By Maria Saporta
Friday, Oct. 29, 2010
The drought of women leaders at the Metro Atlanta Chamber is almost over.
Carol Tomé, chief financial officer of The Home Depot Inc., will chair the influential business organization in 2012.
Only one other woman has chaired the Metro Atlanta Chamber in its 151-year history — Jackie Ward, then-CEO of Computer Generation, a telecommunications company, who called herself “chairbroad” during her term in 1997.
Tomé will follow John Brock, CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc., who will take over as chairman at the chamber’s annual meeting on Dec. 1.
“Carol is an outstanding leader, an excellent communicator and a role model for business people and women,” Brock said. “I think we’ll make a terrific team. We are going to have the benefit of her leadership.”
Tomé has another unique distinction. She is the only “c-level” Home Depot executive who served under the company’s three different administrations. She joined the company in 1995 when co-founders Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank were running the company; she survived the era of CEO Robert Nardelli; and now she works for CEO Frank Blake.
“Frank Blake told me she was the nerve center of the company,” said Sam Williams, president of the chamber. “She has a great demeanor and leadership style, and she also asks good tough questions.”
Tomé has held important civic positions. She currently chairs the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, a position she will hold through 2011. She is a former chair of the Metropolitan Atlanta Art Fund. She chaired the search committee for a new general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. She also serves on the board of United Parcel Service Inc.
“My husband, Ramon Tomé, and I have put down deep roots in Atlanta,” Carol Tomé said. “We love Atlanta and giving back to Atlanta is important to both of us.”
Tomé also said she is strongly supportive of the chamber’s mission — to generate more jobs in the community. “They also address public policy matters like transportation, water and public education,” she said.
In fact, 2012 could end up being a pivotal year to be chair of the chamber. The regional transportation sales tax will be on the ballot that year, and the chamber is one of the leaders behind organizing a campaign to win voter approval.
If there has been no agreement reached between Georgia, Alabama and Florida on the use of water from Lake Lanier and the Chattahoochee River, then the federal court ruling will take effect in 2012. That ruling will require metro Atlanta to return to the same level of water withdrawals from Lake Lanier that existed in the 1970s — a move that could be devastating to the region’s economy.
Before agreeing to take the job, Tomé spoke to a couple of CEOs who had firsthand knowledge of what the job entailed. They told her that they were glad they had agreed to chair the chamber and that it would be well worth her time.
“We all want the same thing — a good quality of life. We want to protect the beautiful environment that we have,” she said. “It just seemed like something I should do.”
Bill Linginfelter, the chamber’s 2010 chairman and also the top local executive of Regions Bank, said the executive committee was thrilled that Tomé accepted the role. “She’s able to take the big picture and bring it down to something everybody understands.”
Tomé also has received national accolades. In 2009, she received the CFO of the year award by the CFO Roundtable. In 2008, she ranked No. 16 in Forbes magazine’s list of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women; and in 2007, The Wall Street Journal included her as one of the 50 Women to Watch. She also received the 2009 Lettie Pate Whitehead Evans Award from the Atlanta-based Board of Directors Network.
“Having Carol and John in succession is just going to be dynamite,” Williams said of Tomé and Brock. “The two biggest issues we’re facing in this region are water and transportation, and both of those are going to culminate in 2012. We couldn’t have dreamed up a better succession plan.”