Next up in our “Where are they Now?” series is an interview with Guthrie Gintzler (M&T, ’17) on how his passion led him to join one of the most Innovative Companies of 2018.
1) Tell us a little bit about where you work and what you do.
I work on the Engineering Finance team at Tesla. In my mind, the team has two primary goals: to influence the material cost of our vehicles and to provide additional business intelligence to decisions made on R&D and engineering investments. Engineering Finance plays a cross-functional role in the organization, pulling inputs from engineers, global supply chain managers, other finance teams, sales, and the rest of the organization to provide guidance on decisions. Every decision can be boiled down to a cost-benefit analysis, which we conduct.
2) What made you decide to pursue a position at Tesla?
When deciding what position to take after graduation, I optimized around having the greatest impact per hour. For me, that meant taking a high-impact position in vehicle electrification.
I found my passion for renewable energy and electric vehicles when I was about seven years old living in New Mexico. There, family friends lived off the grid with a single axis solar array and a hut filled with batteries powering their home. I saw the impact of global warming through the New Mexico drought which wiped out the piñon and turned the landscape brown. The experience made me determined to help get affordable electric vehicles on the road.
Then came Elon with Tesla, the Model S, and the mission to “accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.” The Business Operations role at Tesla offered me the chance to pursue my dreams.
3) What is a typical workday like at Tesla?
It’s my job to forecast the material cost of all our production vehicle programs: Model S, Model X, and Model 3. This means consolidating the cost of every car component from the other members of our team.
I work with team members to determine how global policies and macroeconomic events are going to impact the cost of our cars. How will the Trump tariffs affect our bottom line? What happens to the cost of our vehicle if the US dollar depreciates? I report our findings periodically to our CFO, Deepak Ahuja, so he can drive action in the business. I spend just over half of my time conducting the analyses and improving our models, and the rest of the time reporting cost and working with business partners to inform decisions on how to improve gross margin.
When I’m not working on the material cost, I conduct cost-benefit analyses to support decisions of the R&D organization. We only have so many resources, so we have to determine the highest return on investment opportunities.
Beyond my workday, Tesla has gyms at their various offices, so I never have an excuse to skip leg day.
4) How did M&T prepare you for your position?
It’s all in the department title, “Engineering Finance.” What could better prepare you for a position where you have to work cross-functionally with engineers and finance better than a dual degree program like M&T? Much of the leadership of the finance team is M&T! The director of Engineering Finance is an M&T, as well as the director of Manufacturing Finance. The Program provides you with a solid foundation in both engineering and business to enable you to make informed decisions cross-functionally.
Tesla preaches the “first principles” approach to tackling problems. All decisions can be made with a fundamental basis in science, engineering, and economics. You are challenged every day to defend your guidance not only financially but from a perspective of technical feasibility. M&T provides you with the toolbox of skills to break down problems into their first principle components.
5) What’s challenging about your job?
What I love about my position is I never know what challenges I will face when I arrive to work. A few weeks back, my team and I were abruptly pulled into a meeting with Elon with a new challenge to improve profitability. We worked with renewed vigor to find inefficiencies in the business and eliminate them.
At every corner, Tesla has risen to the occasion to the astonishment of analysts. At first, the challenge was for a startup to compete with incumbent automotive companies. It seemed like an unsurpassable obstacle, but we now see the incumbents are playing catch up in the electric vehicle space. The new challenge is mass production of Model 3 and profitability.
6) Tell us about a unique experience at Tesla.
Tesla is unique in many ways, but one of the most distinguishable characteristics is how close all members of the organization are to production. When I was an intern a few summers ago, I had the chance to work on the production line for a day alongside the production associates. I spent twelve hours on the trim 3 line for Model X, installing air vents in the rear of the vehicle and adding push fasteners to the car. I was struck by the comradery of the production associates and the sense of achievement of sending cars down the line.
Tesla’s lifeblood is building and selling the coolest cars. Uniting the organization in production goals and challenges enables a collective intelligence. This helps us solve problems that face production and ultimately leads Tesla to overcome bottlenecks that would halt other organizations.
7) What advice do you have for somebody who wants to follow a similar path?
I know it sounds cheesy, but I encourage everybody to pursue the position that enables them to realize their dreams. If you’re passionate about a sustainable future, then Tesla may be a good fit for you. On top of coursework, it’s important to develop skills that align with your passions. In my case, I joined Penn Electric Racing to learn more about how electric cars work and read way too much about how the energy industry is changing in the wake of renewables.
You need to bite the social bullet and put yourself out there. Companies are looking for talented people like those in the M&T Program, they just need to know you exist. Put your best foot forward and get an introduction or send a cold email.
Guthrie Gintzler is a 2017 graduate from the Management & Technology Program. He holds a B.S.E. in Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics, B.S. in Economics with a concentration in Entrepreneurship & Innovation, and a Master’s in Robotics from Penn.
“The Robotics Masters enabled me to further nurture my curiosity to understand technology and its implications for the future that first brought me to the M&T program,” Guthrie said of his decision to continue his education at Penn.
According to Guthrie, “Community is what makes the M&T Program special. From day one, you’re dumped into a pool of incredibly talented, innovative, and fun individuals. You’ll find M&Ts are not only leaders of clubs, but also social organizations around campus. There’s a serious sense of unity among students in the program. I have seen many great friends and co-founders emerge from interactions in the M&T office. I couldn’t have predicted how impactful the Program has been in my professional and social life.”