Rachel Kuhn, 40
Director of global innovation, General Motors
Big break: Moving into GM Urban Mobility and Maven
Rachel Kuhn is the kind of person General Motors would like to hire more of as it restructures operations and diversifies into emerging mobility businesses.
Kuhn, a former Starbucks executive, had little interest in the auto industry before joining GM in January 2014. But she had a track record of outside-the-box thinking, problem-solving and identifying cost efficiencies and opportunities.
“I fundamentally love solving problems, figuring out challenges and tackling tricky stuff. That’s candy to me,” she said. “I wanted to be challenged. I grow as a leader if I’m challenged and forced to rise to the occasion, and the scale this company works on is tremendous.”
In five years, Kuhn has risen to the occasion in several positions — mainly involving the identification and development of noncore, yet emerging, business opportunities such as potential acquisition targets and the Maven urban mobility brand.
She also previously was director of special projects for GM, where she was responsible for articulating the company’s strategies around full- electric and autonomous vehicles and shared mobility for the investment community.
As director of global innovation, she is responsible for defining and incubating startups within GM, driving top-line growth for the company.
“I’m very respectful of the core business. We exist because the core business is healthy,” she said. “We always need to be reinforcing the health of the core business, while also looking for new opportunities. And it’s not an ‘either/or.’ It’s an ‘and.’?”
Kuhn, 40, credits her time launching Maven as a startup within the company as a crucial part of her career at GM.
“The learnings from that experience are quite literally why I am in the job that I am in now,” she said.
Before Maven, Kuhn held strategy roles in GM’s corporate development and global mergers and acquisitions team. She joined GM from a position at Starbucks in global corporate strategy, coming from a prior consulting role with Bain & Co., with an emphasis on growth strategy and private equity.
For the foreseeable future, Kuhn said she would like to continue in global innovation.
“To have the opportunity to take this and really grow it into its own business unit at the company is, for me, a really, really exciting career path,” she said. “For me, it is the most exciting area of the company.”
Outside of work, Kuhn enjoys spending time with her son and is interested in design, specifically small-space architectural design and permaculture systems design.
— Michael Wayland