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Carol Tomé on becoming CEO of UPS: ‘Lots of glass was broken’

Maria Saporta
Carol Tomé and Arthur Blank Carol Tomé gets a hug from Arthur Blank at the 2019 annual meeting of Home Depot – her last as CFO of the company he co-founded (Photo by Maria Saporta)

By Maria Saporta

The naming of Carol Tomé as the next CEO of UPS is a major breakthrough for women running major public companies in Georgia.

Interestingly enough, this was Tomé’s second shot at becoming CEO of a major Fortune 500 company in Georgia. In some ways, it feels as though destiny played a role in Tomé selection as the new CEO of UPS – the second largest public company based in Georgia.

UPS announced on March 12 that Tomé will become its next CEO – succeeding David Abney, who will retire June 1. After that, Abney will serve as executive chairman of UPS until Sept. 30.

For Tomé, who has served on the board of UPS since 2003, it’s the fulfillment of a dream that she thought had passed her by. As the longtime chief financial officer of the Home Depot, Tomé was a leading candidate to become its CEO in 2014.

But the top job ended up going to Craig Menear, another longtime Home Depot executive. At the time, some people described it as a “concrete ceiling” instead of a “glass ceiling,” that prevented her from getting the top job.

Carol Tomé and Arthur Blank

Carol Tomé gets a hug from Arthur Blank at the 2019 annual meeting of Home Depot – her last as CFO of the company he co-founded (Photo by Maria Saporta)

As a testament to her character, instead of walking out the door, Tomé continued serving as Home Depot’s CFO as a loyal team member until she retired last August.

Now UPS has offered Tomé the opportunity to get back in the corporate game.

“I am the first outsider CEO (at UPS), the first woman CEO and the first woman CEO in the industry,” Tomé wrote in a text on March 12. She added that she will be one of only three women running a Fortune 50 company. “So, lots of glass was broken today.”

During her tenure at Home Depot, Tomé worked with every CEO in the company’s history, beginning with co-founders Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank and continuing with the controversial CEO Robert Nardelli, as well as his successor – Frank Blake – and later Menear.

“Carol is an outstanding choice to lead UPS and is uniquely positioned to hit the ground running with all her years serving on the UPS board,” Blank said through a spokesman. “Beyond her familiarity with UPS’s complex operations, she is simply an exceptional, thoughtful leader with uncommon financial acumen and a keen understanding of how important a thriving culture is to the success of a large business. I know she’ll be an outstanding leader for this great company, just as she was for so many years at the Home Depot.”

Menear also applauded the choice.

“We at the Home Depot know Carol firsthand as an inspiring, strong, values-based leader,” Menear said in a statement. “I’m confident she’ll carry that same great leadership to UPS, and I look forward to working with her as a fellow CEO in the Atlanta community.”

Georgia has short list of women running major companies. In fact, up until now, there has only been one woman CEO of a Fortune 500 – Mary Laschinger, CEO of Veritiv, a North American leader in business-to-business distribution solutions. Veritiv’s rank among Fortune 500 companies was 347 based on its 2018 revenues of $8.7 billion.

Carol Tomé receives the AJC’s 2019 National Human Relations Award from 2018 honoree David Abney. (Special: American Jewish Committee – Atlanta)

By comparison, UPS is Georgia’s second largest public company ranking at 41 revenues of $71.9 billion. The Home Depot is ranked 27th with revenues of $108.2 billion, according to Fortune Magazine’s 2019 list and the Metro Atlanta Chamber.

Through a UPS spokesman, Tomé declined giving a full interview, saying she wanted to wait a while before speaking publicly to the media.

“I hope Carol knocks the ball out of the park at UPS,” former Home Depot CEO Frank Blake said in a telephone interview. “I love Carol. She’s a hard worker. She’s smart, and she’ll be bringing a lot of tools to the job, and she’s going to need them because this is a challenging environment.”

Blake, who currently is serving as Delta Air Lines’ board chair, was not concerned about Tomé’s ability to lead in an industry usually dominated by men.

“Carol is someone who has the ability to work well in lots of different environments,” Blake said. “I can tell you that Carol worked well in the Home Depot culture that some might characterize as a male-dominated industry, and she performed really well. She absolutely was well loved at Home Depot.”

Still, Blake sounded dismayed about how visible the succession process was at Home Depot and other U.S. companies. Three internal candidates were considered for the top job – Menear, Tomé and Marvin Ellison, who currently is the CEO of Home Depot’s arch-competitor – Lowe’s.

“I was blessed with some really talented executives, and Carol was one of those talented executives,” Blake said. “My view on all of this succession process – who’s in it and who’s not in it – the horse race – is not helpful to the people involved or the company involved. It’s rarely helpful because it raises questions.”

Arthur Blank Carol Tome Craig Menear

CFO Carol Tomé and CEO Craig Menear spend time with co-founder Arthur Blank at the 2016 annual Home Depot meeting (Photo by Maria Saporta)

That said, Blake complimented Tomé for staying on at Home Depot, and he said he believed “she was helpful to Craig.”

Meanwhile, local women leaders were thrilled Tomé would become CEO of an Atlanta-based Fortune 500 company.

Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin congratulated Tomé for “landing the top position at UPS,” one of the largest public companies in the country.

In an email, Franklin described Tomé as “an extraordinary leader and executive who inspires all those watching to step up and do the work of leading.”

Rona Wells, executive director of OnBoard – an association that encourages more women on Georgia’s public company boards and executive suites, applauded the move.

Commenting of the scarcity of woman leading Fortune 500 companies in the United States, Wells described it as “rare air.”

According to Wells and OnBoard, among Georgia’s 119 public companies, there are five women CEOs: Jillian Evanko at Chart Industries; Mary Berner at Cumulus Media: Kuan-Yin Cheng at Nocera; Sparrow Marconi at Sirrus Corp.; and Laschinger at Veritiv.

Tomé will make that six.

So, maybe it was destiny for Tomé to become CEO of a major Georgia Fortune 500 company after all.

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Maria Saporta
Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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