Carol Tomé’s rise at UPS comes as companies pay greater heed to social values
By David Pendered
Carol Tomé’s appointment as CEO of Atlanta-based UPS adds to the growing, global movement around leadership metrics involving environment, social and governance issues. UPS has joined BlackRock and Goldman Sachs, two other companies that have taken advanced ESG positions this year.
Known by various names, including socially conscious investing, ESG is an effort to align a company’s social values with goals for financial returns. ESG issues can arise in decisions involving firms that make products such as firearms, treat workers improperly, pollute the environment, or don’t have women on the board of directors.
The roadmap is the list of 17 Sustainable Development Goals that have been adopted by the United Nations and supported locally by RCE Greater Atlanta. This list is at the center of forward-looking studies by the World Economic Forum, including its January report on measures by which companies can disclose compliance with the ESG goals.
Although Tomé’s appointment on March 12 comports with one of the UN’s goals, Gender Equality, the business press didn’t make much of a buzz over Tomé’s gender. One exception was a vlog posted by fortune.com.
Instead, chatter has focused on the board’s pick of an outsider – Tomé joined the UPS board in 2003 – to succeed CEO David Abney, who joined UPS in 1974 as a package handler while a college student in Mississippi. The first sentence in a wsj.com story observed Tomé is to be, “the first outsider to run the century-old delivery giant.” Tomé was a longtime executive at Home Depot, retiring in 2019 as CFO.
Tomés’ appointment followed Goldman Sachs’ announcement Feb. 4 that it intends to stop helping start-up companies that don’t have at least one board member who’s not a straight, white male.
Effective July 1, Goldman Sachs no longer will underwrite initial public offerings for companies in the United States and Europe unless the company has at least one diverse board member. The number rises to two such members, as of 2021. Diversity is defined as a diversity of, “experience, gender identity, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.” As the company’s CEO, David Soloman, said in the Feb. 4 statement:
- “This decision is rooted first and foremost in our conviction that companies with diverse leadership perform better. Consider this: since 2016, US companies that have gone public with at least one female board director outperformed companies that do not, one year post-IPO. But in addition to the real commercial benefits, it’s clear that changing the stereotypes associated with corporate decision-making will have many positive effects for society as a whole.”
BlackRock put sustainability at the center of its ESG strategies for investing nearly $7 trillion of assets under management.
BlackRock’s founding chair and CEO, Larry Fink, wrote in his January letter to CEOs that BlackRock perceives that climate change will soon spur a “significant reallocation of capital.” BlackRock, he wrote, intends to escalate its influence over corporate boards and leaders who put profit ahead of, “embracing purpose and considering the needs of a broad range of stakeholders.” Fink wrote:
- “Where we feel companies and boards are not producing effective sustainability disclosures or implementing frameworks for managing these issues, we will hold board members accountable [and] we will be increasingly disposed to vote against management and board directors when companies are not making sufficient progress on sustainability-related disclosures and the business practices and plans underlying them.”
The shift won’t come overnight, Fink observed.
As if on cue, Harvard Law School posted a report Monday that showed the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is a long way from requiring that ESG issues – at least when it comes to the environment – be included in mandated disclosures to shareholders:
- “[F]or now, the SEC appears to be satisfied with the status quo and taking a wait-and-see approach regarding the need for mandatory ESG disclosure.”
The European Securities and Markets Authority has embraced ESG and, on Feb. 12, the chair called for specific provisions to regulate green bonds, according to the report. The U.S. established similar instruments in 2016, named environmental impact bond, and Atlanta was to have issued a green bond to fund improvements in the Proctor Creek Watershed. In Europe, the authority’s chair observed:
- “[O]ther steps should be taken to prevent “greenwashing” in ESG disclosure, including (i) developing a European standard—set by public authorities—for green bonds in order to avoid mis-selling and mis-labelling practices and (ii) regulation of ESG ratings agencies used for investment purposes in order to increase the transparency of the methodologies underpinning those scoring mechanisms.”