SPARK OF THE CORPORATE
Tufts helped me understand the importance of adhering to sound values ...
Ellen Kullman was the first woman to lead DuPont in its 210 years of history & has pushed the company into several new businesses food, fuel, and safety, which the chemical giant had never ventured into.
The youngest child of Joseph and Margaret Jamison, Ellen was born (1956) in Wilmington, Delaware. She had her schooling from the Tower Hill School, Wilmington, and completed her bachelor's study in mechanical engineering from Tufts University in 1978.
She has said that she got into engineering because she liked science and maths. But, she realized it was not really what she wanted to do - work as a design engineer. Instead, it dawned upon her, that she liked working with people and being out in there, so she ended up going into sales of technical products with the now-defunct Westinghouse Electric Corporation, which was into electrical distribution equipment, and then into sales and product management. She also realized that she had to get the business perspective of things and ended up going back to school.
So, she did her master's degree in management from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in 1983, and joined General Electric as a management trainee. Soon after, she worked in its corporate strategy office, became the marketing manager of GE Medical Systems before eventually going on to become a director of the company. She joined DuPont as marketing manager for the medical-imaging business, in 1988 followed by being the business director and global business director of the X-ray films and electronic imaging divisions respectively. Her ascent up the ladder at DuPont started in 1995 with her elevation to vice-president and general manager of White Pigment & Mineral Products business, along with which she also was made the business director of many other businesses.
Watering plants to keep the family garden beautiful was her first lessons in life that you don't water it, it's going to die. The principle i.e. investing today for growth tomorrow, has stayed on with her ever since. In-line with this principle, she launched a safety consulting business in 1998 that started to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue within just a few years, and today brings in annual sales of $5 billion.
Another interesting aspect about Kullman is the fact that she was a sportswoman - played basketball and known to be very competitive at that. This also shaped the future leader in her - as she understood the dynamics of a team game - because business cannot be a one-man show.
When she assumed responsibility of the CEO's post, she realized the organization was too bureaucratic to be able to function freely and fully to its capacity - so, first and foremost that had to change. That is one of the reasons why taking out a layer of leadership was necessitated. A bit of re-organizing the business was also warranted, in terms of aligning strategies with needs of people and bringing them to the research and business tables. That meant changing the structure to get closer to the people and the locations, and striving for more localized innovation.
When she was named CEO in January 2009 - a year in which the company was still under the impact of 2008 - a tumultuous year for the global economy, she quickly realized that there had to be a definite approach in steering the almost 2-centuries old company out of troubled waters.
She now set about defining that approach which comprised four principles to stick to:
The company tugged along through the economic crisis under Kullman's leadership, with her restructuring of the 210-year-old chemical company. One of the strategies was sell old businesses to free capital to invest in the realigned product-line strategy. So, she sold DuPont's auto-paints business for $4.9 billion and bought Danisco, a Danish enzyme maker, for $7.1 billion; analysts expect the CEO to push the company deeper into agriculture and nutrition.
Besides the safety and protection products Kullman has been able to slowly but surely stream-line the company's business into areas such as food and fuel while retaining the basic fiber of DuPont. She has truly transformed DuPont into a market-driven science company.
On fuel, she is gunning for sustainability that underlines the company's mission. Thus, her strong belief in solar energy led the company to make new materials-like the silver lines on a solar panel are a silver-based paste with which DuPont is able to give higher efficiency on solar panels, driving to grid parity with conventional electricity production costs. And, there is a array of products on similar lines that is expected to change the face energy industry in the near future.
Similarly, the food requirements of the ever-growing population has meant that alternative sources of food production are identified, that will help reduce the burden on the conventional farm production. Thus came about the acquisition of Danisco, whose industrial bio-sciences division, Genecor, had been on Kullman's radar for quite some time as it seemed to be in line with where DuPont was envisaging to go - nutrition and health, and bio-sciences. Very early in that introduction to the Danish company, she had spotted the potential of this division as the skills of both the companies seemed to be complementary, and together they could make a kill out of and, along the way, helping reduce the food production load.
Thus, we can see that, she has clearly driven home the lessons learnt from the economic crisis, and defined the three-pronged research strategy that will insulate the company to a great extent from any future crises. The company's annual $1.4 billion investment in research and development now focuses on increasing agricultural productivity, reducing dependence on fossil fuels and protecting lives.
She is on the boards of many other companies and institutions such as the board of trustees, Tufts University, and the board, United Technologies Corp., General Motors Corporation, board of directors of the National Safety Council, etc., member of the U.S.-India CEO Forum, the Business Council, and the executive committee of SCI-America. She is also the co-chair of the National Academy of Engineering Committee on Changing the Conversation: From Research to Action.
Ellen became a member of the board of Change the Equation (CTEq), a national coalition of more than 100 CEOs committed to improving science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) learning for U.S. Pre K-12 students. It primarily works on three areas, 1) Improving Philanthropy to increase the impact of corporate philanthropy by emphasizing high quality, scalable programs, 2) Inspiring Youth-Capture the imagination of young people, giving them a solid foundation in STEM and insight into the unlimited postsecondary and career options, and 3) Advocating Change-Promote proven state policies and research-based practices that enhance student mastery of, and interest in, STEM disciplines.
Ellen Kullman is married to Michael Kullman. The couple has three children - daughter Margaret and, sons Stephen and David.
Awards & Accolades
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