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Vanderbilt Classmates Paul Jacobson and Rob Louv Reconnect for a Fireside Chat with Dean Johnson

Apr 4, 2022
General Motors CFO and Houlihan Lokey Managing Director discuss the future of tech and career lessons during a recent segment of Owen Forward

By Lacie Blankenship

Last month, Paul Jacobson (MBA’97), Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at General Motors Co. (GM), and Rob Louv (MBA’97), Managing Director and Co-Head of Technology Group at Houlihan Lokey, returned to Vanderbilt to join Dean Johnson for an Owen Forward Fireside Chat. The former classmates discussed their career journeys, expertise, and autonomous vehicles. Below, we spotlight 3 key takeaways from the conversation. 

Technology is quickly revolutionizing industries, and data is the new oil.

Jacobson discussed recent wave-makers for the auto industry, including GM’s supercruise features and the concept of autonomous vehicles. “We [GM] are going to have 30 EVs out by 2025, with over 20 of those in North America across all price points off a single battery platform integrated with a software in the vehicle,” says Jacobson. “Your vehicle in the future is going to look more like an iPhone on wheels and function more like that than ever before.” Jacobson also discussed the major thresholds being crossed with the legal liability transitioning from driver to vehicle, noting that “those types of things are changing rapidly.” Louv added that “data is the new oil” and that “proprietary data is the key to future success.” GM’s access to proprietary data allows for different avenues of growth. “The best part is that nobody can take their data away,” says Louv. “General Motors has a moat around that data.” “There’s a reason that Apple and Google want to get into vehicle manufacturing,” Jacobson said. “It’s about the data and their ability.”  

Be wrong in business, not in leadership.

Jacobson and Louv agreed that tampering with unknown territories is a natural part of business. “There are more questions that you’ll face in business that you don’t know the answer to than ones that you do,” said Jacobson. The classmates emphasized the value of ‘seeing around the corners’ and calmly pivoting to core values in times of uncertainty. “Character comes out when you make that toughest decision,” said Louv. 

Jacobson emphasized the difference between being wrong in business and being wrong in leadership. “You can get fired for being wrong in leadership,” he said. “Some of the best leaders on the planet have been wrong in business a lot… but they’re still really good leaders because of that value standpoint.” 

Don’t be afraid to ‘fail’ in your career trajectory.

The concept of a right or wrong career move can be trapping. Louv shared his experience changing career trajectories after leaving JP Morgan. “There’s this fear factor that says ‘hey, if you fail, you’re going to have to explain that to people,’” said Louv. “I look back, and there are very few times that I have taken on a challenge and said I shouldn’t have done it. If you think it’s going to be fun, it’s something you really want to do, the regret of not doing it will be much more.” 

Jacobson recalled when a journalist asked him what he would change about his career if he could go back in time. “My answer, without hesitation, was I wouldn’t change a thing,” he said. “There are a lot of things I did wrong and there are a lot of things I wish had gone differently; but, every single one of those is a page or a chapter in my book of how I got to where I am today. I’ve learned a whole lot more from the failures and the things I did wrong than from the pats on the back or the accolades.”

You can watch the recording of the fireside chat below or on Vanderbilt Business YouTube.


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