After more than two decades in finance leadership at Ford Motor Company, Matthew Field started work as CFO of air taxi service Joby as it gears up for a public listing using special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) merger.
“It is a precarious year for finance, but a great year for opportunity, because so many changes are happening in capital markets,” Field told CFO Dive in an interview Friday. “Tech changes so fast, companies and industries are being created that never existed before.”
When Joby initially contacted Field about the job, he wasn’t familiar with the company or the industry. Field's career arc had been in automotives.
“They were kind of operating in stealth mode for so long, and they just now raised their head up above the precipice with the SPAC,” Field said. “It really is an interesting area that didn't exist before. The confluence of batteries, technology, software and urbanization is creating opportunities and breaking new boundaries.”
In many ways, Ford may be a stalwart of the past, while Joby represents the future. Its vehicle is an all-electric, vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft. The taxi service will be fast, quiet and affordable, Joby said.
“Motor vehicles are such a complicated business,” Field said, adding that those complications are "creating advantages for Joby.”
On the same day last month that Joby announced Field’s hire, it announced it had made a deal to go public through a $6.6 billion reverse merger with a special purpose acquisition company, Reinvent Technology Partners.
“The SPAC gave Joby a unique opportunity to raise capital in a way that also builds long-term partnerships to help grow the company,” Field said, adding that the SPAC specifically will enable efficient scaling, which is a main priority.
“As a finance professional, taking a company public is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he added. “But it’s always hard. I don’t think there’s ever an easy way to go public.”
Uber Elevate had targeted areas including Dallas and Los Angeles, where it believes an air taxi service would be a popular addition. Joby hasn’t yet confirmed which markets it will target, but it’s “definitely capitalizing” on Uber Elevate’s research to assess which cities it will go after. Its current plans include Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco and New York as probable spots.
The Joby team is passionate about keeping costs to the customer low, ensuring the product isn’t only available to the rich, the way helicopter travel is, Field said.
“The cost of helicopters is so prohibitive,” Field said. “For the mass market, the benefit is you can turn eVTOL planes around faster and go to more locations. So, through volume and driving down the cost curve, we should be able to hit price points that the average consumer can pay.”
With the SPAC in the rearview mirror, Joby intends to greatly ramp up its manufacturing. “We’ll be looking at creating something similar to the automotive manufacturing model,” Field said. “We’ll start with a pilot plant, building small units at very low volume, maybe 200 units a year, and then we’ll assess from there.”
Field officially began work at Joby on March 5. His immediate priority, he said, is “recruiting, recruiting and recruiting.”
“That’s my number one goal: to recruit,” he said. “It’s a great time to join a company like this, and the SPAC accelerates a lot of finance development and growth.”
Secondly, he intends to oversee the SPAC process, and said setting up Joby’s processes and controls as a public company will be “critical” to near- and long-term success.
“Third priority is just helping Joby grow,” he added. “There’s a tremendous amount of activity with our growth curve that will need finance’s support.”
As CFO, Field is intent on helping the company make good on its commitment to environmental sustainability.
“This industry, while nascent, is critical to delivering on many of the UN’s climate goals,” he said. “Reducing urban congestion is such a large part of our mission, and making sure we stay on track there is equally as important as normal KPIs.”
Despite all of its rapid growth, Joby is still three years away from starting its customer-focused business. Once the planes are available to ride, Field will track KPIs including cash flow, head count, cash burn, utilization and repeat riders.
At the moment, however, he’s more milestone-focused, tracking KPIs including manufacturing costs and hiring. “It’ll be entirely different when the business is up and running,” he said.