsidiary and was named president of GM Ventures. In addition to this role, he was named GM vice-president and chief technology officer in 2012 and also has responsibility for leading GM’s global R&D organisation.

Lauckner received a BSc in mechanical engineering from University of Michigan in 1979. He earned a master’s in management from Stanford Business School in 1990 through the Sloan fellowship program, and attended the GM-Harvard senior executive program in 2001.